Archive for August, 2009

The prince and the pauper

August 23, 2009

geoffrey_tozer,0

News started to filter out on Saturday of the death this week of Geoffrey Tozer, Australian pianist.

Tozer attracted the attention and then the patronage of Mr Keating, then treasurer, in about 1987. Keating was shocked to learn that Tozer, teaching at his son’s school in Canberra and, in Keating’s view, a genius and world-leading artist, was earning only $9,000 a year and cycling to work.

Tozer became (even more controversially, twice) the beneficiary of the fellowships which Keating established for “mature artists.” It was controversy to the power of three since the concept of the fellowships themselves was also attacked.

The real problem was the element of personal patronage for which it has to be said there was some evidence.

Personal patronage is a prerogative of power. Of course it can be used for good, but it excites suspicions and risks attack because inevitably it can be perceived as a kind of egotism and is also susceptible to even unwitting abuse. There are lots of very talented musicians, and perhaps the chance that Tozer was the one whom Keating met up close played an undue role in his favouring. Others (the usual suspects), more case-hardened but also exposed to many other talented artists, might have chosen someone else.

Tozer went on, with the financial support of the “Keating,” to record practically all of N Medtner’s works (if not all) for piano for Chandos. He didn’t seem to do so many live performances.

Some of the “Keating” money probably slipped through Tozer’s fingers when he bought a convent in Queanbeayan with the aim of restoring it and establishing an arts and music centre there. Tozer abandoned that plan and sold out. That usually leads to a financial loss.

As Wikipedia reports (via the Melbourne Herald Sun):

On Thursday, 20 August 2009, Geoffrey Tozer died from liver disease at the East Malvern house in Melbourne in which he lived as a child, having been released from the Alfred Hospital the previous week.

Ian Munro has written a more personal post on Geoffrey’s passing here. This appears to have caused offence to GT’s family, though I cannot think that any was intended. The post and and Ian’s comment to that post (he has also commented @ 9 below) have undergone revisions.

Update:

IM has since written an obituary for The Guardian. While the link lasts, there is also the Keating Tozer Eulogy.

Crime and punishment

August 20, 2009

Rotation of P1020635

This is my kitchen. As you can see, domestic standards are under siege, though not so much as at one time (December 1991, I believe) when I lived at Brighton St Petersham (where with a little difficulty the same table can be identified beneath considerably more detritus). Standards fall when I am on my own, and D is still away.

The picture is a reconstruction of an unusual sight which greeted me when I emerged in the morning from slumber a few mornings ago, but with one essential difference: the cat was not underneath the table, but curled up asleep on my flourescent cycling whatever jacket.

It’s not unusual for the cat to find some often very minimally padded spot which he adopts as a suitable slightly nest-like place to curl up and sleep.

There are some regular spots, and then from time to time he adopts some more idiosyncratic one which he will then be very keen on for about 4 or 5 days and then just get over. Here is one such spot which now seems to have fallen out of favour.

pussy in bowl

There are probably deeper patterns which I am too unobservant to discern.

But cat on the table is a big no-no. To his credit, he almost never jumps up. If he were tempted to do so in my presence, he would receive and respond to a rebuke; 2 or 3 times in his 12 year life I may have slapped him lightly when discovering him up there, normally on catching him scavenging. In a Pavlovian way, at least, he knows the rules.

That’s the most primitive version of crime and punishment, where you rely on the punishment to imprint behaviour which avoids crime. The punishment is given, and so long as the criminal has some means of associating the punishment with the crime in question, the criminal will learn not to commit whatever it was they were punished for.

I lifted the cat off the table and took him elsewhere. I didn’t have a high confidence in his being able to associate waking up on the table with how he had climbed up on the table and made his nest there. Any rebuke or even “punishment” was surely pointless. If it was a question of holding some line about food and jumping up I might have felt differently, but it appeared to be the more specific temptation of the cycling jacket which accounted for his (from my point of view) transgression.

Punishment, as I think John Stuart Mill said, is inherently bad, and should only be inflicted so far as some greater good is achieved.

In our legal system, a lot of offences are only punishable summarily (that is, by a magistrate rather than after a trial before a judge and, normally, jury). One consequence of this is that the charge must be brought within a specified period, usually about 12 months. Crimes which are triable indictably (judge and jury) can be the subject of a charge at any time, even if the charge itself is a relatively trivial instance of the indictable crime and would normally (this applies to a wide range of crimes other than a few which can only be tried on indictment) be dealt with summarily. So you can do something which is qualitatively serious enough to be indicted but nevertheless is not a serious offence of its category, and no matter how many years after it comes to the notice of the authorities, you can be charged. There is nothing you can do to efface your crime other than turning yourself in and, even then, actually facing a trial.

Where the delay is a result of delays by the prosecution, you may get a stay of the prosecution because of the inherent unfairness and hardship of facing a prosecution many years after the event. Other times it may well be a matter for the exercise of a prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute. Even when a prosecution is successfully mounted, the elapse of time can provide a basis for reducing punishment and in some cases there could be in effect no punishment beyond the conviction, which can in some cases nevertheless have quite a punitive effect on its own, though sometimes that effect could be obtained by other means.

I came to thinking about this when the first details emerged of the facts in relation to the charges against one of the Knox teachers, who has today pleaded guilty, or so it is reported, to inciting a fourteen-year-old boy to an act of indecency in 1987. The teacher was 33 (by my reckoning) at the time. To quote the SMH:

According to a prosecution submission, the student was alone with Vance in a staff room when he accepted the offer of a cigarette, thinking it would be ”cool” to smoke with a teacher.

But Vance ”wanted to go somewhere where they would not be found out”.

He took the boy to the Q Store underneath the Knox chapel, where equipment for the school cadets was kept, closing the door so they were ”in pitch black”. After handing him a cigarette, Vance asked him explicit questions – including whether he masturbated.

The boy ”felt threatened and scared”, the prosecution submission states.

”I knew I was in trouble and had a serious issue on my hands,” he later told police.

The student fled ”in terror” to another room, holding the door shut as Vance followed. The teacher smoked another cigarette outside before leaving the boy. Thinking he would not be believed, the frightened boy did not report the incident at the time.

It’s important to realise that these are prosecution submissions (perhaps from an earlier bail application) and they involve a good deal of interpretation. Unless the teacher has made admissions, you would have to think that some of those conclusions were open to question. Was it really the case that, from the start, the teacher sought to “lure” the boy to the dark place with the inducement of a cigarette? The offence itself must surely be at the bottom end of the range. It is not “attempting” to commit an act of indecency, but “inciting” another to do so, and on the facts reported, the inciting must be based on a conclusion about “grooming” amounting to “inciting.” By his plea of guilty, the teacher has accepted some of this, unless the evidence goes further to more specific suggestions. I take it as axiomatic that the inciting must be for the boy to commit some indecent act with the teacher and mere encouragement to practise masturbation on his own and not in the presence of any other [looks like a pleonasm but on reflection isn’t] would not suffice.

It’s a long road from that cigarette and dirty talk in the darkened quartermaster’s store under the chapel (that’s the military-religious complex in boys’ private schools for you) in 1987 to the Hornsby Local Court in 2009.

What has happened in the meantime in the lives of man and (then) boy?

I was solicited for sex by a stranger when I was 12. It was frightening, but I don’t think that 22 years after the event I harboured any desire to see that man (he mightn’t have been that old) punished and I certainly don’t now. Obviously, it’s not for me to impose my own standards on others, and my experience was different, especially as involving a stranger rather than a teacher. However, it is still up to the prosecution to exercise its discretion in relation to prosecution. Unfortunately, in this area, the discretion and its exercise have practically withered away.
Update 30 September:

A conviction was recorded (not clear from the report whether there was a section 9 or section 10 application) and Vance was placed on a good behaviour bond for two years. Despite a psychological report that Vance could not be clinically labelled a pedophile (this must surely mean there is evidence of present orientations otherwise and an accounting for the incident in question on historical grounds to do with the position of 30-something-year-old bachelor teachers in the 1980s) he will now be on the child protection register and unable to work with young people.

Bruckner and Haydn, SSO

August 18, 2009

On Friday to hear Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct the SSO in Haydn, Symphony No 100 (the “Military”) and Bruckner 3. YN-S made quite a big impact when he substituted for an indisposed Lorin Maazel in 2005, and on the strength of that came back and was well received in 2007. Consequently, this program, focussing on the conductor and without a soloist, was promoted under the rubric “He’s back!”

This was one of a series of 7 concerts for which the SSO was advertising 2500 B and C reserve tickets for $25 each (the other program, including the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, was demeaningly even if necessarily touted as including “music from the hit film Babe“). By my reckoning that’s an average of 350 or so B and C reserve tickets per concert, which means the houses must have been looking pretty patchy. In fact it was still pretty patchy: the orchestra had made no attempt to sell any organ gallery or choir stalls seats. I suppose it is possible this leads to a saving on ushers. If I were trying to draw in new concert-goers, I would sell them these seats behind but close to the orchestra before I put them way up the back of the circle (where, amongst other things, the air can be very fuggy indeed and, more importantly, the music will be much quieter than people are accustomed to at home on their stereos).

I’m still a bit mystified why this concert hadn’t attracted a larger audience. My best guess (guess is the vogue word for this post) is that people actually like to hear a soloist. Maybe the relative unfamiliarity of the Bruckner also played a part.

My neighbours (on one side), a couple I guess in their 30s, had come on some kind of special offer. He (I’ll call him NN) told me that his only other symphony experience had been the Lord of the Rings symphony, which he had found very disappointing. It emerged that NN was a devotee (and in some way I would guess a practitioner) of the theatre. NN explained his lack of concert-going in part to his allegiance to that form. Since I’m making so many guesses about strangers, I’d hazard a further guess that some of this allegiance is sustained by comps, which probably makes symphony concerts look even more expensive by comparison.

NN enjoyed the Haydn. He thought the traditional non-applause between movements “sucks” – a view for which he found authority in the program note’s account of the original London performance. From my observation I’d say they both found the Bruckner rather heavy going towards the end. I mentioned what a student of mine years ago (in fact, 20 years ago, I’m shocked to realise) described to me (on the authority of his horn teacher, I think) as Bruckner’s “abortion climaxes.” We agreed that Bruckner was a bit of a tease with the sense of an ending, “as is Shakespeare,” NN added, keen to keep his favoured form’s end up.

One little thing which emerged from our (entirely amiable) conversations is the resentment of those in the theatre world, where permanent jobs for performers are practically non-existent, towards the more lavishly subsidised and permanently employed in the musical (specifically: orchestral) and operatic worlds. NN told me that Opera Australia gets half of some unspecified pool of grants funding – I suppose he meant performing arts government subsidies in Australia. I don’t think that can be right, but it shows how a myth can stick. Certainly, orchestras, in particular, are expensive to maintain because of the need to maintain, as an ensemble, a large group of fairly highly and specifically trained people (many of them these days trained to an international postgraduate level).

However lavishly subsidised different creative endeavours are at the centre, they all have that shady area at the edge where people are giving it a go or conversely forced to grow up and move on, get a day job (or not quit it). If the world always seems to be fuller of starving actors than musicians waiting table or working at the call centre that’s probably because the barriers to entry to acting are lower than to instrumental performance.

Not that I allowed myself to be distracted by such mundane details during the concert. I too enjoyed the Haydn (a fairly robust but still “historically” informed interpretation) and there was lots to admire in the Bruckner, though my own unfamiliarity with it means I cannot really make any serious assessment of the interpretation other than on a basis of preconceptions as to Bruckner style. I cannot remember hearing a live performance of this symphony before whereas I can certainly recall hearing B4, 7 and 8 more than once. It is possible I may have heard B3 too, though, as a friend said to me after, if you’d heard it before you’d surely remember it. I am reasonably certain that I was not in Sydney when it was last played here, so it would need to be elsewhere or the time before.

The friend who made the after-comment referred to above [that’s affidavit language: I’m too lazy to expunge it] told me that he had put in some solid listening to the Naxos two-disc set whilst driving around in his car which he does to attend to a franchise of internet access terminals in shopping centres. Funnily enough, the car is probably the place where (since I stopped living alone) I listen to the most music, but I just don’t spend all that much time in the car. I stopped buying CDs years ago other than the occasional impulse and I mostly rely on the serendipity of broadcasts for my listening diet. Mostly, I don’t choose to listen to recordings before I hear a performance because I don’t want to be measuring a live performance against the perfection and multiple repetitions of a recording (listening after is different). This a bit of a dilemma not unlike whether you should read the book first before you see the movie. The same ought to apply to the Haydn, which was last performed by the SSO an astonishing 19 years ago under Stuart Challender. But then, I certainly had much more youthful exposure to recorded Haydn symphonies which it is too late now to undo, and I have even played through quite a few of them in four-handed arrangements.

Sometimes last Friday I wondered if the brass big moments in the Bruckner were a bit too big (I hanker for a more sedate orchestra where fortissimos remain within a certain moderation: the Dresden and Vienna orchestras are more like that, just for example), but there were plenty of very fine quiet moments as well, including from the trumpets, so it was by no means all blare. I hope that Mr Nézet-Séguin (already appointed to succeed Gerghiev at Rotterdam) will be back soon, though it looks as though the orchestra may have to rely on more than his return to market those concerts.

Catching up 2 [what?]

August 12, 2009

Last Saturday night again to Aida. Dongwon Shin (in difficulties and then indisposed when I first went) was in form as Radames and his form is pretty good.

D is away and I went with my old friend, Sq. Sq is a specialist in operas set in Egypt with nude bathing scenes, which is to say that one of the two other operas he has been to was Julius Caesar, when it was first mounted. The other, also at my urging, was Falstaff with Bryn Terfel, when he bought a standing room ticket (and suffered the next day, so he tells me).

Sq enjoyed it. I suppose that, all things being equal, he may next go to an opera in about 2018.

The previous week was busy. Pressing business at work on Monday night prevented me from going to hear and see Stephen Isselis and Dénes Varjon play Schumann for Musica Viva. Later in the week a genuinely urgent appearance before a duty judge prevented me from hearing Cédric Tiberghien playing the Bartók 2 with the SSO and Simone Young, not to mention the the orchestra play Brahms Haydn variations. At least (arriving just before interval) I heard the Strauss (Ein Heldenleben) which oddly enough gave me courage for the impending struggle (to which the truly urgent application related). Dene Olding wore his groovy thick-framed glasses. Ms Young led a rather brisk performance, or so it seemed to me. At times it verged on the scrappy, though some of that could easily be put down to programatticism (is this a word?) and even an element of quite admirable recklessness. Maybe I could have done with a few more dumplings and a bit less diet Coke.

On Tuesday (ie, last night by now) to the opening night of Bellini’s I Capuletti e i Montecchi, based on the same story as R&J. This really ought to be the subject of another post, if I can get around to it. My neighbour for the night told me she is coming to 5 operas this year, and that she has never forgiven Graeme Murphy for Turandot (“If I saw just one more Mexican wave!…”). Obviously, she didn’t choose Aida as one of her five. It just goes to show how long opera-goers can keep a grudge going. Aldo di Toro was indisposed and Henry Choo stood in (apparently he also sang at the final dress) as Tebaldo more than competently.

During the opening chorus [correction:] overture, as a means of showing the bitterness and entrenched nature of the feud, the production featured a lad (blond, of course) who with the encouragement of his elders executed a blindfold captive from the opposing family/faction. There was quite a big build up to this and it looked as though it was going to be a shocking moment. This was averted when the shot fired came through the PA rather than by a good old-fashioned stage blank. There were probably OH&S issues at stake here: not simply about the noise and the boy’s hearing, but also the psychological effect on him were the play-acting too realistic. I don’t remember such squeamishness about gunfire onstage in school dramatics in my youth, but then our stagecraft was probably never at a risk of psychologically damaging realism of any sort.

On a disquieting note, I got the distinct impression that the orchestra was being “discreetly” (as they always say) amplified. It seemed to go away for the first scene after interval (which included a spectacular clarinet obbligato by Catherine McCorkill, who has been playing quite a lot with the orchestra this year) but returned with the chorus in the next scene. On the Saturday at Aida the occasional reverberative ring after short sharp big tutti also made me wonder if something similar was going on. There is word that Fidelio also saw some experiments in this direction, though of the vocalists rather than the orchestra. I know everything needs to be tried to ameliorate the wretchedly enclosed pit, but amplification seems a desperate remedy. Tell me it isn’t so!