Archive for June, 2010

Tribute to Hugo Ulrich

June 21, 2010

On Friday night to hear Oleg Caetani conduct the SSO [not the Sydney Star Observer].

Oleg Caetani’s departure from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last year was a sorry spectacle. In one way or another, Harold Mitchell, a very rich man who has made a lot out of money out of advertising, had something to do with it as a new chairman of the MSO with presumably a determination to make a fresh start. If it was a question of making Caetani a scapegoat for declining box-office, that seems misguided.

Of course, I can’t comment about Caetani’s relationship with the Melbourne orchestra, but my memory of the reports is that it was only some players who were roped into focus groups which were mined for mutterings of discontent about him, and his departure came to many others as an unwelcome surprise.

I have enjoyed Caetani’s appearances with the SSO, and it was a relief to see that he returned for his SSO gigs, when my neighbour told me he had been too sick to fulfill engagements in Adelaide and Perth earlier this year. Fortunately, as my neighbour,Y, also informed me, he is presently in good health.

Shortly after Y told me this, I lost him by exchange to my neighbour-but-one (Z), who thereupon became my neighbour. I suspect that was the aftermath of a moment of concert rage in the last concert on the part of my (then and still) neighbour but two (and then Z’s and for the rest of Friday Y’s neighbour), X. Z enraged X by first leaning forward to speak to her friend in the row in front, and then being unable to turn off some kind of speaking device – I am presuming a clock radio – inside her handbag at a critically quiet section of a slow movement. X actually said something! After that, things had been a bit frosty in row T.

I boldly asked Z (she is a Hungarian lady of advanced years) “Did you bring your talking handbag?” After a short double take Z cheerfully reassured me that she hadn’t brought it this time, so X’s rebuke had not proven entirely fruitless.

And so to the music. The program was:

Haydn, “Farewell” Symphony [“I’ve never heard that before” I overheard someone say at interval]
Bruch, Violin Concerto No 1 [that’s the well-known one]
Schoenberg – Chamber Symphony No.1 [curdled late romanticism but still rhythmically quite orthodox]
Beethoven – Symphony No 8

The Bruch was probably the audience’s favourite. I found myself quite familiar with at least the first section as a result of my former life accompanying teenage violinists. Z’s favourite was the Beethoven, though she agreed with me that the last movement was a bit flat. She didn’t like the Schoenberg. I found it engrossing but a bit lost in the SOH Concert Hall. What I most enjoyed was the Haydn. Corny as the ending is, it is nonetheless effective, and the sturm-und-drangish first movement really captured my imagination.

On Saturday, I found my set of four-handed piano arrangements of the symphonies (well, 12 of them) purchased second-hand from Tyrrells in about 1979, and was pleased to find the Farewell Symphony amongst them. Some of the string figuration comes out a bit clunkily at the keyboard, but it is still a view inside the work which you don’t get just from listening to a recording.

Which is all thanks to the arranger, Hugo Ulrich. Seeking to date my (undated) Peters Edition, I became a little curious about him.

The Internets, chanelling 1952 Groves, are rather severe on Ulrich, saying, just for starters, that he:

“was a composer of great ability, whose life was wasted owing to adverse circumstances, and probably also to want of strength of character. “

They just don’t write reference books like that any more, do they?

According to Grove, Ulrich had some early successes but they were not to last:

In 1855 [when he was 27] Hugo Ulrich went to Italy and lived for long in the various great towns, but was driven back by want of means to Berlin. He brought with him an unfinished opera, Bertrand de Born (still in manuscript). He taught for a short time in the Conservatorium, but teaching was distasteful to him; he had not the strength to struggle against fate, and after attempting a third symphony (in G) he appears to have broken down, or at least to have relinquished his old high standard, and to have betaken himself to pot-boilers of various kinds. Amongst these his arrangements of symphonies and other orchestral works are prominent, and of first-rate merit. He left a quartet, two overtures, a violoncello sonata, and various pianoforte works.

Nevertheless his 4-handed arrangements are still quite widely in print, though obviously long out of any copyright. That’s not so bad, Hugo!

On Sunday, D and I went to Balmain for a stroll and (for his part) a recce of the Rozelle markets. There I spotted and, in the circumstances, had to buy Edmund White‘s The Farewell Symphony. I stayed up late Sunday night reading this, but it would probably stretch the associations of this post to go into it in any detail, other than to remark that I’d already read the best bits in their non-fiction versions in his memoir from last year, City Boy.

Celebrity and the law

June 18, 2010

ON Tuesday night to the launch at Sydney Uni law school of Celebrity and the Law, published by Federation Press.

Barbara MacDonald, who pops up from time to time as a torts expert in the SMH, seems to have assumed the role of lead joint author, and gave the speech on their behalf.

The impetus for the book, or so she claimed, was the heightened interest that a legal point attracted in lectures if it could be illustrated by a case involving a celebrity. She illustrated this by the well-known opening paragraph of the judgment of Sir Robert Megarry in Re Flynn:

Errol Flynn was a film actor whose performances gave pleasure to many millions. On 20th June 1909 he was born in Hobart, Tasmania; and on 14th October 1959 he died in Vancouver, Canada. When he was seventeen years old he was expelled from school in Sydney and in the next thirty three years he lived a life which was full, lusty, restless and colourful. In his career, in his three marriages, in his friendships, in his quarrels, and in bed with the many, many women he took there, he lived with zest and irregularity. The lives of film stars are not cast in the ordinary mould; and in some respects Errol Flynn’s was more stellar than most. When he died, he posed the only question that I have to decide: Where was he domiciled at the date of his death?

Ah, teachers! There is something about the way they trot out their oft-related pedagogical gems – not, I suppose, really much different from barristers with their old war-stories – though to be fair to BM, this is a tidbit from Private International Law rather than from her usual teaching staple of torts and equity.

I didn’t actually buy the book at the special launch price of $70 [otherwise $85]. Having taken the opportunity of a trip to campus in business hours renew at a cost of $80 my Sydney University library card, I thought I might as well wait until it is in the library. That means that anything I can say here is based on no more than conversation with and knowledge of the authors, a brief browse and a skim of Murray Gleeson’s poorly-typeset foreword.

But back to the book, on this shaky basis, and the launch.

Ironically, though illustrating the fascination of celebrity, BM’s example of Errol Flynn was probably quite tangential to what I take to be the chief themes of the book, at least as a matter of the book’s formal discourse rather than its sales hook.

That’s because Flynn was by then a dead celebrity, which is to say, an ex-celebrity, or no celebrity at all.

The law of celebrity is either concerned about celebrities protecting their celebrity, often at least purportedly (because that sometimes gets them a foot in the courtroom door) for the purpose of economically exploiting it, or about whether a celebrity can stop the publication of things about them which, as a practical matter (and, until recently in NSW at least, with the abolition of the public interest qualification to the defence of truth, as a legal matter) no-one would, generally speaking, be seeking to publish if they weren’t a celebrity. The two categories are not mutually exclusive.

This means celebrities are both the pointy end and the weak spot in the assertion rights to privacy. It’s not that such a right is generally admitted by the Australian common law for anyone, but it’s in the case of celebrities that it most often comes to be fought. Of course, that is not always the case, or you might perhaps say that there are cases, such as Wendy Hatfield, of reluctant celebrities.

Apart from Barbara Macdonald, who handled the tort-law side of the book, the other authors are Patricia Loughlan, who dealt with the equitable bits, and Robert van Krieken, who is a sociologist (also sometimes professing to be a legal sociologist), and who provided a sociological-historical account.

From my quick flick through the book and just as a hunch, I’m guessing that most of that sociological account deals with the development of a cult of celebrity in association with the development of the mass media. After all, it’s not as if societies have not always had instances of at least local fame (I myself was a celebrity, or so I thought, in West Pymble when I won a national story competition at the age of 10). What’s distinctive about the modern mass media is the development of a market for information or entertainment to do with celebrities whose fame is created and fanned and indeed the stock-in-trade of those media. This surely reaches its apotheosis with the running series of decidedly low-level spottings of celebrities regularly recounted in the throwaway sub-tabloid, MX Magazine, which recently informed me that Alex Perry was spotted checking DVDs at a shop in Earlwood. I hardly know who Alex Perry is, but whoever he is that information has taken the shine off him so far as I am concerned.

Perhaps others feel differently: maybe what they really like is news about famous people doing ordinary things. Personally I’m more interested in instances of ordinary or at least obscure people doing extraordinary things. There’s plenty of that in the decided cases to keep me preoccupied.

The room was discreetly abuzz with one piece of celebrity news. Barbara Macdonald shied from directly retailing it and I shall shy away too, other than to mention that it involved a sighting of Russell Brand in Sydney. It involved paparazzi. The person telling me this said: “Haven’t they heard of the Naomi Campbell case?”

Well, that was in England, where the House of Lords held that the European Convention on Human Rights had an influence on the development of the common law. We haven’t got that here in Australia, which makes things more interesting from a legal academical point of view.

Richard Ackland launched the book. He opened by remarking upon the absence of any actual celebrities from a launch of a book on the subject. This was rather cheeky of him, though he could probably get away with it given that, however any of his auditors might fancy themselves to be celebrities in their own quiet way, it is true that he was the most celebrous one present. And he can certainly walk the streets of Sydney unstalked.

As Ackland spoke, Robert van Krieken lurked at his side with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. I was rather hoping to see it cracked over a copy of the book, but instead it was presented to Mr Ackland. I don’t know if that was the full extent of his appearance fee, if any.