Missing link

On Saturday night to hear David Robertson conduct the SSO with soloists Orli Shaham (piano), Amelia Farrugia and James Eggelstone (singers) in a program of Bernstein.

The program was:

Candide: Overture and suite (this was an arrangement)
Symphony No 2 (“The Age of Anxiety”)

West Side Story:
Symphonic Dances

My neighbour to my right was a charming young (possible pleonasm here) Frenchman posted in Singapore who had extended a business trip to Sydney over the weekend. My neighbours to my left were a couple whose incapacity to keep still suggested boredom while their enthusiastic applause (muted a little for the Symphony) proclaimed otherwise. He endlessly read the program and shuffled about in his seat; she (my immediate neighbour) couldn’t keep her hands still – endlessly biting fingernails and nibbling at her cuticles or rubbing ruminatively about her eyes. It was a struggle for different reasons to keep my eyes front and full attention on the music, though the restless couple was by far the greater distraction.

This was one of those lounge-suit SSO concerts. The singers were amplified (James Eggelstone took to this better than Amelia Farrugia though neither needed as much amplification as they were given) and, even before that, David Robertson jumped up with a microphone.

At interval, briefly, and at slightly greater length after the concert, I caught up with JR, whom I first met in fifth class, Mz, her husband, whom I first met in Canberra, Jz, a colleague of mine who first thereby met JR in Canberra in 1982, her husband, C, whom Jz first met in the European capital where I last saw Jz in her diplomatic digs in 1987 (they now live in another), and 2 children from each couple, all born since then.

As JR observed, though not quite in these terms, it was an awesome moment in “but-for” causation. But for me, JR would have met neither Mz [with a knock-on “but-for” consequence vis-a-vis their 2 children] nor Jz [and hence their all knowing each other]. The funny thing is that this consequential generation and connection has been going on behind my back all these years, basically because I left Canberra but all of JR, Mz and Jz remained for longer.

David Robertson does like to talk to an audience. C was very keen on this and remarked that it was particularly appropriate in a concert of Bernstein numbers, given Bernstein’s own role as the great on-air communicator about music in his famed television broadcasts. C had keen memories of these as his only exposure to music in his youth (in the then very impoverished European country from which he hails) which he had recently been reliving by watching practically all of these broadcasts (I suppose on DVD) in the company of his and Jz’s younger child.

Quite a lot of what Robertson said was interesting, and particularly the emphasis on the constraints of commercial music making (multiple rewrites and no violas in the pit orchestra) as well as his comment that no great gulf divided Bernstein’s popular and “high art” music.

In a variant of Victor Kiam’s claim that he so liked an electric razor that “I bought the company,” Robertson explained that he had been introduced to Orli Shaham when he was musical director of and she was a soloist with the St Louis Orchestra. The implication was that he thought so highly of her that he married her. It’s a natty line, even if it was his third marriage. Conductors seem to be a bit more prone to that sort of thing than ordinary mortals.

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