Archive for March, 2013

An hour every three years

March 26, 2013

On 2 April 2004, I was a barrister and holder of a local practising certificate.

I am required to undertake continuing legal education.

Clause 176 of the Legal Profession Regulation 2005 imposes a requirement that in each three year period ending 31 March 2007, 2010 and 2013 (und so weiter), the continuing education I undertake must:

“include a component relating to the management of the practice of law that deals predominantly with the following issues:
(a) the principles of equal employment opportunity,
(b) the law relating to discrimination and harassment,
(c) occupational health and safety law,
(d) employment law,
(e) the management of legal practice consistent with paragraphs (a)-(d).”

A “component” means at least one hour’s worth.

Well the last three years are up. It’s kind of a Rumpelstiltskin moment.

I can’t remember whether I undertook “regulation 176” CLE/CPD (“Continuing Professional Development”) in 2010-11 or 2011-12. I can’t be bothered checking.

Just to be on the safe side, I have watched on my computer a streamed video of a talk given a couple of weeks ago which was designed to meet the criteria. I am able to satisfy the requirement by watching a video in this way so long as I have already otherwise completed 4 hours of “face to face” continuing legal education.

It’s difficult to see what purpose such compliance can really serve.

Don’t encourage them

March 26, 2013

ABC’s Limelight magazine is running a story in its upcoming April edition, promoted under the heading “Who is Australia’s best orchestra?”

It says:

A panel of 15 expert critics and professional musicians from around the country – many of whom wished to remain anonymous – was sent ABC recordings of live concerts by the six orchestras from throughout 2012. The judges were left blind as to which orchestra was which (each one received a label from A to F) in order to obviate any prejudice or hometown loyalty. All attempts were made to match repertoire between the orchestras, and to include a variety of styles, conductors and soloists in order to capture the range of each ensemble’s expressive power. Each judge was asked to review all the works performed by each orchestra and to provide an overall ranking of the orchestras from one to six.

The teaser then goes on to say that the SSO comes in first, the ASO second then the QSO. The MSO is (surprisingly) fourth then the WASO and, by “trailing by a large gap,” the TSO.

This whole exercise strikes me as pretty silly. As silly as drawing any serious conclusions from a review of a DVD of last year’s Handa Opera production of La Traviata. I mean, in an event where the atmosphere and the place are a crucial aspect of the experience, what would you expect of a DVD recording?

The main reason why I think it silly is because, unless you are contemplating moving cities for the sake of the orchestra, or, possibly, going for a job in one, the question is pretty irrelevant. In Australia you pretty well only have one [ex-]ABC orchestra to go to according to the city you are living in and, let’s face it, if you are wanting to buy a recording of “the best orchestra” you are not often likely to be choosing one of the [ex-]ABC orchestras.

Even if you lived in London with a choice of resident and regularly visiting orchestras, the question of “the best orchestra” is probably a pretty stupid one. Associated artists and repertoire would all play a part.

And how valid a guide, even with all these qualifications, are the recordings?

The first person to comment on Limelight’s puff piece, “arpasquill,” asked:

“Was patching work taken into consideration when listening to recordings?”

This drew a response from “RJStove”, who outs himself as one of the “panel of 15 expert critics and professional musicians from around the country.” You can possibly judge that for yourself. Stove has written a faintly Quixotic and decidedly tendentious book on Cesar Franck which tells us almost as much about RJStove as it does about its ostensible subject.

Stove says

“I can only say that I didn’t take patching work into account. To this day I don’t know which recordings had patches and which didn’t…Except on the few occasions when audience applause was included, we weren’t even sure whether a performance was done at a concert or in a studio. So the question of patches didn’t enter my own consciousness, anyway.”

Precisely.

There is a more indignant response from conductor and broadcaster Graham Abbott, including as follows:

The alleged strengths and weakness of the performances reviewed could as easily be attributed in many cases to the recording, the hall, how tired the orchestra was, and especially the conductor.

Abbott gallantly illustrates this with a comment which (see below) I can report after my trip to the newsagent is dealt out in the article to the MSO under his own direction, namely that it is “heavy handed in Mozart.”

With some justification Abbott complains:

most appalling of all was the press release sent out in anticipation of this tripe. “Australia’s best and worst symphony orchestras named in first ever blind-listening test.”

He accuses the magazine of a cheap stunt to sell copies by denigrating the orchestras in question.

I’d say the “cheap stunt” bit is a fair cop.

Obviously there are many variables. The choice of comparable repertoire probably deprives a smaller orchestra such as the TSO of the chance to show itself off to advantage. But, as I said, what is even the point of the comparison when few really have a meaningful choice between these orchestras?

The low ranking of the MSO seems odd, and is probably a bigger upset than the relegation of the TSO to the bottom of the class. (After all, they are the poorest and smallest of the ex-ABC orchestras.) I don’t like to give the comparison too much credit by responding to it but I wonder if the outcome for the MSO is a result in any way of their prolonged lack of a chief conductor. [Postscript after a detour to the newsagent, see below: nor did it help them to have Brahms’ Tragic Overture conducted by Richard Gill counted as representative of their work.] The quality of recordings made in 2012 likely to have been adversely affected by their exile from the Hamer Hall for two years prior to its reopening in about August 2012.

Of course I’m curious to see how the Limelight panel have reached their conclusions, but I don’t intend encouraging them by buying the April edition. I shall read the article for free at the newsagent.

I did not see her passing by

March 22, 2013

Last Saturday to see the Australia Ensemble with my regular companion for these concerts, P.

The concert was billed as featuring Scottish accordionist, James Crabb, and I have to admit I was trepidatious. Despite the enthusiastic write-up by Professor Covell in the ensemble’s newsletter, I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about an entire second half of tangos and other squeeze-box numbers. I determined to keep an open mind.

Pausing outside the hall before the concert, P and I were surprised to see a security guard. He told us he was there because the governor general was expected. Later he asked us if we knew what she looked like because he was concerned that somebody was parking in a spot reserved for her. We told him to the best of our recollection. The car was moved on.

A little while later I spotted a a car with a furled flag and then a tallish chap in white dress uniform going through the crowd who was obviousy an aide-de-camp. Viceroyalty was amongst us.

The security guard asked us when we thought the concert would finish. P said she thought it would finish about 10pm.

The ensemble’s clarinetist, Catherine McCorkill, was indisposed. The newsletter announced that this went right back to Salome, last year, when CMcC played rather more E flat clarinet than she usually does. That’s the smaller, higher [-est, est?] clarinet, so I can imagine the angles for ducking your knuckle onto various keys might all be a bit more acute. Musician’s injuries are funny things – not in the ha-ha- sense of course, and not for the musician, but rather because of how the smallest physical injury can nevertheless have a big impact owing to the limited tolerances musicians play up against. The only silver lining is that at least CMcC sustained this shortly after she was appointed associate principal at the AOBO, though with modern reforms to workplace injury law that might not be such a comfort as once it would have been. Still, it would make things simpler than phoning in with an injury after a contract/guest engagement.

CMcC was replaced by Dean Newcomb, principal clarinet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Dean is a milder-mannered player than CMcC, but then almost every clarinetist is.

The program was:

Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931):
Chanson et danses Opus 50 for flute, oboe, two clarinets, horn and two bassoons (1898)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868):
From Sins of Old Age (Péchés de Vieillesse) arr. Ian Munro for flute, clarinet and piano (1857-1868)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901):
String Quartet in E minor (1873) – 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth
A James CRABB gallery of music for accordion, flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello and piano, with works by:
Torbjörn Iwan LUNDQUIST (1920-2000) – Movements this was a kind of mini concerto for accordion and string quartet
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Prelude, fugue et variation in B minor originally for harmonium and piano written for two sisters
Jukka TIENSUU (b 1948)- a tango.
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904) Bagatelles, Op. 47, for two violins, cello, and (originally) harmonium
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) the famous Tango Libertad but as an encore another more soulful number called “Oblivion” – these both arranged for accordion and the Oz Ensemble’s full complement.

From the point of view of the regular ensemble, the d’Indy was a bit like the proverbial nail soup – only Geoffrey Collins was a regular member. P thought the ensemble a bit ragged. I didn’t mind that, to the extent that I picked it up, because I find all such wind ensemble music utterly beguiling, even when written by an anti-Freyfusard monarchist and anti-semite..

The Rossini was pleasant enough. Part of the “joke” of the middle one, which sent up alpine melodies of the sort assayed by Rossini himself in “William Tell,” was that these things go on rather a lot, which it did.

Despite the big write up by Prof Covell in his notes I can’t say I really adjusted to the Verdi. It still sounded like Verdi, especially a little vocalish ornament which recurs at the cadences.

The second half commenced energetically with the Tunquist and my reservations were immediately overcome. Of the other pieces, the Franck was the most pleasant surprise, and “Oblivion” (the encore) the highlight.

Crabb plays an accordion with buttons rather than a keyboard. It doesn’t seem to have chords as an accordion does. He can command a wide range of articulation in the sense of duration and phrasing of notes. As far as I can make out, there is a limitation in that the pressure of the air applies to all notes at once, but within that limitation, manipulation of the bellows provides an enormous range of dynamics and vibrato and other expressiveness within the notes coming together. This can be rhythmically very compelling.

The only reservation which remains for me is that the reed sound of the instrument, especially its upper partials, remained pretty persistent and, to me, at times a bit too insistent.

Maybe we started late. The interval was a little longer than usual, though it never conforms to its advertised 15 minutes. Before embarking on the encore, Dene Olding observed that this concert had set a new record for late-finishing for the the AE. By the time we left it was almost a quarter to eleven.

On our way out we explained apologetically to the security guard that the late finish was unprecedented.

I never did see Quentin Bryce. Apparently (though I didn’t see her either) Marie Bashir was there.

Les Invisibles

March 15, 2013

Last night went with D to see Les Invisibles, a documentary by Sebastien Lifshitz screening in Sydney as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival .

This features the reminiscences of a number of older French gay people (or perhaps more strictly glb), born (with the exception of one woman who was about 10 years younger than her partner) before WWII and so of a generation who came to adulthood at a time when gay people, though not by this time unheard of, were required to live their lives in conditions of invisibility so far as their sexuality was concerned. Hence the title.

Some were couples; some were single; some had previously been heterosexually married and had children. There’s some more background info here.

One point of the film was that it did not deal with people in the Parisian metropolis, but rather in Marseilles or what I took to be, loosely, its hinterland. The reminiscences were intercut with some historical footage, some featuring the participants in moments of public radicalism in the past and feminist, lesbian and gay-liberational demonstrations from the times they have lived through, as well as one quite sinisterly demeaning documentary (with English voice over) on gay and lesbian nightlife in Paris. (short extract here).

Of course, all such documentaries, being anecdotal, are heavily reliant on the selection of informants/participants. This is anecdotal rather than scientific history. (And yes, I realise that begs a lot of questions, but I mean: on the spectrum.)

It was a bit slow and perhaps a bit repetitive but definitely thought provoking (as slow films probably need to be) and at times moving.

There were rather a lot of nice goats and cats. On subsequent reflection, also dogs – which just goes to show I am a cat person.

The festival has screenings in various capitals but this film is only screening as part of it in Sydney – perhaps because it has got a guernsey in glbt festivals in other capitals (why not in Sydney? one may well ask). There are only a few screenings left. I’m just mentioning it now without further elaboration because if I wait till I have a chance to comment the screenings could well be over.

Unless you are bad on slow films, I definitely recommend it.

Orpheus revived

March 10, 2013

On Saturday, as foreshadowed, with D to OA’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

It was jolly fun if a bit unrefined.

Immediately before the show began there was an announcement that Adrian Keating would be leading the orchestra, rather than the billed Catalin Ungureanu. Perhaps he was a late substitute. It did sound that way in his big violin solo in Orpheus’s duet with Eurydice.

The satire of Pauline Hanson as Public Opinion is getting a bit long in the tooth despite her recent flash in the daily pan, but it is always a pleasure to see Suzanne Johnston.

The amplification, doubtless appreciated further back, was anything but “light” (as Clive Paget had characterised it in Limelight Magazine). At one point when the stage was crowded I couldn’t work out who was singing at all (turned out it was Cupid, somewhere near the back.)

The love police were still there but are now trench-coated adult detectives rather than the kepi-sporting lads on scooters, and the substitution took something of the sweetness away from this section. Funnily enough, posters at the Opera House and Opera Australia’s calendar still feature the original concept, with Cupid as a big baby and the boys as his offsiders.

Rachelle Durkin was great as Eurydice. She always seems a bit crazy and is one of those singers who can almost not avoid being comical (Warwick Fyfe is another). And she can sing.

Todd McKenney as Pluto features as the lead image on OA’s publicity. He’s incongruous in the show by reason of his popular singing style (which requires even more miking). He dances a lot and well to make up for it, but presumably OA have featured him because they expect him to sell tickets – people have seen him on the telly. It’s depressing, really.

I would have preferred David Hobson, who took the part in Adelaide last year and in Sydney in 2003.

Back to the question of “unrefined.” OA have a tradition of this – when it’s comic they turn the switch to ocker. We all know it’s funny. Generally it is at the expense of charm and often also of musical execution. Mock pastoral and mock pathos are two of the casualties: Aristeus’s song in Act I, for example, and John Styx’s in Act II. (Something similar happened to “Time was when love and I were well acquainted” in Patience a few years ago.) Why can’t Styx’s song be sung more like this? Or even here?

Sparkle and sweetness are hard to carry off. I thought we got more beer than champagne last night. No point telling me the bubbles are really the same.

Still, most people seem to have had a good time, and even I enjoyed it over all.

PS: ENO production with Public Opinion a la Margaret Thatcher here. John Styx’s number at 48:50 (he wants Eurydice to spank him – an invention of that production, I think); Cupid and love police at 50:40 leading to the very charming “kiss” waltz at 52:55.

PPS: selection of images from production put up by OA on Youtube. Presumably taken from the dress rehearsal, though ensemble 9-10 seconds in wasn’t much different when I heard it on Sat. New-look love police feature at 30 seconds in.

PPS: from Opera Australia’s blog, belatedly noticed:

“Besides reworking the libretto, with help from Thompson and conductor Andrew Greene, Biggins also trimmed the show into a shorter and lighter version of the 2003 production. The children’s chorus was one of the things that went. “Unlike in Bohème, where they’re an essential part of the plot, in Orpheus the children don’t  serve a particular purpose. So instead of having them appear as Cupid’s love police in the second act, we got four gentlemen from the chorus dressed up as identical Inspector Clouseau, which was funnier, sharper and briefer, and which made the point.”

Losing the chorus also took care of the problem of children not being allowed in the Green Room at the same time as half the cast. “The costumes are rather lewd and suggestive, which meant that in 2003 the children had be hidden in their dressing rooms with their chaperones,” Biggins says.”

The phantom clearway

March 7, 2013

P1060088

Since I moved to Ashfield last year I have a new way to work. It joins up with part of what I used to call my scenic route. If you live in Sydney, you should be able to work out that the picture above is taken on the western approach to the ANZAC bridge – the one that features in the header to this blog.

P1060085

Off on the left, at a lower level, is the remains of an older road. I can’t quite work out what road it is. It seems too high to be the road onto the old Glebe Island Bridge, the swing bridge which remains permanently open (despite cyclists pleas to have it reinstated). Is it an earlier approach to the ANZAC Bridge itself? This seems unlikely.

P1060087

The route over ANZAC bridge is a main road in cycling terms compared to my old ride through Glebe. If I go at the busiest time I can find myself one of 5 or 6 bikes at the intersection of Balmain and Lilyfield Roads, and there are commonly 10-12 bikes waiting to negotiate the nightmare traffic lights just to the west of Pyrmont Bridge. The street-view picture at that link, incidentally, predates the bike path and understates the nightmare, which arises from the delay imposed on pedestrians and bicycles alike: the traffic lights act as though this is a four way intersection but in truth Pyrmont Bridge is the under-recognized (because it does not carry cars) fifth way. The temptation to cyclists to cross unlawfully makes it worth the police’s while to patrol about once every three months, when they do a roaring trade.

The standard of rider is also a bit fitter – probably because some of them are going a lot further. I am regularly overtaken, especially going uphill.

Even so, this route is nothing like as busy as Anzac Parade as it goes through Moore Park. I found stepping off a bus there in the early evening recently on my way to the Mardi Gras film festival at Fox Studios quite a terrifying experience. For once the tables were turned and I was the startled pedestrian.

Since then I’ve taken to ringing my bell for the benefit of pedestrians on shared paths quite a bit more, despite the indignant response this sometimes elicits.

Orpheus abbreviated

March 2, 2013

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld is an opera which holds a special place in my heart.

It is the first complete opera I saw: from upstairs in the Verbrugghen hall at the Conservatorium – I think put on by “Young Opera” or its precursor.

A couple of years later, when I won a competition for a musical composition run by the last-legs version of “The Argonauts,” my prize was the first record I ever owned: a recording of highlights from the Sadlers Wells production starring June Bronhill as Eurydice and a heap of other Australians.

After “Orpheus,” and partly courtesy of the succeeding Young Opera productions of La Belle Helene, La Vie Parisienne and La Perichole, all of which I saw at the Cell Block Theatre in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, I developed something of an Offenbach enthusiasm. I borrowed the vocal scores from the City of Sydney Library (then in the QVB: I would stop off on the way home and mostly leave when the library closed and resume my train journey home to West Pymble, tired and thirsty) and play and sing them through at home. Later I went to Macquarie University library on the weekends and hunted down, in their strange Library of Congress system, reel-to-reel recordings of American Public Radio performances.

I was a nerd.

I can’t say that, when I encountered La Perichole when it was put on by the Australian Opera many years later, that it quite lived up to my recollections. But I enjoyed, despite its imperfections, the 2003 production of Orpheus put on by Opera Australia. I’d say I enjoyed it more than many did, judging from the critical response by those appointed to make it.

As I’ve said more than once, I found particularly charming the scooter riding “love police” – a trio of boys (surely a nod to The Magic Flute?) who featured in the second half. I don’t think they featured in the 1968 version I first saw.

Now that production, revised, after a few outings in other states, has been revised. D and I are going next week.

Clive Paget has given it a pretty comprehensive review in Limelight. The love police don’t get a mention.

In The Australian, Murray Black says:

Unfortunately, the original 2003 version of this production missed the mark, being dominated by awkward Ockerisms, tedious dialogue and an over-indulgent high-camp aesthetic.

Thankfully, for this revival, Jonathan Biggins and Phillip Scott have significantly revised their performing version. It’s shorter and more focused, recapturing the spirit of the original while ensuring it is both relevant and heaps of fun.

My guess: the Love Police have got the chop. I suspect convenience/expedience as much as any dramatic considerations. Working with children is always such a nuisance for the opera. Children need to be supervised/chaperoned, etc, etc. Artistically I will allow that the love police were probably more fun if you were sitting close, as I do, since there is a perennial projection problem for child singers.

If so, I shall miss them.

Update next week.

Amazing technology

March 1, 2013

At this time of year, I am doing a BAS statement. OK, I am a day late.

My business affairs are pretty simple so I do it myself.

Most of the banking transactions are on a separate account maintained in connection with my practice. Regulations under the Legal Profession Act require that I have such an account in the event that I take a direct payment from a client in advance of rendering the client a bill. This rarely happens but it is necessary to be prepared.

Just occasionally I have work out what a cheque was for or who it was from, especially because sometimes one goes into the wrong account.

Today I discovered, when checking my bank statement on line, that I CAN click on a transaction and see onscreen a copy of either a cheque I have paid (less important) or (more interesting) a cheque I have paid in.

That is just amazing. And occasionally quite handy.