Yesterday I sloped off from work to attend the state memorial service at the Opera House for Hazel Hawke.
As we enter an increasingly secular age I think we can expect more of these services to be held in this fashion, though not necessarily as musically well-catered as this one was.
I didn’t know Hazel. Of course I had an impression of her as a public figure, but I have mixed feelings about participation in such public obsequies – I certainly never wanted to lay flowers at Kensington Palace. What drew me was the invitation of the SSO which promised a performance of the Mozart triple concerto, as played by Hazel and two others with the SSO in 1990.
I was there at that Meet the Music concert. One of the other pianists was a former student and remains a friend who has occasionally been mentioned in this blog.
The SSO’s principal viola Roger Benedict conducted. I won’t say the Mozart was the most memorable of performances but nor is it the most memorable of pieces – there is a reason why there are few triple piano concerti.
David Drury was the organist and did a really good job, particularly with what was billed as an “improvisation” but what was more like an arrangement of “It’s a wonderful world” which he played to accompany a slide show of images of Hazel through her life.
The other musical high point was the performance of the Sydney Children’s Choir, especially a very free “arrangement” of “Waltzing Matilda” which manages to combine bits of both of the better-known tunes.
I thought Benedict tempted fate with the slow rather meandering tempi he set for the tenor for both “Nessun Dorma” and “Danny Boy” but the singer managed to get through them relatively unscathed and indeed made quite a good fist of them. The Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Flowers suffered a little from the modest complement (eg 5 celli) of the orchestra’s string section.
There were speeches. Ralph Willis gave a very dry one, including an account of the one time when he said Hazel had exceptionally been other than a welcoming and genial hostess. Willis and his wife went home with Bob Hawke for what they anticipated would be a celebratory dinner in 1973 on the occasion of what Willis called the “surprising” nomination of Bob Hawke as father of the year. As Bob himself has acknowledged, he was very much an absentee father, and on this occasion Hazel expressed an opinion about the award consonant with that. Willis and his wife beat a hasty retreat.
Afterwards, the great (if not necessarily good) milled about in the foyer. I guess they have to go to lots of things like this. Kevin Rudd (who sat at the end of the front row next to Janette Howard) was chatting in a corner to someone who looked faintly diplomatic; Julia Gillard was having her photo taken by and with supporters/admirers.