Archive for June, 2013

I was there

June 26, 2013

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.

Once again, one of the pianists, Tamara Cislowska, was known to me. The others were Simon Tedeschi and youngster Paul Cheung.

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.


June 19, 2013

I have lapsed recently, but for about 8 months up to about a month ago I lived an abstemious life almost totally off the booze and the cigarettes.

A couple of months ago, I was walking out of the opera house talking to a friend after a concert. I was stopped not once but twice by the bouncers of the “Opera” bar. I could in fact just have been walking home past the bar (because it is an outdoor spot with a right of passage through it to the carpark, the bouncers seem to enlarge their jurisdiction to extend to this) but in fact I was planning to meet a friend from interstate who was waiting for me there.

Was it my gait? Was it my garb? Was it my age? Both, and the second more than the first, asked me those questions about what I had had to drink. These are questions which I am not asked often, and certainly not when I haven’t had a drink for some months.

In the end they let me in. I suppose I could have called my friend out and gone elsewhere, but I didn’t want to make a scene. Still, it was unpleasant and I think entirely unfounded. I wondered and wonder if they just didn’t think I was the right customer for their trendy (though quite uncrowded: it was early in the week) bar.

Which is one of two reasons why I feel sorry for the unsuccessful plaintiff in Sleeman v Tuloch Pty Ltd t/as Palms on Oxford (No 3) [2013] NSWDC 92, who sued a bar for the way its bouncer turned him away.

Even on the bouncer’s account, if true, you can see where things take a wrong turn, at [37]:

When the males got to the front of the line I, I just each male, as I always do, “Gentlemen, where have you been today? How are we?” And I saw one male, I describe as being approximately 50 to 60 years of age, tall, which I now know to be Mr Sleeman, had reddish complexion, dark red complexion, so it’s my, my experience and, and skill to be able to see that this person may have consumed some drinks. I do not know how many, and that’s why I asked, “Excuse me, sir, how much have you had to drink tonight?”
He stated he had none. His two friends, I said, “How much have we had to drink?” His two friends then said, “We’ve been to dinner and we’ve consumed a couple with dinner,” so now I had conflicting stories with his friends, so I said to each male, I said, “Excuse me, gents, which one is it? None, or one, or two? Can you help me out?”

That’s Mr Unwin, described by Her Honour as a “public servant.” He’s obviously picked up a bit of police-speak somewhere along the way (“conflicting stories”, “the males”). (Google suggests: Customs.) I don’t know what skill he has at telling whether someone has consumed drinks. The uncontradicted evidence seems to be that Mr Sleeman rarely drank and had not drunk that night. To see that someone “may have consumed some drinks” surely means nothing at all.


See Bounced Again! for the fate of Mr Sleeman’s age-discrimination complaint.

It appears that Mr Unwin is employed as a plain clothes investigator in the Australian Customs & Border Protection Service. He said his basis for concluding Mr Sleeman was drunk was Mr Sleeman’s red complexion.

Indeed, the Tribunal felt Mr Unwin’s evidence was more credible precisely because he was “a trained professional investigator with the Australian Customs Service.” Is that really a reason for considering a witness more credible? It is a small step from professional investigator to professional witness.

At the SOH

June 9, 2013

Last night to hear the SSO conducted by Charles Dutoit, whose hair is darker than ever.

It was a battle to get to the concert as the city was crowded with one and all who had come to see the last night of the “Vivid” illuminations.

In the past I have been told by an orchestra member that they were all a bit scared of Dutoit. Certainly, and particularly noticeably in the Mozart Symphony No 29 (a slightly old-fashioned performance), he elicited a higher than usual unanimity and silken refinement from the violins, guest-led by a be-sequinned Wilma Smith from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Roger Brooke retired as associate principal of the SSO. A banner was unfurled from a side box at the end of the concert which read “Farewell Roger” : I suppose he knew he was going already though the thought passed my mind that in the modern-day workplace you could conceivably receive the news from management in this fashion.

Brooke’s biography (he was a soloist in the concerto for 7 winds and percussion by Frank Martin and I guess his retirement was behind the extra special acknowledgement Dutoit gave him at the end of this) noted that he had been a pupil of John Cran, long-term principal bassoon of the SSO. That set me to thinking of the “blood-lines” of players about town: Sydney is full of Cran’s pupils (though not the remaining SSO complement); all of the present SSO oboe section other than her husband has learnt from principal Diana Doherty; the Australian flautists who have a tuitional descent from Margaret Crawford are legion, and if not Crawford, then Vernon Hill.

I particularly liked the slow movement of the Martin which features a kind of slowly treading beat which changes colour as it moves through the orchestra.

Paul Terracini, brother of Winston and Lyndon, was slipped in as third trumpet in the Saint-Saens Organ symphony. It was a rousing rendition. To my own taste the last movement was a bit heartless, but I think that’s the piece rather than the performance.

Beforehand I picked up a cheap ticket to Monday night’s concert to be given by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It looks as though somebody is about to lose a bit of money on this – the prices I was quoted were appreciably lower than those set out in the special brochure still on display near the box office, and I gained the impression that there are still plenty of tickets. I hope my weekend work commitments will let me go: I especially want to hear Schumann’s Rhenish symphony.

I must go down to the sea again

June 7, 2013


I have a busy weekend with an impending trial starting on Tuesday, but I shall try to squeeze in a trip to Wylie’s Baths for what looks (courtesy of this great picture from the CSIRO via the SMH) like the last chance for a dip before the water gets too cold for me.


June 5, 2013

In news just in (for me), Richard Mills has “withdrawn” from Opera Australia’s production later this year of Wagner’s Ring, which he had previously been due to conduct.

He was, to me, at least, a surprising selection in the first place for this very important role. It’s not as if he has done a lot of Wagner.

That doesn’t necessarily explain what happened. There’ll be speculation but the general rule with these things is that nobody who thinks they really know and has some basis for that belief is likely to tell even the truth as they see it.

No replacement has yet been announced,

Never mind, experience is not required. It’s time for a national living treasure to step in.

The first comment on the Limelight Magazine page where I read the news has a suggestion:

“I can imagine this happening. I hope AO considers Richard Gill, couldn’t imagine a better conductor for the Ring.”


Nail soup

June 2, 2013

Last night to hear the Sydney Omega Ensemble, playing with Simon Tedeschi at the City Recital Hall.

Since I last heard them, there has been a something like a 90% turnover in the ensemble’s membership.  This comes a close second to the notorious switcheroo a few years ago in the “personnel” of the Australian String Quartet, which overnight went from one set of players to a totally different set previously known as the Tankstream Quartet.

You might thing that what that revealed was that the ASQ was not so much an ensemble as a business name – it was whatever group the University of Adelaide might seek to employ and publicise under that name.

Likewise, the SOE has now morphed from the ensemble founded in 2005 when clarinetist David Rowden and “10 other young musicians sought to redefine Sydney’s classical chamber music landscape.”  “Listed on the Australian Government’s Register of Cultural Organisations maintained under Subdivision 3-B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997″ it is now whoever the management (and in particular, I surmise, its artistic director, clarinetist David Rowden, the one constant member) chooses to engage.

This means it is no longer what it was, which was a bunch of roughly co-eval musicians from Sydney, and now is a broader mix of some young and some older musicians about town.  Along the way it seems also to have become more blokey.

There was possibly some angst involved in this transition, and in a way I feel something has been lost, even if something has been gained in its place.

Saturday’s program was:

Françaix: Quartet for Winds “Quatuor à vents”

Spohr: Septet for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, Violin, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 147

Strauss: Capriccio, Op. 85

Shostakovich: Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57
and the line-up was:
Simon Tedeschi (piano) [he gets his own billing as a guest star], Huy-Nguyen Bui (violin), Airena Nakamura (violin), Tobias Breider (viola), Ewan Foster (viola), Teije Hylkema (cello), Timothy Nankervis (cello), Lisa Osmialowksi (flute), David Papp (oboe), David Rowden (clarinet), Andrew Barnes (bassoon)  and Michael Dixon (horn).
The program was $5 and for that I think we might have been told a bit more about the individual musicians.
It was not your typical chamber-music public.  For one thing, it was inclined to clap between movements, but only if the movement just finished was fast or lively.  Things settled down in the second half.
The Françaix was amiable and pleasant.
What I’d come for was the Spohr.
Spohr’s apparently aesthetically undemanding parameters were such that his music was adopted by WS Gilbert as the badge of the common-place young man that Reginald Bunthorne would become once he abandoned his Oscar-Wilde aestheticism for more common place musical fare “interwoven / With Spohr and Beethoven, / At classical Monday Pops.”
In some ways Spohr falls between the cracks of musical history and it does not always seem to be a straightorward exercise to bring his style back to life.  As a result, there is a risk that you end up thinking “is this all there is?”
In this case, this started with a strangely offhand opening led by H-N Bui in admittedly not a very forward register of the violin.  At first I reproached him for this and I still think he took too literally the piano marking in the score – unless it was my seat that was the problem.  Home afterwards I found a few youtube exemplars and think that what was needed was a bit more musical tension in the accompaniment and (sorry to say) a lighter (not necessarily always softer) approach from the piano.
In the slow movement (a Larghetto pastorale), the tempo never really seemed to settle and it kept threatening to go faster than Michael Dixon started it off.
By the third movement the affekt was clearer and in one of the trios David Rowden got to do some quite nice clarinet yodelling. The last movement was cheerful but fairly musically inconsequential.
Still, I’m glad I heard it.  What would be really good, though, is if they could play it again.  It seems a shame that such a rarely assembled piece and ensemble should be just for the once. I’m sure it would get better.
The second half was given over to the strings.  I’ve exhausted myself with thinking about the Spohr so won’t really offer an opinion about that.
On a Saturday night, when you leave the City Recital Hall, you come straight out into the special hell of the queue to get into the bar “Ivy.”  Bouncers abound and the air is pregnant with their special kind of menace.  Why people would want to queue up to get into a club where the bouncers have detained a patron and beaten him beats me.  It made me treasure the winsome ending of the Shostakovich quintet all the more, even as Ivy’s doof-doof rent the air.
The city was otherwise full of revellers for the “Vivid” festival.
I took the train home.