Weak at the knee

Owing to an injury to my knee, I’m less mobile than usual just now. D has been driving me in to concerts in the city.

Faced with the various road closures and public transport disruptions associated with the Vivid Festival, I chose to drive myself in and park in the Sydney Opera House’s double helix carpark for the Sydney Symphony’s concert titled “My Country, My Life.”

If you book in advance on the internet it is $4.50 cheaper, by the way.

The car park was full of families with strollers going to Vivid, and though I was early, I had to go right to the bottom (it really is a “Tiefgarage”) and up again a bit before I found a spot.

As I came out of the lift from the car park I met an orchestra member with whom I have a speaking acquaintance – struck up only recently at a piano recital when he recognised me from our days outside concert halls as members of the smokers’ club. That he struck up a conversation at the recital I put down to my being on crutches: this is a bit like having a dog or possibly (I wouldn’t know) a child when it comes to provoking conversation.

“You might want to leave at interval,” he said.

It wasn’t clear at first whether that was intended as a reflection of his taste or what he thought mine might be – maybe a bit of both.

The program was:

DVOŘÁK Symphony No.7
SMETANA The High Castle from Má Vlast
MACKEY Beautiful Passing – Violin Concerto
SMETANA The Moldau from Má Vlast

On one level I think he meant simply that the “big finish” (ie, the Symphony) was in the first half. Wouldn’t one want to go home after it? As we spoke further (there was plenty of time and I wasn’t moving fast) it emerged that he wasn’t all that keen on the Mackey (though he conceded it to be well written) and a little dismissive of finishing the concert with “The Moldau” – “a piece Czech orchestras do on tour as an encore.”

As to the order of the halves, I agree with him. I would have rather left the concert with the exaltation of the symphonic finale resonating within me than the popularism of the Smetana, well-played though that undoubtedly was.

On the other hand I liked the Mackey more than my orchestral acquaintance seemed to. To be fair, he did make the point to me that it was a piece with a program. With that program in mind (Mackey’s mother’s “good death” – lucky her) I found it quite rewarding. There were some muted strings towards the end for which I am always a sucker.

Maybe I am becoming more receptive to such stuff than I once was, on account of my present infirmity, my age and the age of my parents’ generation.

Anthony Marwood was the violinist. David Robertson conducted.

Robertson is in town for a sustained period. I expect that’s been lined up to allow time to prepare Tristan und Isolde, scheduled for 20 and 22 June.

So it was that the next Friday I fronted at the SOH to see David Robertson conduct with the SSO’s Brangane, Katarina Karnéus, as the soloist in a concert titled “Summer Nights.”

Vivid now over and its crowds dispersed, and D out of the country, I got myself to the courtesy bus which waits at one end of Circular Quay station to transport less mobile attendees to the Opera House now that no public buses run there. It is a good service though the steps up to the bus must be a bit tricky for some of the clientele.

It was a pleasant surprise when my onetime history lecturer, J, and his wife, G, also boarded the bus. Happily, J always remembers the course in which he felt I did particularly well rather than the course I took the next year where he got a bit semiotic and which proved a bit beyond me. About 15 years after I took it (probably coinciding with a pre-retirement clearout of his office, I now realise) he even posted me the course materials from a later year of basically the same course as the one I had done well in. (We didn’t have “course materials” when I went through – we had to buy, borrow or occasionally photocopy books and articles for ourselves.)

We parted at the SOH as they were off to the preconcert talk in the northern foyer. This was too many steps for me. I had a snack at the Bistro Mozart to accompany some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

And so to the concert. The program was delightful:

HAYDN Symphony No.31 (Horn Signal)
BERLIOZ Les Nuits d’été (Summer Nights)
SCHUBERT Symphony No.4 (Tragic)

My Australia-Ensemble-going companion, P, complains that not enough Haydn is done these days. In context, I suppose she has Haydn’s string quartets most in mind (nobody grieves very much over the neglect of his baryton trios), but on the strength of the SSO’s performance on this occasion I’m inclined to the same view about the symphonies.

The problem is that Haydn wrote so many symphonies: even if the SSO did two a year it would take more than 50 years to get through the lot. That is a bit of a straw-mannish way of putting things. It is not necessary to play every symphony, but there is a lot of good stuff there.

It just makes you realise how much recordings and radio have crowded the repertoire. There is these days so much (well-known) music which, from simple numbers of other contenders rather than any particular esoteric or extravagant musical forces, we can only rarely hear live.

Still [going on a bit, now, I know] I’d be happy to hear more Haydn symphonies from the SSO, and not just (in fact especially not just) London symphonies. I especially liked the bright HIP-ish violin sound at the outset (the size of the orchestra beefed up a bit to match 4 modern horns). I liked still, but less, the last movement – a rare example in Haydn of a last movement based on variations. Rare for a reason, I’d say. Not because the variations were bad, but because his more exuberant finales are better. (OK, there is the Farewell Symphony but that’s a special case.)

The Berlioz is another example of a work very well known in recordings and often broadcast, but not so often heard live here. The issue here is probably that big-Berlioz crowds out little or medium Berlioz. It was great to hear it.

I would like to hear from the SSO more non-Symph-Fant Berlioz, and not just overtures. What about The Death of Cleopatra?

Having mugged up on the text furiously before the concert began, I glanced from time at it in the program booklet. I feel it is a waste of a live performance to keep your head buried in the text to slavishly follow it.

Afterwards, my neighbour, a European student visiting Australia, asked me surprisedly “Could you follow the words?” I gathered she didn’t have a very high opinion of Katarina Karnéus’s French. I’m not sure or even convinced KK’s French was totally Gallic, but she projected the gist (which was all that I was after and which I told my neighbour was all I could or sought to follow anyway) very well and over a very wide vocal range – it seemed at one point to go right down to an E below the stave.

The Schubert 4 was another rarity on the Sydney concert stage. Predictably, I enjoyed the second movement the most. Predictably because it is a slow movement (could there also have been some muted strings?) and also because my subsequent research reveals that it is most people’s favourite.

I met J and G at the courtesy bus stop but in the end we did not travel back to Circular Quay together. The bus had just gone and J wanted to strike out on foot to catch the train. Instead I found myself talking to Ph, to whom I had been previously introduced by my concert-going acquaintance Co. Once again, the crutch was a great conversation starter, especially when I disclosed that I had a knee problem. Ph revealed he is about to have a total knee replacement after an unsatisfactory partial replacement. We swapped notes about medication and surgeons. More generally, he reflected “That’s the thing about getting old.”

That’s all very well for him to say. Ph must be at least 10 and more like 15 years older than I.

We also discussed the upcoming Tristan. Ph said that Co said to him: “Go to see it twice. We’ll never hear it again in Sydney.” So he is going to both performances, as is Co.

I hope time is on my side for that one, because I have only booked to go once.

2 Responses to “Weak at the knee”

  1. Victor Says:

    I didn’t know you could book parking the OH car park let alone that doing so was cheaper.

    Would you have received a refund if the car park had been full on that Vivid night?

    • marcellous Says:

      Interesting question. My thought is that once they have taken a booking they are obliged to keep enough spots free because you cannot change the booking later than an hour before and you have already paid for it. Easy enough to do by counting cars in or out but it could be difficult to find that free spot.

      Whether they actually do that is a question I wouldn’t like to put to the test, which is why I still turned up early.

      So even if the sign was up saying full I would rock up at the appointed hour and insert my credit card and see if they let me in.

      After all there are others who will still be let in (those with specifically reserved spots).

      If not, a refund at least and maybe damages for missing a show would be in order.

      PSActually, I checked the at-the-door price tonight and with a credit card at least it is $38; on the web, $32.50, so $5.50 cheaper. Still way beyond my extravagance level (I want to save that for the tickets) were it not for public transport disruptions and being on a crutch at present.

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