You’re on your own

On Friday past to the SSO at the SOH, conducted by David Robertson. The program was:

Sculthorpe, Sun Music II
Walton, Violin Concerto (soloist Andrew Haveron on his newly donated violin)
Sibelius Symphony No 2.

I celebrated the commencement of daylight saving the weekend before as well as the (still relative but recovering) recovery of my injured knee by walking down to the Opera House though the Botanic Gardens. The expulsion of the bats seems to have been largely successful, from the point of view of the gardens at least (if not of the bats).

There was some kind of reception at Government House. Seen lit-up from the Gardens across its front lawn (the prospect seems to have been opened up a little) the building looked quite splendid in a fenced-off-privilege kind of way. Viceregal notices seem to have disappeared from the daily press, reducing our viceregal representatives to blogging their activities. It turns out what I saw was “part of the 2015 Australian Churchill Fellows National Convention.”

There is a funny kind of acquaintance you have with your fellow concert-goers. It’s a bit like the acquaintance you have with shop-keepers or people who always catch the same bus or train: you don’t really know them but you feel some kind of connection. There is one such person, I guess at least 10 years older than me, whom I have been climbing over on my way to my seat in row T of the stalls in this series of concerts for maybe 10 years by now. Like me, he goes to these concerts on his own.

This year my knee injury and associated paraphernalia have occasioned in a kind of ongoing solicitousness on his part. Most recently we had a little chat when, as in the TE Lawrence death and Damascus trope, we had an unexpected meeting when I found myself sitting in front of him at a Wednesday night concert which I had switched to from my usual Saturday series. This Friday we exchanged a little non-verbal greeting as I climbed over him yet again. My seat is the fourth seat after his.

In the slow movement of the Walton, he all of a sudden made a strange strangled snort-snore kind of sound. I looked along the row and his head was tilted back and his eyes rolled up. Then he had a little burst of twitching hands and head. It was alarming and a little bit scary.

What to do when such things happen? You are conscious of a kind of conflict of interest and duty: you want the performance not to be interrupted, but you don’t want to be callous. Nor do you want to be officious, though you have to wonder whether someone who has had such a seizure (if seizure it was) is in the best position to decide whether they should seek assistance.

I wasn’t close enough to do anything but the people in front of him turned and spoke to him and, looking a bit dazed, he came to and interacted with them. An usher approached from the side but no actual medical evacuation ensued.
In the remaining movements he seemed to be shifting uncomfortably in his seat and at one point there was another slightly strange noise.

At interval he left too swiftly for me to catch up with him and ask how he was or offer any assistance. What I had in mind was to ensure or at least suggest that unless he knew what had happened (for example if it was a recurrence of a diagnosed condition because medication had been missed) he should not simply go home without seeking some medical assistance. I would have been concerned if he was just going to drive home to solitude. Would I have foregone the second half of the concert if that was necessary to help him? Easy to say now that I would have though I doubt it would have come to that. I think what most worried me was the reflexive reaction that people often have in such situations to say that they are all right when maybe they aren’t and possibly they aren’t really well placed to judge.

Perhaps he left so swiftly because he was embarrassed to deal with such kindness of strangers. At least, I consoled myself, he was still quite quick on his feet. He didn’t return after interval.

D has now been away for 4 months, which may have sensitized me to such Eleanor-Rigby-ish moments of social atomism. Of course, it’s an entirely fictional conjecture that Eleanor wasn’t perfectly satisfied with her own company. (“If only that pesky Father Mackenzie would just leave me alone!”)

The other thing which had sensitized me this night was latest news of an impending orchestral mini-purge. I have already commented on the Stalinist unpersoning of one long-term principal and tidings are now abroad that there are a few more players in Mr Robertson’s sights. These made me reflect on the delusion of coming to concerts as a refuge from the rough-and-tumble of the world when in fact orchestras are no more immune from this than any other social institution. The symphony orchestra is really just an artistic apotheosis of nineteenth-century industrialisation when you think of it.

How weird must it be to have to respond to direction from a conductor when you know that conductor wants you gone? The dramatic irony may not be as intense as the murderous rage of Il Pagliacci but there must be some bitter moments for targeted players, and it must be hard for them defiantly to play their best when they know the fix is in and against them.

Apart from that, I quite enjoyed the concert.

Another row-T acquaintance (whom at least I know a bit better as we were in a “remedial gym” class together in 1972 and I went through high school in classes with his younger brother) expressed the view to me at interval that the Sculthorpe is “rubbish.” I went along with it as a cheerful relic of Sculthorpe’s youthful epater phase – not that that lasted long after this. It wasn’t until Robertson made a show of closing up his copy of the score that the audience felt sufficiently confident to applaud.

Were it not for my topical preoccupation with the Führerprinzip, I would probably have been prepared to forgive Walton his dodgy political associations on the strength of Haveron’s performance of the concerto. His encore was one of those difficult multiple stopping fugal things which excite admiration in lovers of violinism but which I don’t really find it particularly easy to like. I strongly suspected it might be by Bartok – a suspicion confirmed half way down page two of my google of “Bartok violin encores.” I suppose I will soon have to concede that it’s not Bartok, it’s me.

The Sibelius started a bit more muscularly and less charmingly than I prefer. Quite a lot of the charm throughout the Symphony is in woodwind detail which tended to be overborne by the brass. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood to be uplifted: the willing suspension of disbelief in music’s transcendancy had left me.

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