Archive for March, 2016


March 31, 2016


Last night I went to the clothes hoist in the small hours of the morning to retrieve some coat hangers to hang out some washing.

I reached up, without looking particularly, and got a most tremendous shock as a large bird took off from the corner of the hoist just near where I had been reaching.

As he/it flapped off towards the bigger trees at the back of the yard, I recognized it.

We haven’t heard the tawny frogmouth calling from the tree in the park opposite since mid-January.   I thought that meant he had left us but now I guess it was just the end of the nesting season and he has been around all along.

D, inside, had heard my cry of alarm.  I told him what I had seen.

“He will be back,” said D, and sure enough, when we went out again about 10 minutes later there the bird was.

D keeps fish.  He dug a pond out of an elevated garden bed when we moved in.  A visiting kookaburra perching in a tree near the fishpond delighted D until one day D saw it on the fence with one of his fish in its beak.

After that, protective wiring was installed. This seems to have done the trick.

In preparation for our impending vacation of the premises, the pond has been filled in. The fish are waiting (less a couple who made fatal bids for freedom) in a kind of trough made of old doors and lined with plastic.  The clothes hoist offered a good vantage point.  It was obvious what the frogmouth was interested in.

I doubt that if the bird could have caught the fish through the protective wiring, but D was taking no chances against the stupidity of fish. D rushed to install further barriers.  The frogmouth remained undeterred for about another 5 minutes just a metre or so from us before he finally flew away.



Nuisance calls

March 29, 2016

At home I still have a landline.

This exposes me, and D, to a multitude of unsolicited canvassing calls.  Apart from these, comparatively a few people – overseas callers and people who only have a landline themselves – ring us on the home number.  – Or people who want a good long chat.

It got to the point where D, who is home at the relevant hours (daytime, early evening) more than I am, would not answer the phone unless I rang twice or without an accompanying attempt on his mobile to show it was somebody who really knew him.

I’m too stingy to pay for caller ID.

Since then, D and I have twigged that most of these calls are placed by machines and that a person does not come on at the calling end unless somebody speaks at the answering end. So now we just wait for the caller to speak. We figure that a genuine non-canvassing caller could be baffled by that, but would probably call again.

This doesn’t save us the trouble of answering the phone, but it does save the struggle of dealing with unwanted calls, especially the (I confess) losing struggle of maintaining civility whilst doing so.

My aunt, 86 and living on her own, is also plagued by such phone calls.  She rang Telstra and they arranged to block her phone to international calls (I didn’t even know that this was possible) but the problem has persisted.

I told my aunt about D’s and my new practice of keeping stumm.  Now she does likewise, but it is the effort of getting up to answer the unwelcome call that really annoys her.

On Saturday, my aunt told me that she had finally got through to the section of Telstra which deals with nuisance calls and that they would be monitoring her calls for the next 30 days. “That’s the maximum period. I hope ASIO won’t get involved.”

I said to her that I thought that was for nuisance calls in the traditional sense – heavy breathers and the like. “You’re always opposing me!” she replied. “Anyway, they’re a nuisance to me.”

I think the bit about ASIO was a joke.

On Sunday, she rang me again. She knew I was visiting my father in Canberra, but we were out. Then she rang D at home. “Tell [M] to phone me straight away. It’s very important. And he must speak first. It’s very important.  He will know why.”  She insisted D write her message down verbatim.  He humoured her….over the telephone.

Not long after she rang Canberra again and after speaking to my father (not her brother: she is my maternal aunt) got through to me.

“I neglected to emphasise enough yesterday that when you ring me you must speak first.  Otherwise, if you ring up and do not speak, I shall write down the time and then report the call to Telstra.  So you must speak first or there could be trouble for you.”

I told D.

“Is that a threat?” he asked.


Boorowa Creek

March 27, 2016


Down in Canberra visiting my father for Easter, we took a drive to Binalong and Boorowa on a Good Friday which started overcast and then came good.


Transfigured Night

March 23, 2016

On Saturday to the first Australia Ensemble concert for the year. It’s good to be back.

The program was:

Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949): Circulo Op.91 (1942)
Don BANKS (1923-1980): Prologue, Night Piece and Blues for Two (1968)
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975): Piccola musica notturna (1954)
Ravi SHANKAR (1920-2012): L’Aube Enchantée (The Enchanted Dawn) (1976)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828): Notturno D897 in E flat Op.148 (c.1827)
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951): Verklärte Nacht Op.4 (Transfigured Night) (1899)

The Turina was effectively a short piano trio in three (titled) movements.  A few little quirks aside it could have been written in Paris in about 1900 rather than in Madrid in 1942.

I’d never heard of Turina.  The program notes said he was persecuted by the Republicans during the civil war.  I’m not saying that never  to anyone (far from it) but these days it is a rare distinction to be claimed on behalf of anyone.

The piece was quite unknown to me: a bit of internet burrowing suggests that it may have come to the Australia Ensemble via a performance given by Julian Smiles as one of Katherine Selby’s “friends” (as opposed to former members of the Macquarie Trio, who presumably are not) in 2013.  The first movement was particularly lush.

I would like to have got more out of the the Dallapicola than I did.  The Ravi Shankar struck me as verging on musical blackface: harp and flute pretending to be Indian instruments.  It was fun at first but perhaps it was my ignorance that led me to feel by the end that it was going on a bit, whatever admiration I had for the virtuosity of the players and particularly Geoffrey Collins.  Too many notes! I was beginning to think – and certainly there were a lot.  Still, I always enjoy a good dose of harp and despite early exposure to the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto it must be said that flute and harp make a good combination.  The Banks was enjoyable without I think even professing to be profound.

Before the concert, P, my A-E-going companion, said that she was looking forward to hearing the Schubert Notturno as she hadn’t heard it before.  It is actually an orphan piano trio slow movement.  Once we had heard it she agreed that she probably had heard it: I was sure I had.  I enjoyed it.  How can one not enjoy a Schubert slow movement?  There is one slightly idiosyncratic passage when the strings break out rather unexpectedly into pizzicato to accompany the theme, sustained by the piano:

Schubert Notturno fragment

This still sounded odd when it returned.  I wonder if that moment has something to do with the movement’s failure to find parents.

The Schoenberg, after which the concert and this year’s series were named, was the undeniable highlight.  The core quartet was joined by Umberto Clerici and Justin Williams from the SSO.  We don’t get to hear string sextets that often but when we do  I am struck at how rich yet intimate they can be.

It’s hard to avoid clichés like “absorbing” and “compelling” so what the hell, I haven’t avoided them. I loved the bit which corresponds to when in the eponymous poem the man tells the woman who has just told him she bears another’s child that his love for her is unassailed, even deepened.  Julian Smiles came in with a big bright sound that blazed out transfiguration. The final section with its night twitters, was spellbinding.  I doubt if the orchestral version could ever match this.



My modern music weekend

March 22, 2016

The search for a new home proceeds.  We found one place which we liked, even allowing for the 1.6km, 20 minute (I go more slowly since my knee disaster last year) walk to the station.  We put in an application, were told it had been sent to the owner, only to be told the next Monday that the owner had engaged two agents and let the property through the other.

Meanwhile, I have managed to fit in a few musical experiences.  D does not approve, says I should be focussing on the search, but man does not live by renting a house alone.  No need to be more miserable than necessary.

In any event, the two Messiaen concerts I went to the weekend before last were booked long before as part of my SSO subscriptions.

On the Saturday, From the Canyons to the Stars.  This was coupled with video projections.  This is a new trap for unwary players, as I discovered last year at Tristan.  If you are just in front of the computer operating the projections you will have to endure the whirring of the computer’s heat-exhaust fan.  At least Tristan had an interval so I could move.  Canyons to Stars had none: bad luck this time for Anton Enus and Jane Mathews.

There was a pre-concert talk in the hall with the orchestra present.  Despite misgivings, I went to it.  I can’t say I learnt much I didn’t know already but perhaps some people did.  For my money, it would have been better with more examples and less talking: it seemed profligate to have the orchestra sit idle for so much of the time.

There was an amusing little bit where Mr Robertson, accompanied by the pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, demonstrated the whole-tone scale version of “Doe/[Doh], a deer:”

Doh a deer

[as tweeted by the SSO]: someone has an elegant manuscript hand!]

It would be ungracious to put the boot in and confirm DR’s joke against himself that he had better keep his day job.  That’s obvious.  What is maybe less obvious is that it was the A sharp which was the most challenging to sing.  I am sure  that would be the same if I were to try it: I’m doing my best to say it’s something to do with the scale rather than DR’s singing.  My guess is because (to use the pitches in this example) C-D-E and then E-F#G# can be approached as the first three notes of two major scales stacked on top of each other, but once you get to A#, working up from the E that’s the TRITONE!

The piano part was actually more interesting than the singing because it entailed harmonic implications of a transmogrified scale.

One point Robertson made was that in Messiaen’s scales still yield euphonic/concordant chords.  (By then DR cannot have been thinking of the whole-tone scale, but rather one of Messiaen’s other modes.) That was a helpful way of explaining how Messian’s music moves between these more concordant sounds and more complicated “scrunchy” harmonies.

When I go to Wylie’s Baths, a special pleasure when the sea is up or the tide coming in is to swim close to the seaward edge.  Then the relatively warm pool water is intermittently infused with a fresh dose of cooler water from the sea.  Messiaen’s kaleidophonic harmony has something of that bracing effect.

The screened images, by Deborah O’Grady, were variable. That’s probably inevitable and trivially true given the unlikelihood that they could all be of the same standard, however assessed. When they were too distracting or imposed an unwelcome program, I simply closed my eyes or looked more down than up.  Wisely, relatively static images were chosen for the solo movements.  The images for Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange (“Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks”) did the most for me – especially the final panning shot.

I still have mixed feelings about such visual supplements.  In my youth we were scornful of the nineteenth century fetish for foisting programs on music regardless of the licence given by the composer.  What has changed, exactly?  It’s all a bit like that old chestnut of film adaptations of books.  They can be good, but I’m not keen on then festooning the book cover with pictures from the film.  Let us imagine for ourselves!

Last time the SSO did this piece, in the Verbrugghen Hall with Michael Kieran-Harvey on piano and conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, Robert Johnson played the horn solo movement from right in front of the piano which in turn had the sustain pedal down to create a kind of ad-hoc sound-board/echo box.  I rather liked that, and was sorry it was not repeated.

Les ressucités et le chant de l’étoile Aldebaran (“The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran“) was, to me, the most beautiful bit.  I just wanted to lean into the sound and hear more of it.

There were some walk-outs. That didn’t either worry or overly distract me.  It’s easy for people to find they have bitten off more than they can chew, particularly if, as this time, there is no interval. I’d rather they felt able to leave than remain squirming in their seats or glancing distractingly at their watches.

On Monday night, to Angel Place for more Messiaen played by Aimard as part of the SSO’s piano series – the Vingt Regards .   I have played just one of these myself (an easier and slower one).  I can’t remember when I have heard them live – possibly Joanne McGregor a few years back, though I can remember having heard them.  In fact, I was surprised how many of the more famous bits I actually remembered.

These got an attentive hearing.  I enjoyed them.

There were detailed program notes.  They could have been improved by some of the themes notated as Messiaen himself identifies them in his preface.

In between, I made a last-minute decision on Sunday sfternoon to take my chances for a ticket at Carriageworks for the first of the SSOs new contemporary music concerts here.  There are to be two this year, curated by Brett Dean, billed as the SSO’s first “artist in residence.” That’s a bit cute: there have been composers in residence in the past so it’s only really the title which is new.  Dean couldn’t be there.  David Robertson presided.

I needed to take my chances because by the time I tried to get a ticket on Thursday or Friday the SSO had stopped selling them and Ticketmaster’s computer booking system engaged from home earlier on Sunday refused me at the final step.  When I fronted the box office I was told that was because there were just two seats left and Ticketmaster will not accept a single booking which breaks a pair.  So I can say I got the second-last ticket. Avoiding Ticketmaster’s booking fee was an added thrill.

I hate booking fees.

The program was:

Pierre Boulez:  Derive 1
Brett Dean: Pastoral Symphony
Lisa Illean: Land’s End
Gerard Grisey: Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold

This was definitely a bargain at $35, especially as, with the (understandable, commemorative) addition of the Boulez, the originally-envisaged 70-minute concert had blown out to a concert with interval of close-to-normal length.  I’d say this inaugural series must be a bit of a loss-leader.

A bit of the gloss of Carriageworks’ funkiness came off when it came to the single-entrance general admission.  Luckily, I joined the enormous queue early and secured a good spot.

It was an exciting concert. The Boulez, built on trills, was apt and did not outstay its interest.  The Dean was fun if a bit obvious.

Lisa Illean’s piece conversely a bit obscure.  Partly that sprang from the blurry liminality which was its professed theme.  For me the music sometimes threatened to slip into the kind of contemporary music that I am less keen on, where sound events are distributed through a time which only seems to be divided into beats for the purpose of co-ordination in performance – but it didn’t quite. For one thing, unlike much such music which if it has a metre at all is ostensibly in 2 or 4, there were sections of recognizable triple time.

A subgroup within the ensemble was microtonally subtuned a little below the general A442 (Robertson’s number).  The effect was intriguing: not so much out of tune (for one thing, they were in tune with each other) as a bit distant and muted.

The big piece was the Grisey.  Soprano, Jessica Aszodi was terrific.  The slightly comic effect as she repeatedly banged her head with a tuning fork to get the pitches for her entries did not detract from this.

Postscript: to be broadcast on ABC “Classic” FM on 29 June.






Darlington ambience

March 13, 2016

I am having a modern music weekend.

Last night to the SOH for an evening with the crypto-Petainist and mad Catholic – France’s musical answer to TS Eliot in some ways – [the late] Olivier Messiaen and his From the Canyons to the Stars.

This afternoon to the SSO’s sortie to Carriageworks  in a well attended and received concert of which, as with the Messiaen, maybe more later.

But what is it with Darlington and toilets?

I’ve always thought that the Seymour Centre had some of the grooviest toilets amongst Sydney performing venues. They are a period piece.  They may not rival the serried porcelain of the Barbican Centre main urinal. but they do speak of their time.

Carriageworks almost surpass them.


Sure they’re new or newish. I guess time will tell whether they can stand up to the Seymour Centre’s. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of those so you’ll have to take my word for it. Meanwhile, another shot with my trusty mobile phone (or, as it is Chinese, Shouji 手机 – which more accurately corresponds to the Continental “Handy.”)


Tomorrow, Vingt Regards at Angel Place.  They are to be performed with an interval, though the facilities, possibly Sydney’s pokiest, scarcely call for one.


March 11, 2016

Scheherazade III Flute I.I

Last Friday night to the SOH to hear the SSO conducted by David Robertson in an intriguing double bill.  I also listened to most of again when it was broadcast on Sunday afternoon.

First up, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

I fancy the cognoscenti look down a bit on this work – the SSO relegates it to their lighter Metro series rather than the Master – but I love it.  That’s probably because it was one of the few LPs of romantic orchestral works which we had in the house when I was a teenager – acquired by my sister, I expect on account of the flute solo, especially in the third movement, starting off with the unfurling and furling motif above and then the accompaniment and tune below, though I now see that the flute has rather less of this tune than it did in my memory:

Scheherazade III Flute 1.II

How fleeting are the solos that orchestral players live for!

Of course, the main and far from fleeting solo is the violin solo, played suavely on this occasion by Andrew Haveron, though in my memory Dene Olding (not so much favoured by Mr Robertson, it seems) managed a sweeter and more exotic (pace Edward Said) rendition.

The orchestra played well though I did feel that Mr Robertson was running a slightly too-tight ship: somehow (and I don’t know exactly how), for example, I felt that the sea could have rolled a bit more liltingly (maybe the opening 6/4 in the first movement was just slower than the recording imprinted on me in adolescence) and throughout the piece the orchestra as a whole struck me as a bit, well, to be frank, glum.  I know, I know, they could just all have been concentrating and working very hard, and the performance as a whole was quite brilliant, but a space for delight – wide open steppes of it are part of my picture of this work notwithstanding that steppes are a bit north of Persia, seemed elusive.

After interval, John Adams’ re-take on the same story: a violin concerto/dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra (that is surely a nod to Harold in Italy for Viola) titled Scheherazade.2.  The soloist, for whom the work was written and who gave the first performance last year in New York, was Leila Josefowicz.

Adams’ style has moved on a bit from Short ride in a fast machine (which still sounded great when I heard the Bishop orchestra play it at this January’s National Music Camp) or Harmonium or Harmonielehre.

This take on the 1001 nights professed to be a reaction to the misogyny Adams discovered when looking at them afresh.  Funnily enough (great minds think alike etc) about a month ago I dipped into my mother’s copy of a school version of the Arabian Nights .  What struck me in the original framing story was not just the misogyny or the framing story of the Shah resolving to take a new wife each night and then kill her.  That misogyny, after all, is implicitly disapproved by Scheherazade’s project when she volunteers to be the next wife to try to bring this to an end.  What struck me was the second nightmare lurking beneath the tales and not, I think, reproached but rather taken as a given: not only are the Shah and his brother both betrayed by their wives with menials in their absence, but those menials are black slaves.

Actually, although Adams professes to broaden his concern to the position of women in all societies, I’m not sure the time is quite right for Americans to express their liberal concern for the plight of women of middle-eastern appearance.  It can’t help being political and a kind of convenient truth.

So mostly I just paid attention to the music.

The piece has four movements:

I. Tale of the Wise Young Woman – Pursuit by the True Believers
II. A Long Desire (love scene)
III. Scheherazade and the Men with Beards
IV. Escape, Flight, Sanctuary

The second is (of course) a slow movement, and referenced the Rimsky-Korsakov violin solo.  I liked that the most.  There was a lot of dense/lush string sound, which returned in the last movement where, wisely, Adams chose to lay on the schmalz a bit.  That’s a tactic which has worked at least since Hindemith ended anything acerbic with his own type of tierce-de-Picardie.  Josefowicz was a compelling soloist (playing the whole part from memory, which was pretty impressive and I am sure freed her up in a way that soloists in contemporary works who still use the music are not always).

Elsewhere the title of the third movement has been criticised as racist.  The claim by Adams that he is also thinking of (beardless, mostly, I expect) macho miscreants on US campuses is a bit feeble.  Then again, it’s not as if there isn’t a bit of a musical tradition of not very flattering approaches to men with beards – for example the bickering Pharisees in Salome.

Rebecca Lagos played a prominent cimbalom part.  She got a big round of applause at the end from her fellow orchestra members.  I wouldn’t have any idea whether such a part should be entrusted to an actual cimbalom player (surely they exist though maybe not in Sydney) rather than a generalist percussionist, however capable.  Afternote: Rebecca Lagos’s biography in the program for the Messiaen Canyon to the Stars states that she is the SSO’s resident cimbalom player, so perhaps I am understating her dedicated attention to the instrument.

The players looked a bit happier at the end of this than they had at the end of the first half.  I went home enlivened.



March 7, 2016

The 32 competitors chosen for the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition (SIPCA) have been announced.  Five only of these are women.  There is nobody from France, Germany (though some study there) or the UK. There are 5 each from Korea, Russia and the USA (including two who identify according to another background as well), 4 from China and 3 from Australia.

As I have previously noted, the syllabus for this year’s competition was rejigged in a number of respects. In particular, the concerto list was tweaked to include Bach, Haydn and early Beethoven in the “Eighteenth Century” first round, and some overplayed works (in particular Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 3) were purged from the 19th-20th Century round.  A number of enticing (or maybe not-so-, as it turns out) relative obscurities were also included in the latter.

In my previous post, I thought this might lead to a Beethoven-ward drift in the first concerto round.  It’s just as well I didn’t put money on it.  As far as I can see, everybody has stuck with Mozart.  Maybe Beethoven 1 or 2 seemed like too big a burden.  Maybe nobody wanted to be an outlier.

As for the 19th-20th century round, nobody, to my disappointment, has elected to play the Litolff Scherzo/Franck Symphonic Variations double bill.  The only obscurity to attract attention is the Medtner 2, chosen by the single Swedish entrant.  Liszt 2, Chopin 2 and Grieg concerti have each been nominated by one entrant.  Two each have chosen Saint-Saens 2 and Beethoven 4.

Four have chosen Brahms 2.  That’s a big piece, but the overwhelming favourites remain the competition staples: Rachmaninov 2 – 9, and Prokofiev 3 – 11.



March 5, 2016

Homosexuals demand the right to work!

When, about 10 years ago, the push for marriage equality first emerged, the “establishment” gay and lesbian rights groups such as the NSW gay and lesbian rights lobby were caught on the hop. They were still focussing on substantive and de facto equality. It’s not as if they weren’t opposed to John Howard’s (with the ALP’s complicity) entrenchment of inequality by the amendment of the statutory definition of marriage (which would preclude any judge-made evolution of the definition of marriage at common low), but at that time gay marriage seemed like a symbolic and aspirational goal when there were so many other changes needed. Why try to run before you can walk?

That was my view, too. The most urgent need in gay rights was to improve the situation of gay adolescents in their high school years. That was based on my own experience at school and also as a teacher – experiencing homophobic abuse myself and witnessing the plight of the more obviously effete in the boys’ school where I taught for a bit over 10 years.

In your adult life, you can to an extent determine your social environment. You can seek out like-minded friends and to that extent protect yourself from direct abuse, though there remain some workplaces which are best avoided. It’s not that that prejudice against gays and lesbians (let alone (btqi people) does not exist, but abuse is rarely directed to your face except from strangers in public places.

School, however, is a bit like prison; it is a place you are forced to be by virtue of compulsory education, with company not of your own choosing. The same applies to your family whilst you are still a child/teenager. If there were any doubt about how tough adolescence is for gay [shorthand here] people, the statistics for youth suicide make the situation plain. And who can doubt that this trauma has a lasting effect into adult life for many?

But formal equality – where the availability of same-sex marriage is the great hold out, is also important – even if, in most respects, same-sex partners can arrange their affairs to achieve de facto equality. Even then such de facto equality is not even de facto equality because you have to take those steps. What it’s about is R.E.S.P.E.C.T..

Progress for LGBTIQ requires a pincer movement: on the one hand, the on the ground things like improving the plight of young LBGTIQ people; on the other, the higher order symbolic changes, like marriage equality.

That’s confirmed when the Tony Abbotts of this world obviously see things the same way, from the opposite point of view.

In part what they are reacting against, in the latest nasty political bout against the “Safe Schools” program is the fact that even anti-bullying requires higher-order attitude changing.  You don’t change the situation for kids in a school by saying “don’t bully [x] or [y]’ where X or Y are the specific children being bullied – although you also have to do that sometimes.  You have to change the children’s attitudes to the sorts of people that [x] and [y] are – create a more tolerant atmosphere generally.

That’s just what the reactionaries – truly, the homophobes – don’t like.  And we see it coming out in the arguments mounted against gay marriage/marriage equality, all about children when of course regardless of whether their parents are married or not there already are and will continue to be children with same-sex-partnered parents.

Right now I can’t be bothered spelling out more.  It makes me so angry.

I’ve used the picture above before.  In fact it’s of my elder sister in her Socialist Worker’s Party phase.   I’ve not asked her if she got up in time to go to the morning march and as she was a musician it seems unlikely to me.  But she was at the original 1978 Mardi Gras parade and a band she was in played at the first party in 1980.  Earlier this year she mentioned to me that the police violence was so unpleasant that it was 20 years before she could bring herself to take part in any demonstration/rally/march.