Archive for October, 2016


October 31, 2016

On Sunday night on a Limelight Magazine prompted whim (helped that it was free) off to Carriageworks with D for a brief performance by Jon Rose: The Museum Goes Live.

I’ve been following Jon Rose, mostly from a distance, for years.  In very general terms, he works with music or sound made with some combination of wind, wires, bows and bicycles.  The museum in question is a collection of violin-like instruments and associated violin-related kitsch.  It’s an impressive and intriguing collection and a very sustained body of work, not to mention at least one heroically sustained joke which actually manages to be funny, albeit one that owes a bit to Peter Schickele’s PDQ Bach.

Some of Rose’s inventions and instruments used in the performance have a decidedly Heath-Robinsonish air.  A more modern one is described as a violin played by recording of trading on Wall Street – you can see that at about 6:00 here.

I think there are meant to be some more serious environmentalist and political messages beneath the tending-to-satirical surface.  I’m not necessarily convinced that the performance leads to the stated message though maybe I need to think about that a bit more.  I find this kind of message a bit on a par with words written on paintings and dancers speaking.  But if not leavened with art, would we be ready for the message?

Is it music?  D and I had a discussion about this after.  D thought it was. I tend to think not really, because I wouldn’t really want to listen to the sound on its own on repeated occasions by, say, buying a CD or whatever it is people buy now.

Afterthought: I say “I” but I mean anybody.  Sound art?  Possibly  [Outmoded litmus-test: radio play or the Italia Prize], but given the impact of the setting, performance-art.

There’s a second round beginning Wednesday and I plan to go.



All things must pass

October 29, 2016




Not my pic.  Taken from twitter, via the SMH today.

Could be my jinx, given that I linked to my own pic of the tree just a week or so ago.- No not really. I flatter myself.

Quite a few of the jacarandas in Cardigan Street Stanmore pictured by me in 2008  in the same post blew down in storms a few years later.  Looks like the trees from Sydney’s Jacaranda-planting craze of (I’d guess) the ‘twenties are reaching their natural span.

Lounging round Beethoven

October 23, 2016

Last Friday to the SOH to hear the SSO under Ashkenazy in the second-last instalment of this year’s Beethoven cycle.

The program was the third piano concerto and the Pastoral symphony.

These are favourite works for many.  The player who introduced the Night Lounge afterwards disclosed that the Pastoral Symphony was her first cassette as a teenager on her Walkman; I think it is my favourite symphony and certainly the one I know best because I studied it for a (not very successful) conducting course and wrote an essay about it once.  The third concerto is the first concerto I learnt (the last movement) and I’m pretty sure the first record of a piano concerto I bought: an early Vox recording by Alfred Brendel which I remember sampling at the sound-proof-booth at Rowe Street Records in about 1974.

I listened to most of the concerto with my eyes shut.  It seemed appropriate because the soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, has been blind from birth.

That’s a tricky issue.  I wasn’t aware of Tsujii’s blindness until just before I went into the hall and over all I’m glad of it.  I wouldn’t want to have been thinking “I’m off to see the blind pianist.”

Tsujii has some mannerisms the impact of which he must be quite unaware and I found I also had to confront my own squeamishness about the spectacle.  By the end I’d grown accustomed to it and no longer needed to occlude my gaze.  I suppose there’s a lesson there.

I enjoyed his playing.  He dared some very pianissimo moments; the slow movement was the best (for me).  Sometimes when things got complicated the ensemble became a bit ragged: I put that down in part because then, when Ashkenazy had to follow Tsujii in a more mechanical way, the orchestra had to follow Ashkenazy’s beat in a more mechanical way, whereas I don’t really think of VA as conductor who leads with his stick: he really operates on a kind of musical empathy and the immense respect the orchestra feel for him.

For an encore Tsujii played the Revolutionary Etude – a c-minor match for the Beethoven.  I was just aware at the end that he needed to be careful reaching up to the top of the keyboard for the final tumultuous descent.

I enjoyed the Pastoral.  Maybe the storm could have been a bit more fiery.

These concerts are Dene Olding’s second last set of concerts as concertmaster.  This was marked by a speech by Catherine Hewgill and a brief response by Olding.  I’m prepared to guess that even the apparently spontaneous bits were given at each of the concert’s repetitions.

Afterwards to the Northern Foyer for the Night Lounge event.  The music was:

Glinka – 2 songs ‘Do not tempt me needlessly’ and ‘Doubt’ – arr Eduard Herrman for violin, viola and harp (Marina and Justine Marsden and Louise Johnson).

Halvorsen – Sarabande for violin and viola after theme by Handel (Benjamin Li and Tobias Br[e]i).

Professor Teddy BOR – Bach at the Double for swing trio performed on period instruments – Stan W Kornel (viola d’amore), Fiona Ziegler (tenor viola da gamba) and Jacques Emery (billed as bass viola da gamba though I can’t say I can detect the difference).

Of these, I most enjoyed the Glinka.  Others enjoyed the Halvorsen.  I always find that sort of music more estimable than enjoyable and I felt the intimacy of chamber music was somewhat spoilt by the amplification and a bit of a shortage of direct communication between the two players.  The BOR was charming but silly.  Unfortunately the amplification did not really catch the sound of the viola d’amore at all well and the bass (of whatever sort) was not present enough – maybe some of it needed to be played up an octave?

My own preference would still be for more playing and less talking at these events.

Still it was fun if not, overall, as mellow as the last one I went to.  Atmosphere might have been enhanced if I’d bought a post-concert drink – but I don’t like to encourage the new concessionaires too much given their price hikes.  And couldn’t the bar staff sling the bottles around a bit more quietly while the musicians are playing?

In the first half of the concert there seemed to be a rash of babes in arms making vocal contributions.  Do we need a code?  First of all, infants need to be seated near exits and we should not be the innocent bystanders in any Truby-King style parental resistance to them.  My own inclination is to make tickets for children under, say, 6, at least as expensive as a babysitter. * OK, I am a grumpy non-breeder.

*Or subject to a non-vocalising bond or some kind of assessment of the child in question if at the upper end of this range.





Spring in Sydney

October 22, 2016

This year, Spring sprang right on time: 1 September was distinctly balmy.

After that, I went away – to Albany, WA, where my maternal aunt had died suddenly.  Only a few blossoms were braving it there against a generally wet and windy outlook.  Seasonally speaking and indeed in other respects it felt like a trip back in time.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed the following seasonal harbingers around our place:

  1. The channel-billed cuckoo – websites say they are supposed to reach Sydney in mid-September, but this year I first heard them in early October;
  2. Koels – this year, the CBC beat them here;
  3. Star-jasmine – hedges in neighbouring houses were pregnant with buds, then all of a sudden, they all burst forth. The common jasmine is sweeter but the nutmeg-like star jasmine (actually a jasminoid) is intoxicating;
  4. JACARANDA! – I’d had my head down last weekend and this week for a trial; on Friday I looked out of the train window on the way into town and realised that they’d snuck up on me.

I’ve always liked seasonal returns.  As I experience more of them, they have a cumulative reminiscent affect. Now I’m beginning to sense a glass-half-full-half-empty tipping point: how many more of these have I to go?

I suppose it’s partly the passing of my father and my aunt this year which fuels such thoughts.  Then on Friday morning I read a surprisingly upbeat final letter (a note, really) which had been admitted to probate as the informal will of its author, aged 35.

Australia Ensemble 2016.6

October 21, 2016


Last Saturday night to hear the last concert for the year by the Australia Ensemble.  I’m somewhere there in the above picture.

The program was:

Guillaume CONNESSON Techno-Parade (2002) [flute, clarinet, piano]
Roger SMALLEY Piano Quintet (2003)
[the following 4 with the Sydney Children’s Choir]
Lyn WILLIAMS A Flock of Stars (2009)
Claude DEBUSSY Christmas carol for homeless children (1915)
Joseph TWIST Jubilate Deo (2009)
Paul STANHOPE Songs of Innocence and Joy (2004)
Johannes BRAHMS String Sextet in G op. 36 (1864-5)

The Connesson was short and swift, and totally exciting.

I enjoyed the Smalley more than I expected to.  It is possibly the last of a series of works by him which “reference” Chopin – in this case, a fragment from a Mazurka and also, in the final Chaconne and variations, a whole lot of the genres in which Chopin wrote.  I think I liked most the second movement, a brief Intermezzo, but that is probably because I am such a lover of muted strings.

This concert was the closest up I have ever got to the Sydney Children’s Choir.  As you might expect, there are quite a lot more girls than boys in the group.  More surprising to me (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised) was how few non-whiteys were in the group.  Maybe the Chinese kids are all off at Chinese school or learning the violin?

The choir processed on with bar chimes (I’m sure there is a better technical term for what they were playing: a bit like single xylophone bars encased in a box with a beater on a spring which was activated by shaking the contraption).  “A Flock of stars” by their conductor Lyn Williams also featured these instruments as well as an improvised part by David Griffiths on clarinet.  It was very atmospheric and just a bit reminiscent of Ceremony of Carols with a bit of Jan Garbarek thrown in.

The Debussy was a fascinating bit of history – a song of children made homeless by WWI wishing vengeance on behalf of France and other victims of the Germans – so a bit or propaganda really, however heartfelt.

Apparently Joseph Twist, once a member of the choir at S James King Street, has now gone to the USA to work in the film business.  I couldn’t help feeling his Jubilate had a touch of the Morricones.

The Stanhope songs matched Leunig’s rather cute lyrics quite well – they were written when he was a composer in residence at MLC School (back in the now ended “Mrs Carey” era).

It was nice to have the Children’s Choir there and they sang well.  Nevertheless, with the Brahms Sextet in the second half I was happy to be back in Australia Ensemble core territory.  This was a very satisfying performance of a beautiful work.  I hope the choir, who stayed for the second half, also enjoyed it.

And to cap it all off, contrary to my earlier fears, we still had the traditional drinks and delicious chocolates to celebrate the end of the season.

When I first wrote this post, the concert was due to be broadcast on ABC FM at 8pm on Tuesday 18 October.  Unfortunately this was on the eve of a trial and I’m sorry to say I missed it.  I’d like to say it was there for a while to listen again to but that does not seem to be the case.


October 15, 2016

On Wednesday I was waiting for the train home a bit before 9pm at St James Station when I saw a mysterious message on my phone:

“You will love Bp4”

I’ve still not copied all the numbers from my old phone since I got my present phone late last year, so I had to ring back to discover it was my former student and still friend, Db, calling at interval from the SOH where he had just heard Jayson Gillham with the SSO playing Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto.

Db and I don’t get to see each other often because, owing to family commitments and his enthusiasm for bushwalking, Db always goes to concerts on weekdays, whilst I mostly go on the weekends. In addition, he is often away criss-crossing the globe for his work administering the Australian limb of an international co-operative scientific project.

It was nice to hear from him.

I went on Friday.

I was sitting a bit close (row Q of the stalls) because it wasn’t my ordinary night owing to a clash with the Australia Ensemble on Saturday. In row Q my ears are at about the same level as the floor of the stage, and you get a bit of the sound from the bottom of the piano rather than the top, but as compensation there was the rare luxury in a concertante work of, if anything, too much piano.

No 4 is the “poetic” concerto and Gillham was definitely poetic.  He’s come a long way since I last noticed him on this blog in 2007.

There were lots of felicities which I’m looking forward to hearing again when this concert is broadcast on November 4. Yes there were a few blemishes, my preference is for a slightly less points-of-fingers playing style (though there were some moments where this was definitely an asset), and there were a few orchestral pickups which didn’t quite line up (Ashkenazy’s fault rather than Gillham’s, I felt), but none of these detracted from my enjoyment.

On the Wednesday, Gillham had played as an encore the fugue from a Bach Toccata. On Friday he gave us Rachmaninov’s transcription for piano of the Preludio from Bach’s violin partita BWV 1006.  This was exhilarating.

I’m looking forward to his recital on Monday week.

Second half was the Eroica. I’d already read Clive Paget’s blistering attack on Ashkenazy’s interpretation of the third and fourth movements in Limelight Magazine. I didn’t think it was as bad as Paget made out (maybe the performances differed), and nor, judging from the applause, did the audience.

In her program notes, Yvonne Frindle riffs on the scratched-out dedication to Napoleon:

The hero is not Napoleon – he had shown himself to be nothing but an ordinary man – or any other individual, and no identifiable nations are party to the struggle (that must wait for Napoleon’s downfall in Wellington’s Victory).

It’s a neat little segue but I feel there is a bit of a mix-up either between Bonapartes or battles.

Speaking of mixups, in recent days, George Brandis has been very much in the news and perhaps was a little too much in my mind because, for a moment at least, I fancied I spotted him on stage:


Apologies to AH.

Brown study

October 12, 2016


It’s a while now since this came out, but I continue to be very taken by this cover for the LRB.  Quite a change from Peter Campbell‘s rather whimsical water colours which prevailed for many years.

Power from on high

October 9, 2016



Of course, the church has to be a Uniting Church and it has to be in Canberra.


Note iconic Canberra bus shelter in the foreground.

It is O’Connor Uniting Church: