Archive for July, 2017

A conundrum

July 9, 2017

Maybe we are all unusual people, if you can only look closely enough, but George Sclavos, who for many years conducted a pharmacy at Leppington must have stood out.

From the late 1980s, George, who graduated as a pharmacist in 1973 when he was about 25, owned and ran a pharmacy at Leppington (near Campbelltown).  George never married and you’d have to say that the pharmacy really must have been his life.   He befriended many of his customers, including the local “down and outs” from the caravan park nearby whom he would often invite in after hours to spend time with him after the pharmacy had closed. 

George was the “go to” man amongst his fellow shopkeepers at Leppington for making up a float at the start of the trading day.  He lent many people money, but if they didn’t pay him back was apparently content to leave that as something which would rest on their consciences or probably souls (he was devoutly religious) if they failed to repay him.  He told a friend “If I die and they owe me the money maybe God will put that in my credit to cover my sins.”

George was a heavy smoker, and it seems that other aspects of his shopkeeping lifestyle were quite unhealthy.  In 2013, aged 65, he died suddenly at the pharmacy.

George’s older and only brother, his father and his mother had predeceased him in 1980, 1979 and 1992.  He was survived by Anna and Cleopatra, his brother’s daughters.  George had told his nieces that they would find a will in his house.

George had lived since 1983 in a house in Strathfield first owned by his father and later by him.  He was a bit of a hoarder.  His nieces and family friends set about tidying things up in the hope that the will would surface in the process.

A document later admitted to probate as a informal will was found in George’s bible (which was on the table next to his bed), folded around an old photo of Anna and Cleopatra.  This appointed Cleopatra (who is a barrister by profession) as his executor and left George’s estate of about $6 million to her and Anna equally.

But there was another claimant.

Okan Yesilhat claimed he had met George in 1999 when Okan was 17 and George about 51.  Okan said he had been in a sexual relationship with George from that time and was in a de facto relationship with George at the time of George’s death.  Okan said that the document found in the bible must have been planted there and was not a will.  He said that probate of the will should be revoked, in which case (on his contentions) he would take the entire estate as de facto “widower” on intestacy.

As a fall-back Okan claimed family provision on the basis of his asserted relationship with George.  As a fall-back or parallel claim to that, Okan also said that money which he had received from George in George’s lifetime was a gift rather than money that Okan had to pay back. This was about $386K less payments by Okan or his company in George’s lifetime of about $82K – a net amount of $304K.

Okan had also taken money out of George’s accounts after George’s death using means of operating these accounts which George had given him.  Even if you are authorised to take money from someone’s accounts while they are alive, that authority ceases on their death and any money taken out after usually has to be repaid to the estate.  One way or another (as the heir on intestacy or by means of provision in a greater amount) Okan sought to resist having to repay these post-mortem amounts, of about $206K.  Okan had made a further $7-8K of withdrawals from George’s accounts which were reversed by the bank when it stopped the account at Cleopatra’s request.

Anna and Cleopatra knew about Okan, because in 2011 George had told them that he had lent upwards of $100K to Okan for a tyre business on Canterbury Road in Lakemba.  Anna and her husband had visited the business and met Okan not long after that.  You could not blame Anna and Cleopatra for feeling some disquiet about this, let alone about the full picture which came to light after George’s death, not only of the substantial amounts which had passed in his lifetime, but also the post-mortem withdrawals from his accounts.

But Okan’s claim of a 14-year homosexual relationship with their uncle came as a complete shock to them.  As far as they were aware, although unmarried, George had had a number of girlfriends in his life.  There was a bit more mystery over the circumstances in which George had harboured in his home from 2005 to 2008 a (since deceased) married mother-of-five sex worker with a drug problem whom he had met on Canterbury Road.

To Cleopatra and Anna Okan’s claims were not only a shock but a calumny.

Okan for his part maintained that his relationship with George was secret for cultural reasons.  He rubbed salt in to the wound (so far as Anna and Cleopatra were concerned) by claiming that George was dismissive of and said disparaging things about them.

By the time the matter came to trial, it emerged that if Okan was telling the truth, he had his own cultural reasons for keeping his relationship with George secret, including two marriages of his own.  For good measure, witnesses claimed that even when married he was seen consorting with other women.

There was no evidence from anyone, even Okan, of either George or Okan having any other same-sex relationship.

The matter was heard over 21 days in early 2016 before Justice Slattery. It took his Honour over a year to deliver his decision: Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

That seems a long time, even if his Honour was off on leave for some of it, though the reasons are certainly lengthy.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to skip to the end of the book to find out the ending, or to look up the endings of TV serials on the internet (I am that kind of person) you can find out more there. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until I have the energy to write another post.

SSO, Dutoit, not Argerich but Wang

July 3, 2017

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO, conducted by Charles Dutoit.

The program was:

Stravinsky, Funeral Song
Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 1
de Falla, 2 suites from The Three-cornered Hat and
Ravel, La Valse.

For the concerto, Martha Argerich, originally slated to appear (for the third time for the first time in Sydney) was (yet again) a late scratching, this time replaced by Yuja Wang. Wang has probably been able to make a bit of a career out of stepping in when MA has cancelled.

Because of the Argerich factor, the SSO had hiked up the prices. In response, and bearing in mind the MA-no-show risk, I pegged down my seating reserve. At about the same price for my usual rear-stalls spot I was in Box Y at the side of the stage, diagonally behind YJW’s left shoulder.

Empty seats were conspicuous in the more expensive areas. Had I paid such top dollar, I too would have been tempted to return my ticket, which is just about the only recourse the orchestra allows. If there was a chance to buy tickets at a now reduced price (or to trade “up”, as I might have) they certainly weren’t advertising it.

What that really means is that the orchestra toughs it out on the laziness tax against everyone else who has paid the premium price on what was always (as the orchestra surely knew) a chancy prospect. That included me, and to be frank I felt a bit grumpy about that.

I wouldn’t want always to sit at the side, but it does have some benefits. There is a loss of balance and in particular of the frontal projection from the violins and the soloist/s. The gain is that you are much closer and the sound comes to you directly rather than bounced around the hall, so that what you do hear you hear much more clearly. And there is a big gain for the woodwind – often missing in action even in the rear stalls. Once you adjust for the diminished front it is like seeing and hearing the orchestra in cross-section.

This was particularly rewarding in the Stravinsky – a recently rediscovered early work for which I was totally unprepared. The big surprise was the obvious influence of Wagner. Alex Ross in the New Yorker gives the most succinct list of the Wagnerian elements (which are not confined to Siegfried’s Funeral March).

From my cross-sectional vantage point the bit I most liked was a kind of undulating accompaniment figure which emerges at about 6:30 in the youtube version (there is more than one) of last year’s second performance conducted by Gergiev in Leningrad/St Petersburg.

The Gergiev version sounds different from Dutoit and the SSO’s as I recall it, especially in mood, which in Sydney was more sombre than the recording comes across. There is surely an intrinsic interest in hearing different approaches to such a “new” work. It would be nice if the SSO’s performance could be available for a while on ABC “Classic” FM’s “Listen Again” facility. Given that P&M is already up there, I can only presume there is some rights obstacle to this.

In the Beethoven, what I was particularly able to see was how Dutoit energised the orchestral accompaniment figures, especially in the first movement. I was also in a good spot for Mr Celato’s clarinet solo in the middle movement. This movement was probably the high point of the Beethoven. People behind me said it was very slow. I honestly wouldn’t know. What with the clarinet and all I was most of all feeling how Mozartean it was.

It wasn’t the best spot to hear the piano sound, but when it came to the encores, starting with the Prokofiev Toccata, I had an extraordinary view of every muscle and bone in Yuja Wang’s back courtesy of her (almost) backless dress. It was like an anatomy lesson or one of those films of the inside of a big pipe organ at work. Wang’s other encores were the Rachmaninov Vocalise and the Horowitz variations on the gypsies’ song in Carmen.

I enjoyed The Three Cornered Hat without being particularly blown away by it – I’d say that’s the work rather than the performance, which was predictably brilliant. La Valse, for me, is a more compelling and made a great finale.

Afterwards I spoke to a couple (well, friends, but two of them) who, like me, had also come the week before for Pelléas et Mélisande. They enjoyed this concert more and I expect that is the taste of most of the SSO public. As for me, it is the Debussy which is still resonating most and I expect it to do so for a while.