Archive for February, 2018

Running knows

February 21, 2018

That’s a pun from PDQ Bach’s Iphigenia in Brooklyn.  There were plenty more like that, in spirit at least, in this evening’s performance by Opera Australia of Shostakovich’s The Nose.

Lots of colour and movement, but what does it all mean?

I liked the prefiguration of the comedic cops of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk and the pastiche of a church scene.  It was hard to judge some of the rest from my right front point eyrie, especially in light of the electronic acoustic enhancement which bathed much ever so gently in a reverberant glow. The orchestration is probably too grotesque  to provide an opportunity to  judge the enhancement but as a pianist I found the piano sound disconcerting..

If this wasn’t by Shostakovich and recently done by Barrie K, I’m not sure we would be seeing it.  It is early Dmitri. For once Mr Molino did not conduct from memory.

Still it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will be going again at a left point before sitting downstairs in the middle.  The spectacle is  exuberant and diverting.  There is an enormous cast. The much-touted tap-dancing noses scene is far from being the highlight of the show.


February 16, 2018

My piano, the tuner told me today, has PTSD.

That’s because it’s longer than it should have been since his last visit.  The tune took him an hour and a half.  The piano is not the youngest  – it is now almost 40 years old.  The elderly wires will not take kindly to being stretched so violently, he says, and the bloom will go off the tune in a couple of months.  The bloom would stay fresher if a less vigorous tune had been required – ie, if I had not left it so long.

Mandy Rice-Davies comes to mind.

As a piano gets out of tune you (well I, but I’ll stick with the second person for this sentence) get used to it even as you become a bit frustrated by the loss of beauty.  It’s not really the in-tune-ness or not that I can really hear, but even from childhood I remember the wonderful sweetness of recovered euphony after a visit by the tuner.

Funnily enough, the artistic effect I notice right now is that Alberti-ish accompaniment figures in Schubert have all of a sudden become less jangly and more governable.



Magnificent Mozart

February 16, 2018

That’s the title the SSO gave to the third of three concerts conducted by David Robertson and with piano soloist Emmanuel Ax featuring music by Mozart to which I went last Saturday.

The program was:

  • Marriage of Figaro overture;
  • Concerto No 19 in F, K 459;
  • Concerto No No 27 in B [flat] K 595;
  • Symphony No 41 “Jupiter.”

First up, we had an appearance by Emma Dunch, the new CEO of the orchestra.  She’s been in the US for almost 20 years and has picked up a bit of an accent – more in the rhythm than the vowels per se.  The substance of her address was roughly as foreshadowed in an interview with the SMH last month: Sydney should be proud of its orchestra just as it is of its athletes.  They are all world-class. Distinguished guests are here (doubtless enlisted as part of this campaign) who were all then listed together to avoid any heckling or invidious comparisons of applause harvests.  It was good to know that we were graced with the presence of Don Harwen, Minister for Resources, Minister for Energy and Utilities, and Minister for the Arts.

I give ED a hall-pass for this appearance as a one-off because it is the beginning of the season and she is new, but I hope there won’t be too much of it.

ED, of course, crucially stepped in on the SSO’s declared attitude to marriage equality last year.  I’m not so sure that she was so wise to step up to the crease so swiftly to announce that the SSO would never again have anything to do with the now sin-binned Charles Dutoit.  As far as I am aware, Dutoit was not at that stage billed to appear with the SSO and he didn’t have any “title” (guest conductor or whatever) with the orchestra.  If he’s not going to be asked back, then just don’t ask him; if unpublicised arrangements are to be called off, call them off in private.  No need to shout it from the rooftop. Just say that there are no plans to re-engage him.

I guess things are different in New York.

But back to the concert.

The highlight for me was K595.  It’s Mozart’s last concerto and a bit of an outlier.  The first movement was a revelation – it has a questiong  philosophical kind of mood which Ax really had an insight into.  The audience was spellbound.

Ax played Chopin’s Nocturne in f sharp major – an odd choice tonally after a concerto in B flat.

At the beginning of the second half  we had more talking up the band as Andrew Haveron came to the microphone to announce a one-by-one (actually two-by-two – one from each side of the stage) entry of the orchestra members to give us a chance to applaud them individually.  The novelty of this wore off  and any sense of individual recognition also dimished after about the first five pairs.

My Dulwich Hill friend, LW, complained that the string complement was too big, and at times in K459 I felt the piano was swamped.  This  also affected the overture (though here for me the main oddity was the oddity of hearing just the overture – I mused to myself – why not have a baritone do the opening number after the overture?) and most of all the “Jupiter” – the last movement lost its spell for me and I think this was  because larger numbers of violins made ensemble more difficult – it all seemed rather rough as if they were just ploughing through it.

The second violins were sitting at the front on the right for this concert, so for once Catherine Hewgill did not get the presented flowers at the end (which happens a bit too often in my opinion).

I enjoyed the concert (with some qualifications about the “Jupiter”). I would have got more out of it if I had gone to all three concerts in what was, in effect, a mini-festival, but I am a bit countersuggestible to such obvious programming.  The house was filled pretty much to capacity.



Forty years ago today

February 13, 2018

untitled (10)I emerged today from the QVB at noon, intending to cross the newly-pedestrianized George Street and walk along the eastern side to take the charming dog-leg laneway which skirts the side of the State Theatre and emerges at Market Street.

But my way was blocked.  How dare they!  A brass band (well a brass ensemble) of policemen was playing.  Straightaway I guessed what it was: wreaths were being laid at the spot of the Hilton Bombing, forty years ago today.

There is a brass plaque on a kind of plinth.  Originally the plaque  was placed (fittingly) on a garbage bin, then the bin was taken away and the plaque languished before being reinstalled in 2008.

I stayed and watched and was prepared to be moved.  I left when a Deputy Commissioner of Police got round to saying some prayers, but this was basically the end of the ceremony anyway.

Last week I went to a memorial service for the father of an old friend.  It was a big one (big church and full).  There was a lengthy homily which was mostly generalisations about Christianity and death.  Two other friends confided to me that they thought it was a bit opportunistic of the preacher.

There was something of the same mission creep in the list of official wreath presenters, which encompassed practically every state paramilitary or uniformed organisation and then some.  How many more? I wondered, as they got to the Rural Fire Brigade and later the Granville Train Disaster Survivors Association.  Two garbage truck men were killed and I think their union could have been put a bit higher up the list.  I wonder if we would have had such a memorial and ceremony if it weren’t for the policeman who was also killed.  (There were also 11 people injured.)

At the front of the wreaths, viewed from my side anyway (on the street side of the plinth so really behind it), was a large card stating that Ananda Marga members wrongly convicted/imprisoned (I can’t remember the exact wording now) were also victims of the Hilton Bombing.  This doesn’t rate in the pictures published on the mainstream media (it must have been put there after the photo taken above, nicked from The Guardian, which shows family members of one of the garbage workers, relatively early in the ceremony). I wonder if that card will still be there when I go back past the spot this evening.



Why can’t we have nice things?

February 5, 2018

That of which I wrote last October has come to pass: since 1 February in Australia you cannot buy medicines containing codeine without a prescription .

I wonder if there will be any detectible changes in the nation’s vital statistics as millions of addicts undergo withdrawal once their supplies are exhausted.  Well, maybe as many as a million, but surely a few hundred thousand. Stand by for lots of criminal-granny jokes.

Meanwhile it has been a good laugh to see how the pharmaceutical companies have embraced the setback as an opportunity to market flashy new combined ibuprofen and paracetamol formulations. All you need do is pop into a supermarket and buy a packet of each at a fraction of the cost.

Until the curtain came down, it was almost as if the mere prospect of its descent was enough to drive me to the chemists in search of therapeutic relief.

Not, for preference, to one of those officious chemists who asked for my driver’s licence and inevitably committed multiple breaches of the Privacy Act in their “real-time’ monitoring of my purchasing history.  Perhaps I showed my photo ID (driver’s licence, university library card, whatever) three or four times all up.

All the same, sometimes I found it prudent to make myself look more respectable by making in some other drug purchase.  Surely some Immodium or generic loperamide would be irreproachable?

Apparently not.  In the calm before the possible storm of codeine withdrawal, the Sydney Morning Herald has helpfully recycled an item from Detroit Free Press reporting that opioid addicts are having recourse to loperamide for some kind of high – or at least to stave off withdrawal symptoms.  Hundreds of tablets are required.  At Australian prices, you might as well stick to heroin.

Still, I suppose I should be grateful that this story did not break when I was masking my soon-to-be-criminal request for a packet of Panafen Plus with side-order for a packet of Diar-eze.  Otherwise my cunning plan could easily have backfired.