Archive for October, 2018

Getting there

October 30, 2018


More brief notes in my attempt (1, 2) to bring to account live performances I have attended.

10.  22 9 SSO Ashkenazy Romeo and Juliet

This was a very neat program mounted by the SSO: Arabella Steinbacher playing the Bruch violin concerto, bookended by Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture and Ashkenazy’s own selection from the two Prokofiev suites. It was also very enjoyable.

We have had a number of guest concertmasters this year. Sometimes, although they themselves play well, you get the sense that their approach doesn’t “fit” the approach of the rest of a section, so that they end up sticking out a bit at the front as the section as a whole stolidly ploughs on as usual. That wasn’t the case with Adam Chalabi, guest concertmaster for this concert: I thought the violins sounded very well with them.

11.  26 9 Belvoir Calamity Jane 6.30

D and I sat on the stage for this pocket-musical version of what was originally a Doris Day movie.

The first act was set in a bar and we were able to order drinks onstage before it started. Members of the cast were milling around and improvising business including the kind of chat-up that a barmaid at such a saloon might use to soften up a customer. I noticed that a non-cast member, tending the bar, was the only one actually able to dispense the liquor. “Is that because you don’t have an RSA certificate?” I asked the (in character) proprietor’s “niece.” “I have an RSA,” she smartly replied. “A Really Sassy Attitude.” OK, maybe you had to be there, but it was fun, as was the show as a whole. Exhilarating.

The instrumental accompaniment was provided by the MD on a little Collard & Collard upright which sounded surprisingly good considering the treatment it must have received over the years.

Virgina Gay in the title role was terrific. We are lucky that she did not suffer the same fate of her fellow assailees on Illawara Road a few years ago, one of whom was much less lucky.

12.   13 10 AE

With P (and on this occasion her husband) to the final concert of the year for the Australia Ensemble at the John Clancy Auditorium, entitled “Forces of Nature.” This gathered together:

Maria GRENFELL | Ten Suns Ablaze (2012)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN | ‘Szene am Bach’ from Symphony no. 6 arr. Fischer (1810)

Nigel WESTLAKE | Rare Sugar (2007)

Pēteris VASKS | Landscape with birds (1980)

Aaron COPLAND | Appalachian Spring ballet suite (1944)

The Grenfell and the Westlake were return performances of works first commissioned by the Australia Ensemble. I remembered them both favourably from their first outings and enjoyed them again, but by interval the Westlake, which is a kind of clarinet concertino, given a high-voltage performance by David Griffiths, had made such a powerful impression that the Grenfell was quite overshadowed in retrospect.

Opinions amongst my companions were divided about the bird pictures which were projected on the lecture-theatre drop screen while Geoffrey Collins played the Vasks. I enjoyed them and was prepared to go with the flow.

The Szene am Bach was an arrangement for string quintet. It started a little faster than I expected it to go based on orchestral reminiscences.

The Ensemble have used Appalachian Spring as a series closer before – it’s an opportunity to coax the subscribers back for next year with about as large an ensemble (13 players) as the AE ever puts on stage. And despite (for me) some longeurs on the way through, it is a piece that really delivers by the end.

Straight after interval we got a little spiel from Paul Stanhope about next year’s season. This meant there was no delay after the Copland as we adjourned for the traditional drinks and fancy chocolates.

13.   16 10 Cosi at the Con?

This had a question mark in my concert diary because I wasn’t sure when or whether I would go.  My interest was piqued by a reference to an upcoming role on the website of Gavin Brown, who had a star turn in Poulenc’s The Breast of Tiresias which I saw earlier this year.

In the end I went to the Thursday Matinee on the 18th and it was Don Giovanni.

There’s a stronger argument for seeing a student production of a rarity such as the Poulenc than for seeing a more mainstream work, but I’m still definitely glad I went.

I was more impressed by the orchestra in the Poulenc than in the Mozart.  That’s probably because the Mozart is harder.  You pick up any rhythmic sloppiness (which is endemic in student ensembles compared to professional ones) and mishaps stick out more.  The horns were a couple of bars out for what seemed like ages but probably wasn’t really (I admired conductor Stephen Mould’s composure) and there were a few other hair-raising moments. The principal cello could have afforded to play out a bit more in Batti, batti.

But these are quibbles. It really is great that the students get to perform the opera with a credible orchestra.

There is a detailed review of the first night (I heard the same cast) here with which I mostly concur, save that I would be more commendatory of Esther Song, who grew on me in the course of the performance as Donna Anna. Haotian Qi’s performance of the Don’s serenade to Donna Elvira’s maid (here ironically oblivious to it as she was listening to something else through headphones whilst getting on with her life) was particularly fine.

The production was set in a “celebrity” world somewhere between Hollywood and the Conservatorium itself (when Masetto and his chums beat up Leporello they did so with one of those sticks that cellists use to moor their spikes. DonG was a #metoo celebrity narcissist and abuser. Hell, at the end (solving the problem that the stage lacks a trap-door) was exposure and denunciation. It all worked quite well though perhaps there was just a bit too much business with cameras and phones at times. There were a few cuts which together with the updating made things just a bit confusing at times.

14.   20 10 SSO Thibaudet Egyptian

Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducted. As well as the Saint-Saens piano concerto no 5 (surprisingly last and first played with the SSO by Thibaudet himself in 2010) the concert featured the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Sibelius 7.

The SSO seems to have given up selling choir and organ stall tickets.  Only a few people were sitting there. Too cheap, or too mean?  Could be both but it is shameful for subsidized tickets to go unsold if it is because of a desire to maintain a floor price.

Francisco Lopez was the latest in a series this year of guest principal flutes, and he shone in both the Debussy and the Sibelius.

I thought Saraste could have kept the orchestra a little more in check in the Saint-Saens, for which Thibaudet set a cracking pace in the outer movements. On the other hand, conducting without music (as I am sure any Finn worth his salt can do) he hypnotised the orchestra into the most dramatic Sibelius 7 I have ever heard.

Saraste last conducted the SSO in 1986. I think I probably was at that concert because I remember hearing the Schumann Konzertstucke for 4 horns played by the Canberra Horn Consort (led by Hector McDonald) and probably went out of my way to hear it. At interval I overheard Emma Dunch, the Orchestra’s CEO, loudly declaring “We must have him back sooner than another 32 years.”

In the early evening leading up to the concert a stupendous thunderstorm rolled across the city.  In the forecourt of the Opera House the Invictus Games were being launched.  Before playing his encore, Thibaudet thanked us for braving the weather and the security.

Thibaudet’s regular visits to our shores seem to have started at about the turn of the millenium.  This is what he looked like then and the picture or something very similar still featured in the publicity for this concert:


Inside the program booklet was a more up-to-date shot:


Philip Scott in Limelight referred to an earlier visit when Thibaudet played the complete piano music of Ravel; Thibaudet also performed with the ACO in 1992.

J-YT’s first visit is probably less well-known:


That’s from the program for the 1981 Sydney International Piano Competition.  Soulful eh?  If I’d found this before the concert I would have taken it up for an autograph and, surely, a laugh.

Almost catching up

October 23, 2018

Continuing from my recent post and trying to catch up on a backlog of un-noticed performances. The motive for such blowhard completism is the reduced value of the blog to me as a record if I only maintain it patchily.

7. 1 9 SSO Brahms

This all-Brahms program, conducted by David Robertson, comprised:

Academic Festival Overture
Double Concerto for violin and cello and
Piano Concerto No 1.

The overture was a set work for AMEB musicianship when I was a teenager and I think for some years after (there was a time when the syllabus became set in stone) so I think I both studied and taught it. Oh those student songs! I totally did not understand the jollity of the choice of themes or, I also think, a certain measure of pathos in Brahms, hardly a ‘varsity man in his youth, having the chance to weave them together.

Orchestral principals Andrew Haveron and Umberto Clerici were the soloists for the double concerto. They are both good players but it is I think a shame that when putting such double concertante works on orchestras yield to the temptation to enlist soloists from the ranks. However good they are, they face an invidious comparison with the visiting soloists the orchestra engages and this took a bit of the gloss off it for me.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed Alexander Gavrylyuk’s performance of the first piano concerto. It’s a temptation to undervalue players of an (even only passing) local provenance and I think I had succumbed to that in advance. I’ve heard performances of this concerto which have aspired to maybe more grandeur and breadth, but often that has been at the price of forcing the tone to get the volume. Gavrylyuk managed to avoid that entirely and I really appreciated the lyricism that he emphasised – in a way, the Schumann end of Brahms.

8. 15 9 AE

AE stands for Australia Ensemble. This concert was dubbed “Schubert and the Guitar.” The guest artist was guitarist Karin Schaupp. I’m usually suspicious of the acoustic guitar amplified but Schaupp uses amplification  discreetly with her own kind of beat-box rather than being channeled through the venue’s PA system.. I did not find it disproportionate in a venue the size of the John Clancy Auditorium.

Of course we had to have a performance of Ständchen from Schwanengesang. The song is a serenade at the beloved’s window accompanied by a guitar, impersonated by the piano. It was a bit naff but fitted well to have instead Geoffrey Collins play it on flute to Shaupp’s accompaniment.

The full program was:

Robert SCHUMANN | Fantasiestücke Op. 73 (1849)

Robert DAVIDSON | Landscape (2000)

Franz SCHUBERT | Serenade from ‘Schwanengesang’ D957 no.4

Phillip HOUGHTON | From the Dreaming (1991, rev. 1997)

Paul STANHOPE | Shards, Chorales and Dances (2002) – first performance

Franz SCHUBERT | Piano Trio no.2 in E flat

I enjoyed all the contemporary works, but I still enjoyed the Schumann (for clarinet and piano) and the Schubert (a big play for Ian Munro) the most.

9. 17 9 SSO Piano

Back next to Elizabeth for a recital by Benjamin Grosvenor.  The self-consciousness of our first encounter now resolved.  The program was:

JS BACH French Suite No.5, BWV 816
MOZART Piano Sonata in B flat, K333
CHOPIN Barcarolle, Op.60
GRANADOS Two pieces from Goyescas: Los requiebros and Quejas ó La maja y el ruiseñor
RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit

The Chopin replaced a previously advertised transcription of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Grosvenor drew a big crowd, and justly so.  My friend and former piano teacher P liked his Bach the most, the Mozart not so much.  I was the other way around: I loved how he made a lot of variations in the rather spare texture which to me came out as  solo and tutti sections as in a concerto.

At the end of the Ravel, Albert Landa (prominent Sydney pianistic identity) jumped in early and alone with very loud clapping.  I wish he could have waited a little longer.  We all knew it was good. BG was visibly bemused.   I felt bruised.  And then AL walked out before the encore!

After the initial rush at the beginning of the year, I am hearing of same-sex marriages amongst my acquaintances.  D has been a witness at a female one.  He had to return for a re-signing because the paperwork the celebrant provided needed to be replaced by forms with gender-nuetral “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2.”

Amongst older, long-established couples, a reason often offered for taking the leap has been the advantages conferred in the face of possible health emergencies, including when travelling.  At Angel Place  one such couple told me they were getting married at home the next Saturday.

One of them first married many years ago, in Brisbane.  Max Olding was his piano teacher and a very young Dene Olding played at the wedding.  It would have been fun, I thought, if Dene could have been engaged again, even if something more than orange juice and biscuits might have been asked as a fee.

The river that nearly died of shame

October 16, 2018

That’s the Cook’s River, which I now live quite near.

Historian Ian Tyrrell contemplated this title for his eco-history of the river, published earlier this year under the more encouraging title River Dreams. It’s a fascinating read, though Tyrrell makes an odd reference to the episcopal[ian?] church at one point, presumably reaching out to a (surely fairly small) US readership.

Perhaps one reason he rejected the title is that it is equivocal what could constitute life or death for a river which for much of its length remains basically an open stormwater drain with concrete or steel-piled banks and a paved bottom.

When I walk across it on the way to Canterbury Railway Station, I can observe the flow of the tide by the flotsam of plastic drink bottles and other detritus which floats in and out with the tide. The reviving mangrove roots trap more rubbish again.

About six weeks ago someone drove a car off the bridge into the river. I still can’t work out how he did it. Amazingly, he escaped reportedly unscathed.

Not so the car or the bridge.



Nature notes

October 16, 2018

I believe I was 22 or 23 before I first saw an echidna in the wild.

In fact, they are not so rare, but they are shy. Recently they seem to be popping up all over the place. A few months ago D and I saw one running along the side of the Federal Highway beneath the escarpment at the side of Lake George. We doubled back and it was still cantering along, though when we stopped to take a squizz it disappeared into the shrubby strip between the carriageways.

I spotted this one yesterday afternoon just outside Canberra. When it saw me, it headed to the loose ground by the side of the road to dig in, as they do.


Once they do that, you can get up close, though they aren’t very interesting to watch:


It didn’t dig in very deep. It must have been in a hurry to get somewhere – perhaps one of those echidna orgies where a bunch of males follow a female.

I stood back and not long after, it started moving again.

Then a Chinese-Australian family turned up and parked up the hill from it. They had seen it as they drove past just before I came by. The echidna dug in again. The daughter (aged about 9, judging from her teeth) and her mother stood back – not very far. Dad waited with the baby in the car.

I thought we might be in for a long wait, but quite soon the echidna resumed its journey. It found the hole in the fence which it had obviously been aiming for at the start, and headed across a paddock. That was more interesting, but difficult to photograph on my phone.

Afterwards, I followed its well-worn path, but I never found it.

Perhaps it or one of its kind had been here:


Catching up

October 9, 2018

I maintain my concert-going diary in a “table” in Word format. I have extracted from that nine concerts which have so far gone unremarked on this blog. In a burst of completism, I shall try to say something about each.

1. 21 7 SSO Pictures at an Exhibition

With some of the Dulwich Hill mob to this concert, featuring the incredibly youthful-looking Benjamin Beilmann playing the Higdon violin concerto. I really warmed to this. A few days later I came across it late at night on ABC”Classic” FM (which has taken to repeating its broadcasts much in the way that the TV station repeats its programs) without at first realising what it was other than that it was familiar. At times like this I like to play a little game trying to recognize the composer and work. My first stab at it, more a heuristic device than a definite claim, was Alban Berg – after all, I’ve heard his concerto a few times. Not really a good guess, but a kind of unwitting compliment.

2. 23 7 Musica Viva Joyce Yang

Lx of the DHG persuaded me to pick up a ticket for this, at Angel Place. We sat upstairs on the non-keyboard side which I’m beginning to think gives the best sound. The program was:

JANÁČEK Piano Sonata 1.X.1905
LISZT Spanish Rhapsody
Elizabeth YOUNAN Piano Sonata
LISZT Sonata in B minor

I would have preferred Schumann’s Carnaval which was the closer for Yang’s other program, but I had a semi-clash (something on that evening). Nor am I really keen on weekend afternoon concerts.

I wish I could say something more definite about the Younan as it was a fresh commission but I have left it too long to say other than that it was effective.

Lx thought the Liszt was terrific but I’m afraid I wasn’t quite in right space for it. I was probably a bit tired (it was a weeknight concert and I came straight from work).

3. 3 8 SSO Spanish Nights

Lx tipped me off that that the SSO had marked down lots of A Reserve seats to C reserve prices. The program also was particularly attractive:

Debussy: Gigues from Images
Julian Anderson: The Imaginary Museum Piano Concerto
Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain, for piano and orchestra
Debussy: Ibéria from Images

Not one concerto, but two! Well, maybe the Falla is not a concerto but it is still a concertante work. My seat, in Box C (which is the first upstairs box to the front of the orchestra on the non-keyboard side) gave a very favourable balance to the piano as well as a good vantage point for all orchestral detail.

In my mind’s eye I expected Steve Osborne to be a young Englishman with beautiful eyelashes. I realised straight away that that was Paul Lewis, for that matter, about 20 years ago. Osborne is Scottish. He could be a minor character in Taggart. It’s something to do with the set of his jaw.

I really liked the Julian Anderson. It’s too new for me to be able to listen to it again – you can hear about 2 minutes here..The whole program really hung together well, bookended with the two Debussy numbers. After all, it’s almost proverbial that the best Spanish music is French. (Actually that’s a more complicated question, for another day.)

4. 6 8 SSO Piano – S Osborne

This was the recital at Angel Place.  I don’t need to write much about this because I found myself next to Elizabeth whose blog contains a record of our meeting.  Having “unmasked” myself I felt a little self-conscious, but we have since sat together again (see 9 below [when I get around to it]) and I have got past that.

Despite my non-enthusiasm for spoken introductions, I enjoyed the recital.  As the SSO blurb put it, Osborne made  “a striking juxtaposition between the fragrant, exotic sonorities of Debussy and the propulsive vigour of Prokofiev’s mature sonatas.”  Actually, (he grudgingly admits) part of what Osborne said in his introduction gave an insight to this because he spoke of liking to make the quietest sound possible..  Debussy who famously said he wanted the piano to sound as though it did not have hammers.  In the back of my mind I know that the story about that quote is more complicated than the piano just being quiet. It’s as if  Osborne favours a kind of spikiness  at two ends of the pianistic musolect (my coinage from idiolect) for which Prokofiev and Debussy could well stand as avatars.  He’s not such a one for the – how shall I put it? –  a BMW drive down the Romantic middle of the road.

I enjoyed it.

5. 11 8 AE Hindson, Mozart, Brahms

That’s the Australia Ensemble.   The program was:

Matthew HINDSON | Septet (2009)

Anton REICHA | Wind quintet in E flat Op.88 no. 2 (1818)

Wolfgang MOZART | Piano trio in C K548 (1788)

Johannes BRAHMS | Clarinet Quintet Op. 115 (1891)

Delay has suppressed recollection other than that I remember how jolly the Reicha was.  He is sometimes known as the “father of the wind quintet” and this is his most famous one. I have a soft-spot for this sub-Beethoven/post-Classical/pre-Romantic period in music history – it can be so agreeable without being too demanding – embodying a kind of common practice/received pronunciation of Western music.

Unfortunately my main memory of this concert (other than of almost not making it because I went for a swim in the afternoon and sank into a sleep so deep that P, coming by as arranged to pick me up, was unable to rouse me to the front door) is of during the Brahms, when, at a point where I was brushing away tears in the slow movement, there was some terrible banging (there had already been a bit) from the rear of the hall.

When I looked around at the end of the concert, a couple with a small child, a lot of possessions and a set of crutches seemed to be the perpetrators though at the next concert someone told me it was someone (else) having a fit,  Either way, the musicians’ concentration was obviously affected.  Having made myself vulnerable, I felt bruised and assaulted in a way which is difficult to recover from.

I have survived and am quite recovered by now, but it cast a shadow over the evening.

6. 24 8 SSO Brahms 4

This was a great program, especially Alban Gerhardt playing the new Brett Dean cello concerto from memory.  I wish I’d arranged to see this twice.

I also enjoyed Brahms 4 – last time I heard it I was too tired.  It was a mistake though to try to count the variations in the last movement.  My new resolution for life is not to count the variations: go with the flow!  And you can always tell the end is coming if there is a fugue.  (Not that chaconnes end with fugues.)

As I listened I thought to myself “Robertson is a Brahms the progressive kind of guy.”   Sure enough there was a note in the program which confirmed this.  It’s the lean string sound which is the giveaway.  I still like Brahms the Romantic (fat string sound).  I’m just not so keen on Brahms the German Nationalist and composer of the Triumphlied.

7. 1 9 SSO Brahms

8. 15 9 AE

9. 17 9 SSO Piano

This post has gestated too long so I’ve decided to push it out into the world two-thirds formed.  Shades  of the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass (which I have always preferred to in Wonderland) expounding the need to run just to stay where you are.  Sometimes I just can’t  catch up.


Obsessed 2

October 3, 2018


Time for some proverbs.

The internet tells me it was Emily Dickinson (though surely hardly the first to have this thought) who once said “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

I’m not so sure of that.  Sometimes you can just be doing-the-washing-up-when-you-should-be-studying-for-the-HSC.

The hint in the above picture is the central sock.  On the eve of D’s recent return from China, when tidying up really would have been a good idea, I set to darning socks.  I had years’ worth of holey hose.

It’s very cheap entertainment.  The trap is that to start darning some socks is simply to expose how much more they need to be darned.  There is a law-of-diminishing-returns.