Archive for the ‘Dulwich Hill gang’ Category

Where’s Lyall?

July 25, 2018

My former English teacher and fellow-Dulwich-Hill gangster Lx first tipped me off a few weeks ago. The ABC Young Performers Awards (revived this year after a two-year hiatus)[non apostrophe sic] were being held in Sydney. The semi-finals would be at Angel Place and tickets were just $50 for 6 sessions over 2 days. One of the semi-finalists was Tony Lee, whom we both liked (and who was awarded the prize for best Australian competitor) at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition.

Lx, who is retired, planned to go. Work commitments precluded my getting to all 6 sessions, but I thought I might get to some of it. Individual sessions were $15 so I wouldn’t be risking much.

In the end, I made it to two sessions. I could have saved $15 and flashed my ticket for the first session at the second – it was general admission and far from a full house.

I caught bits of other sessions whilst beavering away at my day (or, as often happens, night) job.

There were 109 entrants (so I heard), who submitted “digital” (video) auditions. The semifinalists, as announced back in April, were:

• Anna Da Silva Chen, Violin, 21
• Stefanie Farrands, Viola, 29
• Waynne (Woo Seok) Kwon, Cello, 22
• Andrew Lebedev, Guitar, 26
• Shaun Hern Lee, Piano, 16
• Tony Lee, Piano, 26
• Robbin Reza, Piano, 23
• Oliver Shermacher, Clarinet, 22
• Riley Skevington, Violin, 25
• Emily Sun, Violin, 29
• Benett Tsai, Cello, 14
• Victoria Wong, Violin, 19

Anna Da Silva Chen injured her hand and had to withdraw. She was replaced by Perth-born (more recently studying in Melbourne) pianist Kevin Chow, 21.

That’s a pretty strong North- or East- Asian background tendency which seems to be the future for classical music, and not only in Australia. It’s a bit like the makeup of academically selective highs schools and though the reasons are complicated some of them must be similar so far as youthful diligence, discipline and parental support/direction are involved. The tendency is less marked for blowing instruments which tend to be started later than bowed strings and the piano.

The two recitals I went to (at this stage still online) were:

Reza and Tony Lee; and
Shaun Hern Lee and Skevington.

Lx and I both made special contributions. Lx got involved in a concert-rage incident with a relative of a performer videoing it with her phone right in front of him which then led to a more specific warning about turning off devices being made at subsequent sessions. I managed to drop an apple from my lap which rolled all the way down to the front of the hall (at least it wasn’t Jaffas.) More mysteriously, a tennis ball landed just near me at about the time of the concert rage incident.

None of those I heard got through to the finals. Lx, who had heard everyone, favoured Reza. I was sorry that Tony Lee didn’t get through. There was a terrible buzz in the piano when he was playing (on E an octave and a bit above middle C) and I am surprised he didn’t rush off stage and ask for it to be fixed after the first piece. I particularly enjoyed his first two Schubert-Liszt transcriptions, though the third Waltz one went on a bit.

The finalists were Sun, Chow and Schermacher. There was little doubt that Sun should go through – she was the string category winner in 2011 after all (but apparently still eligible to enter again, which I doubt would have been the case in the days of the old “Concerto Competition”). Lx had included Schermacher in his top 4 and I was pleased to see him go through as he seems a nice young man and I met him on the train one night on the way home from a performance of The Nose.

The Young Performers Awards as they are now known have had various incarnations. In my youth they were known as the “Concerto Competition” even though they included vocal entrants. Each ABC state orchestra held its own finals before by some inscrutable process a Commonwealth final was convened.

The onstage and on-air commentary made much reference to numerous past winners.

In the audience I spotted a familiar figure – doyenne or at least veteran of the Sydney piano scene, Lyall Duke. No Sydney pianistic occasion is complete without her presence. Lx told me that she had been to all the semi-finals.

Home from the last semi-final I went through the list of past winners online and saw that Lyall Duke (from Tasmania) had been a Commonwealth finalist in 1949. I shot off an sms to ABC Classic FM’s number:

You do realise that Lyall Duke 1949 piano finalist was at the ypa, at least at the 2 sessions I attended?

On Tuesday to the finals at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Milton. These were better attended than the semi-finals. The respective concerti were:

Schermacher – Weber 1.
Chow – Prokofiev 2
Sun – Beethoven

Predictably, Emily Sun won. Nicholas Milton, a violinist, knew the Beethoven concerto the best of the three and the orchestra played it the best. Neither of the others disgraced themselves. I thought Ollie could have taken half a step forward – literally and figuratively.

But where was Lyall Duke? In vain I scanned the Concert Hall for her distinctive senior-pianist hairdo.

Lx and I did not stay for the announcement of the results. And then, in the car on the way home, I found out where Lyall had been: in the broadcast box with Margaret Throsby giving commentary.

Not that she got to give much – she was a bit long-winded and too nice to make good copy. Throbbers obviously felt a need to move things along. (I especially like the ten seconds from about 1:16:50 in the broadcast).

I know this could have been planned all along [PS: turns out it was – see comment below], but I like to think my SMS might have set a ball rolling, figuratively speaking.


May 22, 2018

On Saturday to hear the SSO conducted by John Wilson with piano soloist Lukáš Vondráček at the SOH.

The program was:

Bach arr Elgar: Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Prokofiev 3 (piano concerto, that is)
Elgar 2 (symphony).

The foyer seemed strangely underpopulated as I foregathered there with the Dulwich Hill gang.

That was the first thing that was odd about the evening, and it carried forward into the concert hall which disclosed a similarly thin attendance.  Where was everyone?  It was the patchiest Saturday night attendance at a Masters series I have seen for years.

The next odd thing was the Bach arr Elgar.  Others of the gang liked it whilst describing it as “a hoot.”  Of course it is a great work.  The Bach original is an organ piece and I suppose if you imagined a big rendition on a big fat organ (eg, the Sydney Town Hall or any similar English municipal instrument of the period) then an orchestration of that might just sound like this.  It felt like band  music for orchestra. If it seemed a bit of a muddle when things got busy that could have been the ungainly instrumentation and the acoustic conspiring together.

The Prokofiev was exciting and taken at a brisk pace from the outset.  V. is a big young fellow with bear-like hands (ie, not one of those long-spindly-fingered pianists).  You’d think he would power through anything but my one reservation about the performance was that the orchestra, when loud, was a bit too loud.  I enjoyed it. Some gave Vondráček a standing ovation (well, some people stood).  He played Brahms Op 118 No 2 as an encore.

Lx, one of the Dulwich Hill gang, to whose opinion I should always defer as he was my Year 9 English teacher and when I was in Year 12 gave me his castoff complete World Record Club set of the Solti Ring, is a fan of the Elgar symphonies.  In its honour he had already heard the program once and thought highly of it, even from the cheap seats.  R, another DH gangster, owed his allegiance to Elgar to an introduction by Lx. By contrast, another friend confided (a confidence now broken, I suppose, to an extent – let’s call him “X”) that it was a bit of a curate’s egg for him.

I was expecting to enjoy it but when it started I realised I had been thinking more of Symphony No 1.

It is possible this cast a shadow over my appreciation, but I found myself siding rather with X on this occasion.  I liked bits of it, and especially the slow movement and very especially the ending of that movement.  Even so, I was bemused by the oboist noodling along practising a bit of the Bach arrangement at one point.  – That’s not what the oboist is really doing, as resort to recordings when I got home established, but it seemed like it at the time.  For my taste on the night there was just too much going on a lot of the time – either too many people playing or too much figural decoration – at one stage half the first violins were doing something rather complicated but though I could see them fiddling away I couldn’t really hear it.

When I told Lx this afterwards he brushed my view aside by reference to Joseph II’s alleged remark to Mozart about “too many notes.”

The symphony sounded a lot better when I listened to bits of it on the internet when I got home, which is food for thought.

Outside, there were signs of preparations for the impending Vivid festival.  “Have we already had peak Vivid?” asked one of the gang, jaded sophisticate that he is.

Speculation returned amongst our group to the reason for the thin attendance.  We couldn’t think of a Jewish holiday.  The program seemed excellent, unless those who liked Prokofiev hated Elgar and vice versa.  Depressingly, the best explanation we could find is that everyone was at home (or out – could Sir Frank have been invited back to Windsor?) watching the Sussex wedding.

I didn’t walk out

October 24, 2013

On Monday night to the Labeque Sisters, appearing as part of the SSO’s International Pianists in Recital series.

My friends from the Dulwich Hill gang, who usually come to this series, stayed away. Judging from the hall, others had stayed away including (or so it seemed to me) the usual SSO apparatchiky. Many others, however, had come. Apart from the empty seats below, the hall was packed (to coin a phrase) to the second tier. (This also included what seemed to me a slightly higher than usual lesbian turnout – that is, I saw a few lesbians known to me who I don’t usually see at these concerts or other concerts.)

I had thought of exchanging my ticket for another series: Avan Yu with the SSO in their Mozart series came to mind, but I was drawn to the first half, especially Debussy’s En blanc et noir, coupled with the 2-piano ur-version of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole.

When I got to my seat, my neighbour told me the Debussy was “off,” replaced by Philip Glass’s Four Movement for Two Pianos. This had been announced by an insert in the program, which had eluded me, as I had brought my series program from home. The reason for the switch is unclear to me: the Debussy was played in Melbourne the week before.

This changed the balance of the program. I preferred the Ravel and I still would have preferred the Debussy but there was much that was admirable in the Glass.

The second half was a suite (if I can call it that: you might really call it “highlights” though “Officer Krupke” didn’t get a look-in, probably because that is a verbal rather than a musical highlight) from West Side Story with the addition of two percussionists. This attracted me less and was the reason for my initial reservations. I’ve seen K and M in their foot-stamping keyboard-pounding Jazzy mode and it is less interesting to me either musically – a bit like, in different ways, other manifestations of Euro[crossover]jazz such as Claude Bolling or Friedrich Gulda in his Jazz mode – or pianistically.

In her program notes, Yvonne Frindley boldly and I think pre-emptively claimed this was “music in the tradition of the nineteenth-century opera paraphrases.” I’m not so sure of that. For one thing, it was quite a lot longer. There is the question of paraphrase vs transcription. But ultimately I think it comes down to two matters – one a question of context and the other of format.

To take the first, paraphrases and transcriptions come from the era when it was a paraphrase or transcription or probably nothing. West Side Story has been recorded and filmed and propagated in that way.

Secondly, part of the point of the nineteenth century paraphrase was that the one artist would mould together his [sic] own version of a work for larger forces. This was one the one hand a feat, but also an act of artistic subjectivism. Of course, ensemble transcriptions and arrangements of popular theatrical works were also performed, but less, I think, as creatures of the concert hall (the Vienna society which performed works in reductions was a different and special case). I don’t think that you saw piano duet or duo performances in concerts: that was something you did at home. To me, ensemble arrangements are more in the tradition of Baden Baden or Karlsbad/Kalovy Vary than of the nineteenth-century opera paraphrases.

I’m not going to fault the playing. There were lots of nifty bits which I liked and even some quite beautiful bits – mostly the quieter parts. But as the arrangement went on, it was the concept which left me wondering: why am I sitting here listening to this medley?

Others have been more enthusiastic. Harriett Cunningham wrote in the SMH/Fairfax press:

The duo’s own version of Bernstein’s West Side Story took the performance to another level again…Percussionist Gonzalo Grau and drummer Raphael Seguinier were a grand match for the piano duo….

The Labeques were by turn ballerinas and boogie-woogie jazz pianists, ripping into the dangerous crush of Mambo and then picking out the central fugue in Cool with classical restraint. America, complete with flamenco hand clapping, foot stomping and box-slapping from Grau, was the show-stopping highlight, but by then the audience had given up on standard concert etiquette. They loved it, so they cheered.

That’s true. There was woman a few seats away from me who gave a cheer after every fast and loud number, and she was not alone. But that was not the only reaction.

Just after “Tonight,” an older gent a couple of rows in front of me, a fixture at this series, stood up and started walking down the aisle to the exit. As the audience’s inevitable applause (“Tonight” is loud and fast and the first act closer in the original) subsided, he spoke out. “Boo!” he declaimed, not uncivilly (unless you think a Boo itself uncivil) but definitely. “I don’t want to stay.” And he left.

I admired his courage.

My lucky day

August 7, 2007

I started my working day on Monday in the directions list in the Equity Division of the Supreme Court.  The solicitor for the defendants rocked up and, after a brief discussion, we agreed on some consent orders.  I went back to my office (we like to call our offices “chambers”).

At noon I was back again before the duty judge.  My client had a notice of motion but had decided not to proceed with it.  So I put on my wig and gown and trotted up to tell the judge this.  All rather silly, but my own contribution to street theatre in Sydney’s legal precinct.

I then spent two or three hours preparing for a hearing tomorrow before going home early to have a nap in preparation for going to hear Cedric Tiberghien in recital at Angel Place.  Normally, I drive back in to a concert, so as to maximise the available nap time, but as my car is in for repairs at present (well, actually, just resting on Monday because the smash repairers take the August Bank Holiday) I was expecting to have to take the train back in, with a commensurate reduction in sleeping time.

On the platform at St James Station heading home I ran into Rx, who was at school a couple of years below me (or is “after me” more anti-hierarchically correct?).  Rx lives just down the road from me in a small block of flats with Lx, my former year 9 English Teacher and high-school drama director, J, (also an ex-teacher and an old acting colleague of Lx) and N, Lx’s ex-boy-friend (with whom I was at university).  They bought this block together about 10 years ago and live in what seems, at least from the outside, to be congenial collegiality.

This was my lucky break: Lx had invited Rx to go to the recital.  Rx could see where the conversation was going, and with remarkably little prompting he offered to pick me up at 7.15 and give me a lift in.  As we picked our way through the ethnically-Chinese Sydney Boys High students to get off the train, I was feeling pretty good.

Once home, I rang my father for his birthday, and had a short conversation with the solicitor for tomorrow about a few things which needed to be done (he wasn’t in the office today because solicitors in the country also take the bank holiday).  I was able to sleep for an hour and a half.

And so to the concert.  The program was:

BRAHMS Chaconne by JS Bach, arr. for piano left hand
BRAHMS Four Ballades, Op.10
CHOPIN Four Ballades

Cedric Tiberghien (the link includes videos of him performing two works from the program, though the live performances were better than the linked ones) is a tall young man (well, he is 32), ever-so-slightly dorkish – particularly when he bends right over the keyboard; he has a bit of an issue with vocalisation while he plays.  Judging from his performance of the Brahms arrangement of the Chaconne (and guessing by sight and from his height) he has big hands with long and thin fingers (you can see this in the Brahms performance indirectly linked above). Though not a conclusive advantage, is generally pretty helpful for a pianist.

It was an intelligent program: balancing Brahms and Chopin, and in particular two different ideas of Ballade, which in rough terms can be described as a single-movement piece, sometimes with narrative pretensions (as in Brahms’s first Ballade, which is based on the ballad Edward) and otherwise more abstractly narrative (as in Chopin) and often working with an alternation of two contrasting sets of musical material (though more freely than in classical sonata form, whatever that really is).

The Brahms Ballades are rather weird pieces – not entirely audience-friendly.  With the benefit of hindsight they can seem to be the works of a composer still searching for his true style (they are early works: Op 10), which just seems to emerge in the second theme of the 4th Ballade.  Tiberghien did not try to pretty them up or “normalise” them: he concentrated on their rather off-beat (sometimes literally) creation of mood.  He wasn’t afraid to play really softy.

The Chopin Ballades, by comparison, are so well-known that it is as difficult for a player to say anything new about them as it is for the listener to experience them afresh.  Lx and Rx thought the performances rather erratic.  I try not to be such an adjudicator.  It is true that, in the big moments in particular, things got rather wild, but I took that to be Tiberghien’s attempt at a freedom of style, even at a sacrifice of a certain degree of what is sometimes thought to be the requisite Chopinesque polish.  Once again, it was his quiet playing which I found really impressive.

At interval, Lx nudged me to glance left.  “It’s Mrs Turangalila!” he said, and indeed, there was Simone Young, who last weekend conducted Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony (with Tiberghien playing the piano solo) with the WASO in Perth, and who this weekend does the same with the SSO in Sydney.  When Tiberghien returned to the stage to take his bows, he acknowledged Simone Yong‘s presence, and announced that he was dedicating his encore to her.  It would be a long encore; it was three stories – which he proceeded to relate.  In fact it was Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

At 20+ minutes, that possibly tempted the patience of some of the more train-timetably-minded of the audience, but I wasn’t complaining (luckily, I didn’t need to worry about the train). It really was my lucky day and a fitting postlude to the program.

On the way home, Lx and Rx wistfully wondered if Tiberghien might be gay. I’m not so sure: he sported a wedding band. In any event, I think Thibaudet (who piked playing Gaspard de la nuit as previously announced for his Sydney recital last year) has the game of tall blond (-ish or -esque) gay French pianist all sewn up. Always room for another generation to come through though…