Archive for the ‘estivation’ Category

Estivation 3

February 22, 2011

Summer has been over for a while, at least in terms of school holidays, which have a resonance even for the childless. Today as the true Mardi Gras could be taken to mark the beginning of spring [Lent] and hence in our happy or otherwise antipodes, the end of Summer.

Blogging has been right down, as has become my custom at this time of year. What have I been up to?

It doesn’t feel like much. Concerts and opera stopped; sport took over the front pages; D and I confronted the Christmas hiatus without cigarettes. That resolution, at least, has held for the time being. I went to Melbourne for some professional development, though I remain ambivalent about whether it was worth the time, money and trouble.

The year has started again. I’ve been to court – a few times, by now. I’ve been to the opera thrice and the symphony once. As for summer, I got to the beach relatively (to previous years) few times – the wet January in Sydney contributed to that. I took a road trip with my sister and nephew from WA to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains – retracing old tracks. This was probably the last summery moment. I’ve been to a few sessions of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. I vented my spleen (1, 2) against Christopher Pearson in a comments thread in a way which caused the thread to be closed down. I am receiving threatening letters from the tax office about lodging my tax return – something I had (of course!) intended to attend to over the Christmas break. I appeared at an examination by a criminal investigation authority which is simply the star chamber updated. This was a truly unpleasant experience which showed to me why such bodies are abhorrent to all principles which any lawyer should hold dear: the bullying hand of the state is an ugly thing to behold, but difficult to discuss since one is prohibited from disclosing anything that goes on there. The solicitor assisting that body ranks in my top five of unpleasant practitioners I have ever experienced.

Sigh.

Life goes on.

What I did in the Holidays, or Estivation 2

February 2, 2010

My sister, YY, came (from afar) to stay with me about a week before Christmas. I stopped work in honour of this.

We spent the week about Xmas in Canberra with the older generation, then some time back in Sydney together including a trip up the Putty Road to spend two nights and the new year with a not-so-often seen cousin with whom we nevertheless get along very well. We spent a memorable day floating down the Colo on lilos and other inflatable objects. On other days YY and I went together to Wylie’s Baths (Coogee) – depending on the weather – or she visited very old friends. YY then spent a bit more time in Canberra (river swims a feature both times) after which we spent another week together in Sydney in like fashion whilst she gradually got caught up in the professional commitments which had paid for the ticket which brought her home, culminating in a flurry of travel and finishing on Australia day.

Inspired by the Schumann bicentenary, I assayed a little Schumann on the pianoforte. Thomasina has invoked two things which, in music, lead to madness. The original last movement of Schumann’s Piano Sonata Op 22 is arguably another and must at least be a straw in the wind. The 16-year-old Clara told him it was too hard and he wrote another.

In a momentary lull in hertravel frenzy, YY came with me to see Opera Australia’s Manon.

Absence truly can make the heart grow fonder (I would not go so far as to account this an absolute rule). Rather as [or as I fondly imagine] my cat’s displays of affection are refreshed whenever I return from a time away, I feel my being purring with delight at the return of the opera after an absence. It’s always a pleasant surprise.

The usually mild-in-reproof Peter McCallum in the SMH doesn’t appear to have been of the same view , concluding (after an opening reference to “a proficient although not stellar cast”) that
“one was left at the end wondering if it shouldn’t be quietly allowed to fall off the repertoire to make space for more works of our time.”

Whew! And that’s not all.

I found the music utterly beguiling and I am a bit alarmed at the realisation that this might easily be thought of as a dismissive evaluation.

The last opera YY saw was Hansel & Gretel with me in 1992 so it’s been a while. Before that, “some Wagner” (she can’t remember which) when she was a teenager put her right off the form. She said she enjoyed the Massenet but she’s still not prepared to risk another Wagner.

YY and I did exchange drop-jawed gulps of mock horror/astonishment at a couple of the more melodramatic diminished-chord moments.

Australia Day is a traditional marker for the end of summer in the work sense. I had gone into work to gnaw at one particularly intractable problem before that, and managed to keep my resolve of a return to work for one day after Australia Day before YY and I travelled together for another short visit to Canberra, then to stay at another old friend’s new place down the South Coast. YY lives so far away that I must count my remaining time with her as significantly finite. This is called life work balance. I hope I will be able to afford it.

Another factor in the plan was that I was invited to a birthday party in Berry. I left YY with the old friend and set off. It’s very scenic down there.

There was no such address in Berry: the party was actually at Bexley.

YY’ s time with her old friend was cut short a little. We got to the party very late but not too late. Everybody was very amused.

Now YY is on the plane home. It will be cold where she is going.

Summer ends now. [This is a facile allusion rather than an endorsement of any theological sentiments.]

What I did in the holidays

February 5, 2009

At the piano

Reviving from estivation, I have struggled to find a topic momentous enough to justify a re-entry to the blogosphere. With the journal habit broken, I’m confronted by the unimportance of anything I have to say. In addition, the staples of such reportage I have to offer have themselves been in recess.

I have been to only three musical events over the summer break.

One was All Tomorrow’s Parties – the Nick Cave curated festival held over two days in January on Cockatoo Island as part of the Festival of Sydney. D and I went on the second of those days on the strength of a personal connection. Festooned with an “Artist” laminate which gave me access to some backstage areas (and refreshments), I was spared some of the rigours of the event: never have I seen so many nocturnal people out in the open huddling in so little shade.

It wasn’t really the kind of music on which I feel qualified to offer much of an opinion. The review in the Herald seemed transfixed by the event’s boutique nature and atypically well-behaved and middle-aged crowd. I guess the $150+ ticket price played a part in this. D received a big smile from Justice Liz Fullerton (in a sensibly big hat), though he wasn’t sure what provoked this beyond the prevailing agreeable mood. Apparently on the first day Malcolm Turnbull was spotted bopping up the front, though I suspect the Sydney Festival free list rather than the trifling ticket price played a part in that. “That’s it!” one musician was heard to exclaim, “I’m giving up playing.” That seems an over-reaction.

D and I also went to the first night of Cav & Pag and, with K and J, to the second night of The Magic Flute. Neither of these was really earth-shattering.

I’m inclined to agree with Sarah that Jonathan Summers was the real star of Cav & Pag, and particularly in his bravura delivery of the prologue to Pag.

The Magic Flute was K and J’s first night ever at the opera, and so their reaction is probably more important than my own slightly jaded one. Emma Matthews as Pamina and Catherine Carby (2nd Lady: luxury casting in OA terms) were (disappointingly, to me) indisposed, but this didn’t matter for K and J. A good time was had by all.

I share Peter McCallum’s view in the SMH (not online) that Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo, the conductor, was tipped into something a bit beyond his present capacities in being entrusted with the whole run of this work. Mozart is never easy. Even allowing for the possibility that McCallum’s review put me onto the case, there seemed to be rather a lot of “unforced errors” – mostly to do with cadential relaxations of tempo (or not) and negotiation of transitions between tempi. These cried out (to me anyway) “conductor needs more experience.” The general orchestral sound was also rather underwhelming – I wondered if they’d decided to skimp on the string numbers.

That’s it on the musical front. Otherwise, up to last weekend, I have been immersed in the responsibilities of keeping the machine for living going whilst my sisters and nephew have been staying with me, off and on, since before Christmas. I’m still recovering from that.

Both of my sisters left Sydney in their twenties. The result when they return is a bit like drilling down for a core sample, as they revive contact with the friends they have left behind – including family friends from our childhood who remain in Sydney but whom I never see except when my sisters are here. In addition, there has been the annual stocktaking of a kind which Christmas brings. All of this brings me back into contact with the world of families – children, parents, grandparents, from which my own day-to-day life is largely insulated.

If there were really any doubt about it, this all brought middle age home to me. Friends and contemporaries now have children ranging from infancy to university age; at the other end, parents are becoming infirm (well, a few have died) or, even if not yet infirm, talk of Exit International.

This last parenthesis will presumably lead to this post being banned once the great firewall of Australia goes up.

Finally, as per the above picture, I’ve started playing the piano again. Perhaps that’s another reason my blogging has faltered.

So far I am specialising in pieces which are either simple or slow. As the above picture shows, my current fare includes, for the benefit of the curious: (left) the Liszt-Schubert Ständchen as well as (at this stage more a technical exercise than anything musical) Abschied; (centre) a Hungarian anthology of “Early Dances” (from a series called “Piano Step by Step”) – I particularly like the breezy Handel Courante; and (right) Chopin Nocturnes, starting with the first two, which are probably also the easiest and simplest.

Now I have to get the piano tuned.