Archive for the ‘Tessa Birnie’ Category

Change and decay in all around I see

March 14, 2008

Friday night to the SSO.  This was my first attendance at this series for this year, as in a touch of curmudgeonliness I exchanged my ticket to Nigel Kennedy in February for The Dream of Gerontius in November.

I almost exchanged my ticket for this concert also.  The program cried out for it:

Wayne Marshall conductor

GOLDMARK
Rustic Wedding Symphony
BERNSTEIN
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Candide: Overture.

Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, except where’s the soloist?  I always suspect the SSO of saving money with concerts like this and taking advantage of its subscribers.  (OK,  it was a big orchestra, especially for the Bernstein West Side Story.)  And there is something odd about a concert which ends with the Candide overture. Obviously, something had to be put in because otherwise the concert was really very short measure – 25 43 [see comments below], 22 and (with Candide) 8 minutes all up.

Most of all, I had to wonder exactly who thought it would be a good idea to program the Goldmark?  If you read Philip Sametz’s program note [link no longer available, but the last line “You may kiss the bride” gives the general tone away] you can see that he was struggling to say much about it.  The first movement, in particular, was a pedestrian set of variations – at least as it came out this time.  [Mon: Harriet Cunningham was of much the same view in the SMH.]  I find it difficult to believe that it was Wayne Marshall’s special request.  I wouldn’t say it got a particularly distinguished performance (the third and fourth movements were the best), and even with a distinguished performance you would have to say that there must be something better which it was keeping out of the program. 

A more interesting program might have been had if SSO could have spent enough money to mount a concert performance of Candide, or if the second half had been the first half (opening with Candide), and then something American but more modern had been put after interval.

My neighbours to my right have been an older couple (well, they are nearly all older – I am often the youngest person in row T of the stalls).  Last year, from time to time the man of the couple, inclined towards cravats, was replaced (on account of his illness) by a rather talkative woman, Q (I still don’t know her name).  Q was there again on Friday, and told me that she would be coming for the rest of the year because Doug (I never knew his name before) died about three weeks ago.  He is survived by his partner, Jim, also in his eighties.  They were both architects.  Jim didn’t really like going to concerts (D also is not so keen on concerts, and my neighbour recalled that I had mentioned this to her before), which is why Doug went with his female friend. 

It just goes to show that you can never judge from appearances: I had thought Doug’s female companion to be more conservative than that.  (I had wondered just occasionally about the cravat, but Doug was of an age and, to be fair, state of health where sexuality is almost unthinkable). 

As Q said, Doug was a bit of a grump, and he never really invited small talk, but now I regret not having struck up some kind of conversation: gay men of his generation living in established relationships were (and are)  comparative rarities, pioneers, if you like, of the modern emancipation of gay people.  Well the opportunity is missed now.

I tried to search the obituaries in the SMH the better to identify my erstwhile neighbour, but this proved a fruitless endeavour.  It would be easier to go to a library and look at paper back issues for the right days.  However, I did discover that the New Zealand-born (but long-time Sydney-resident) pianist Tessa Birnie died this week.  I would have been curious to go to her funeral (which I missed: it was this afternoon), not because I knew her at all (though I did go to some activities and concerts run by the grandiloquently named Australian Society for Keyboard Music which she founded and ran for many years) but because I would have been interested to see who was there.  She was 73, which is actually a bit younger than I had thought – though to be fair that is based on a view formed in about 1972 or 1973!

Postscript on age:

I wasn’t so wide of the mark after all. It turns out that Tessa Birnie had put her age down by a decade for years – probably to account for the delay which WWII must have caused her career, and to make more youthful her Paris debut in 1960. The obituary in the SMH puts the record straight with the rather lame apology as follows: “Her autobiography, I’m Going To Be A Pianist, was published in 1997. Although Birnie had claimed she was born in 1934, the book shows 1924 as the real year.”

Still, it casts a certain ironic shadow over this paragraph, from earlier in the same piece [emphasis added]:

“Tessa Daphne Birnie, who has died aged 83, was born in Ashburton, near Christchurch, and first heard the sound of a piano, in the local hall, when she was three or four. She never forgot the moment, claiming later that she was so entranced by the sound that she knew her destiny before she knew her age.”

The ASKM was basically a kind of music club for piano music. I expect that to be in the inside crowd for this you basically had to belong to the Tessa Birnie fan club, but TB did have a lot of energy to rally her supporters.  My first exposure to the ASKM was when I went with my mother to a remarkably ambitious series of concerts which it put on in the old Eisteddfod Centre (the former 2UE radio theatre, I think) upstairs in George St just around from the corner from the State Theatre.  This must for a good part piggy-backed on the ABC’s roster of touring pianists.  The series included Michael Ponti, Richard Goode, and some other players whom I ought to remember.  I think the young Katherine Selby impersonated the young Mozart or possibly his sister Nannerl on one occasion. There were also playing afternoons where members participated, and a gestetnered journal “Key Vive” which I used still to see, many years later, lying around to be picked up at the Conservatorium.

Music clubs themselves are an institution which appears to be in decline.  This is a pity because they used to give exposure and experience to a lot of young and local musicians.  I ought to be able to find something Panglossian to say about that, but I can’t summon the spirit for it.