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A conundrum

July 9, 2017

Maybe we are all unusual people, if you can only look closely enough, but George Sclavos, who for many years conducted a pharmacy at Leppington must have stood out.

From the late 1980s, George, who graduated as a pharmacist in 1973 when he was about 25, owned and ran a pharmacy at Leppington (near Campbelltown).  George never married and you’d have to say that the pharmacy really must have been his life.   He befriended many of his customers, including the local “down and outs” from the caravan park nearby whom he would often invite in after hours to spend time with him after the pharmacy had closed. 

George was the “go to” man amongst his fellow shopkeepers at Leppington for making up a float at the start of the trading day.  He lent many people money, but if they didn’t pay him back was apparently content to leave that as something which would rest on their consciences or probably souls (he was devoutly religious) if they failed to repay him.  He told a friend “If I die and they owe me the money maybe God will put that in my credit to cover my sins.”

George was a heavy smoker, and it seems that other aspects of his shopkeeping lifestyle were quite unhealthy.  In 2013, aged 65, he died suddenly at the pharmacy.

George’s older and only brother, his father and his mother had predeceased him in 1980, 1979 and 1992.  He was survived by Anna and Cleopatra, his brother’s daughters.  George had told his nieces that they would find a will in his house.

George had lived since 1983 in a house in Strathfield first owned by his father and later by him.  He was a bit of a hoarder.  His nieces and family friends set about tidying things up in the hope that the will would surface in the process.

A document later admitted to probate as a informal will was found in George’s bible (which was on the table next to his bed), folded around an old photo of Anna and Cleopatra.  This appointed Cleopatra (who is a barrister by profession) as his executor and left George’s estate of about $6 million to her and Anna equally.

But there was another claimant.

Okan Yesilhat claimed he had met George in 1999 when Okan was 17 and George about 51.  Okan said he had been in a sexual relationship with George from that time and was in a de facto relationship with George at the time of George’s death.  Okan said that the document found in the bible must have been planted there and was not a will.  He said that probate of the will should be revoked, in which case (on his contentions) he would take the entire estate as de facto “widower” on intestacy.

As a fall-back Okan claimed family provision on the basis of his asserted relationship with George.  As a fall-back or parallel claim to that, Okan also said that money which he had received from George in George’s lifetime was a gift rather than money that Okan had to pay back. This was about $386K less payments by Okan or his company in George’s lifetime of about $82K – a net amount of $304K.

Okan had also taken money out of George’s accounts after George’s death using means of operating these accounts which George had given him.  Even if you are authorised to take money from someone’s accounts while they are alive, that authority ceases on their death and any money taken out after usually has to be repaid to the estate.  One way or another (as the heir on intestacy or by means of provision in a greater amount) Okan sought to resist having to repay these post-mortem amounts, of about $206K.  Okan had made a further $7-8K of withdrawals from George’s accounts which were reversed by the bank when it stopped the account at Cleopatra’s request.

Anna and Cleopatra knew about Okan, because in 2011 George had told them that he had lent upwards of $100K to Okan for a tyre business on Canterbury Road in Lakemba.  Anna and her husband had visited the business and met Okan not long after that.  You could not blame Anna and Cleopatra for feeling some disquiet about this, let alone about the full picture which came to light after George’s death, not only of the substantial amounts which had passed in his lifetime, but also the post-mortem withdrawals from his accounts.

But Okan’s claim of a 14-year homosexual relationship with their uncle came as a complete shock to them.  As far as they were aware, although unmarried, George had had a number of girlfriends in his life.  There was a bit more mystery over the circumstances in which George had harboured in his home from 2005 to 2008 a (since deceased) married mother-of-five sex worker with a drug problem whom he had met on Canterbury Road.

To Cleopatra and Anna Okan’s claims were not only a shock but a calumny.

Okan for his part maintained that his relationship with George was secret for cultural reasons.  He rubbed salt in to the wound (so far as Anna and Cleopatra were concerned) by claiming that George was dismissive of and said disparaging things about them.

By the time the matter came to trial, it emerged that if Okan was telling the truth, he had his own cultural reasons for keeping his relationship with George secret, including two marriages of his own.  For good measure, witnesses claimed that even when married he was seen consorting with other women.

There was no evidence from anyone, even Okan, of either George or Okan having any other same-sex relationship.

The matter was heard over 21 days in early 2016 before Justice Slattery. It took his Honour over a year to deliver his decision: Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

That seems a long time, even if his Honour was off on leave for some of it, though the reasons are certainly lengthy.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to skip to the end of the book to find out the ending, or to look up the endings of TV serials on the internet (I am that kind of person) you can find out more there. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until I have the energy to write another post.

SSO, Dutoit, not Argerich but Wang

July 3, 2017

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO, conducted by Charles Dutoit.

The program was:

Stravinsky, Funeral Song
Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 1
de Falla, 2 suites from The Three-cornered Hat and
Ravel, La Valse.

For the concerto, Martha Argerich, originally slated to appear (for the third time for the first time in Sydney) was (yet again) a late scratching, this time replaced by Yuja Wang. Wang has probably been able to make a bit of a career out of stepping in when MA has cancelled.

Because of the Argerich factor, the SSO had hiked up the prices. In response, and bearing in mind the MA-no-show risk, I pegged down my seating reserve. At about the same price for my usual rear-stalls spot I was in Box Y at the side of the stage, diagonally behind YJW’s left shoulder.

Empty seats were conspicuous in the more expensive areas. Had I paid such top dollar, I too would have been tempted to return my ticket, which is just about the only recourse the orchestra allows. If there was a chance to buy tickets at a now reduced price (or to trade “up”, as I might have) they certainly weren’t advertising it.

What that really means is that the orchestra toughs it out on the laziness tax against everyone else who has paid the premium price on what was always (as the orchestra surely knew) a chancy prospect. That included me, and to be frank I felt a bit grumpy about that.

I wouldn’t want always to sit at the side, but it does have some benefits. There is a loss of balance and in particular of the frontal projection from the violins and the soloist/s. The gain is that you are much closer and the sound comes to you directly rather than bounced around the hall, so that what you do hear you hear much more clearly. And there is a big gain for the woodwind – often missing in action even in the rear stalls. Once you adjust for the diminished front it is like seeing and hearing the orchestra in cross-section.

This was particularly rewarding in the Stravinsky – a recently rediscovered early work for which I was totally unprepared. The big surprise was the obvious influence of Wagner. Alex Ross in the New Yorker gives the most succinct list of the Wagnerian elements (which are not confined to Siegfried’s Funeral March).

From my cross-sectional vantage point the bit I most liked was a kind of undulating accompaniment figure which emerges at about 6:30 in the youtube version (there is more than one) of last year’s second performance conducted by Gergiev in Leningrad/St Petersburg.

The Gergiev version sounds different from Dutoit and the SSO’s as I recall it, especially in mood, which in Sydney was more sombre than the recording comes across. There is surely an intrinsic interest in hearing different approaches to such a “new” work. It would be nice if the SSO’s performance could be available for a while on ABC “Classic” FM’s “Listen Again” facility. Given that P&M is already up there, I can only presume there is some rights obstacle to this.

In the Beethoven, what I was particularly able to see was how Dutoit energised the orchestral accompaniment figures, especially in the first movement. I was also in a good spot for Mr Celato’s clarinet solo in the middle movement. This movement was probably the high point of the Beethoven. People behind me said it was very slow. I honestly wouldn’t know. What with the clarinet and all I was most of all feeling how Mozartean it was.

It wasn’t the best spot to hear the piano sound, but when it came to the encores, starting with the Prokofiev Toccata, I had an extraordinary view of every muscle and bone in Yuja Wang’s back courtesy of her (almost) backless dress. It was like an anatomy lesson or one of those films of the inside of a big pipe organ at work. Wang’s other encores were the Rachmaninov Vocalise and the Horowitz variations on the gypsies’ song in Carmen.

I enjoyed The Three Cornered Hat without being particularly blown away by it – I’d say that’s the work rather than the performance, which was predictably brilliant. La Valse, for me, is a more compelling and made a great finale.

Afterwards I spoke to a couple (well, friends, but two of them) who, like me, had also come the week before for Pelléas et Mélisande. They enjoyed this concert more and I expect that is the taste of most of the SSO public. As for me, it is the Debussy which is still resonating most and I expect it to do so for a while.

Pelléas et Mélisande

June 24, 2017

Last night with D to the concert performance by the Sydney Symphony of Pelléas et Mélisande.

Although the two tickets that I picked up just a day or so before were shown on the booking plan as the only free pair of seats in the stalls, there were quite a lot of empty seats at the start. Some of these were filled by latecomers who overlooked the 7pm start, but I got the impression there was a bit of an interval exodus to offset this. As ever, it seems that a segment of the SSO subscriber base is simply not so keen on vocal works, even though this was conducted by Charles Dutoit, and even though the orchestra plays such a prominent role.

In terms of plot and incident, the opera is a bit slow – it’s symbolism rather than drama, though things get moving a bit more in about acts III and IV. The strongest impression one gets is the atmosphere of a remote place in a distant time – you really feel that a whole world is created. It’s hard to put your finger on why this is so but in away the elusiveness yet distinctinveness of the atmosphere and the music is exactly the point.

I’m going again tonight and am very much looking forward to it.

Update, 1 July

I went and, despite an unwelcome work-related thought which stole up on me and I found impossible to banish for an entire scene, enjoyed it very much. This afternoon I was able to hear about half on ABC “Classic” FM, where Saturday’s performance remains available to listen to again for the next 28 days.

1983

June 24, 2017

I was away in Canberra for a belated/extended Queen’s Birthday long weekend so it was only at the last minute on my return on the Wednesday after that I arranged to go and see some films at the Sydney Film Festival.

The first, on Thursday night, was Call me by your name. D (who can only be persuaded to go to the cinema to see “gay” films) came with me for that.  I sensed while I was watching that this might well be an adaptation of a novel, and indeed that turns out to be the case.  The film is full of little details shown to us which, to me, at least, were not really explicable at the time and are only made retrospectively clear by reading up on the book.

The story is set “somewhere in Northern Italy.”  The context for the depicted coming-of-age is that European kind of long languid summer which we don’t really have here in Australia.  (A quibble: even this European summer could not really have been as languid for the 17-year-old protagonist as depicted. Surely he needed to put in a bit of piano practice?)  It is all very beautiful in a Merchant-Ivory kind of way (Ivory wrote the script).  I enjoyed it, as I think did D, though he afterwards observed that he feels he is too old for this kind of movie.

On Friday afternoon I snuck away early from work to see The Teacher .  I was drawn to this in part because of my own friendships (dating from Berlin 1987) with a family from die ehemaliger DDR.  One feature of life in the DDR, and I think of all then-communist states, was that in the absence of a market economy, people resorted to informal networks for exchanges of goods and services and favours.  (Not that this doesn’t occur always, but then and there it was to a greater extent than since or then in the “West.”)   As the eponymous teacher (in the then Czechoslovakia) asks, “Shouldn’t we all help each other?”

Ironically, my East German friends remember this response to adversity favourably as giving rise to a greater social connectedness than under capitalism – which on one view just substitutes different adversities such as lack of money for those at the bottom of the pecking order.

But back to the film.

At the start we see the teacher getting each child in her middle-school class to tell her what their parents do.  Helping each other, in this case, turns out to mean the parents helping the teacher, in exchange for which she dispenses favouritism and tip-offs as to what to revise for class quizzes.  That may seem benign.  The darker side is if co-operation is not forthcoming, because the flip side of favouritism is victimisation of the children of parents who refuse to play the game.

As the music makes clear from the outset, this is all played as a comedy, obviously with a bite.  Zuzana Mauréry in the title role gives a bravura performance.

Both films were screened at the State Theatre, which for me was part of the point of going. In these multiplex days there is something of a time warp in going there – not just for the glorious fantasy architecture, but also of being part of a really big audience with a sense of occasion.

At the start when I go to the State I always have a bit of a double-take at the relatively small (to the size of the cinema and the proscenium) screen. In fact, I find I adjust to that quite quickly, and the sound system (obviously updated) rises well to the feel of the big room full of people.

The afternoon session of The Teacher still had a bit of the duffle-coat-and-and-thermos atmosphere of film festivals of yore.

The other more specific time warp was that both films were set in 1983.

In CMBYN that presumably came from the novel. The film signalled it in various ways, starting with the Sony walkman (Sony also produced the film) which the young protagonist was wedded to as he transcribed music with pencil and paper, and including the various popular-music-themed t-shirts he sported. Obviously cars and decor also matched the period. My own memory of 1983 is that news of HIV/AIDS was beginning to trickle out. Yes, I know the first news was in 1981, but I wonder if the boy’s parents would have been quite so open to his having a gay romance even a year later, in 1984. At the very least, they would have surely felt obliged to have a little chat about precautions.

In The Teacher, the period setting obviously had a specific historical function – the eponymous teacher is also a Communist Party leader and the willingness or unwillingness of any of the parents to complain has a lot to do with that. A particularly delicious aspect of the film is its period retro-look. As the reviewer in The Hollywood Reporter puts it:

Cinematographer Martin Ziaran, art director Juraj Fabry and costume designer Katarina Strbova Bielikova have come up with a warm look, with colorful, 1970s-like patterns. This initially counterintuitive choice is the opposite of the cold, austere and bleak way in which the Romanian New Wave has visualized the Communist era, for example. But it works beautifully as a counterpoint because despite the warmly nostalgic look, the film’s themes and message make it clear the era was not something we should look back on fondly in any way.

That’s a US perspective. I’m not sure if things are quite so black-and-white as that (the film itself offers a little 1991 postlude).

I’m probably a bit of a fraud to claim any film-festival-going credentials for having seen either of these films. Given Sony’s moniker on CMBYN and Palace Cinema’s on The Teacher my guess is that, provided you live in a metropolitan area of Australia, you can expect to see both of these films coming soon to a cinema near you.

My new scenic ride 2

June 12, 2017

After Steel Park, the bike path skirts foot of the sandstone plateau of The Warren, under what I like to think of as the Poo Bridge:

poo bridge

Another view:

poo br 2

Not long after, the path emerges just behind the Concordia Club near Tempe.

I take a left along Carrington Road.

Carrington Road

Once we spoke of remnant bushland (until Mike Baird had it bulldozed to make a parking spot for heavy equipment whilst the M5 is extended); now we might as well speak, in the inner city at least, of remnant industrial areas.  The buildings pictured (or some of them) were built in 1926 as a car assembly plant for General Motors.  Ibis roost in the palms and patrol the battlements.

Facing them are some strange almost-neighbours, the Sheik Alawy Youth Centre:

sheikh alawy centre

and

Rosicrucian Lodge

Who even knew there were still Rosicrucians?

Pictured in the foreground is a separated cycle way which the now-merged Marrickville Council installed. Problematically, the cyclists are faced with a “Give Way” sign each time a side street (itself with a “Give Way” sign in favour of Carrington Road) intervenes.  Further on, the cycle path dumps cyclists across the road with no warning to motorists other than an overgrown sign.  I find it safer to stay on the road.

The Carrington Road “precinct” has an almost-forgotten air to it.  To me that is part of its “you-find-this-ugly” charm.

The precinct is unlikely to remain forgotten for long.  It looks as though it will soon be thrown to the wolves of “urban renewal” – ie, more apartments.  There is money to be made.  Urgers are already on the case.

untitled (5)

Until that happens, the precinct and the larger Marrickville-Sydenham precinct which I then ride through after ducking under the railway (past the mysterious and only really visible from the train Sydney Water pumping station  where there also appears to be movement at the station) is given over to mixed light-industrial uses – distribution centres of one sort or another, motor workshops, community welfare groups and a strange preponderance of coffee roasters and wholesale bakeries emitting tantalising aromas.

Build it and they will come, I previously posted about the bike racks at Sydenham Station.  It is time to tether my steed.

P1120029

 

 

 

The show has to end some time

June 10, 2017

My father’s friendship with B dated from their first year in college together in Perth in 1943.  After my father and B married and both couples found themselves living in Sydney from the mid-fifties on, the friendship continued between the couples and, in a quasi-cousinly way, their children as we arrived.  We spent time together on holidays and every year shared an evening meal on Christmas Day.

Perth was a small town.  B and his wife even knew my stepmother who had also been at UWA with them.

B was the last survivor of this little group.  A few weeks ago I visited him at the nursing home to which he and his wife had moved shortly before her death.  There wasn’t much left of him, at least that he was able to express outwardly.

Last week I went to B’s funeral.  I don’t think there will be any more such funerals to go to.  I can only think of two other surviving contemporary friends of my father – one (they were at school together) is 92 and in Arizona, the other is in Canberra.  (Both of these men also knew B.)  In a way then, for me, it is the end of an era.

Only at the funeral did I learn that B’s father, who had been a doctor in WWI at Gallipoli and later the Western Front, died of an “accidental” overdose of self-administered morphine when B was aged four.

When B’s son called me with the news (“It’s that phone call,” he said, when he was put through to me at work) he told me that one of the last things his father had been able to say to him, about 10 days before, was “The show has to end some time.”

Almost the last thing I remember B saying to me was more than a year before that, when I had visited him at the nursing home.  His speech was already a bit indistinct.  “There’s lots of shuffling going on here,” he said.  At first I thought he meant that there were lots of room changes going on, but then the penny dropped.  It was a reference to Hamlet.

 

 

 

 

Pointless III

June 8, 2017

Mr Chan becomes a defendant

Of course Chan was a defendant for the vexatious litigant proceedings, but those proceedings were concluded.

It is now necessary to go back to the last proceedings referred to in the judgment of Adamson J, involving TAFE NSW and the examination summons.

TAFE NSW obtained an order for costs in the proceedings brought by Chan against it.  TAFE NSW had those costs assessed.  Chan did not pay the costs.  TAFE registered the assessment as a judgment in the Local Court.  Once you register an assessment as a judgment you can then invoke the procedure of the court to enforce it.

An examination summons is a procedure where a judgment creditor can bring a judgment debtor before the court where it has obtained a judgment to answer questions about his assets.  The purpose is to enable the judgment creditor to obtain information about what means the debtor may have to satisfy the judgment, which the judgment creditor can then use to decide how to seek to recover its debt.

The first step is to serve a notice on the debtor requiring the debtor to produce documents in relation to his means.  TAFE did this in July 2010.  Chan failed to comply with this.

The next step is to get the court to issue an examination summons for the debtor to attend court and be examined. TAFE NSW did this, probably no earlier than late September 2010, as in October 2010 the Local Court made an order under Rule 38.3 for examination of Mr Chan, on 27 January 2011.

The examination was adjourned to 17 February 2011 after Mr Chan filed a notice of motion seeking an annulment of that order. His motion was later dismissed and he was ordered to submit to the examination in the Local Court on 17 March 2011.

The examination was deferred because in February 2011 Chan commenced the proceedings in the Supreme Court which were dismissed by Fullerton J on 30 June 2011.

On 6 December 2011, Chan appeared before Magistrate Atkinson on the occasion set down for the examination.  He sought another adjournment, on the basis that he intended to appeal Fullerton J’s decision. After considering the notice of intention to appeal which Mr Chan then produced, her Honour refused the further adjournment. It is worth pointing out that the time to commence any such appeal had well and truly passed and any application for appeal would have required leave of the court as a result of Justice Adamson’s orders made on 4 November 2011.  The time to appeal from those orders had also passed, and no leave had been sought to appeal from Fullerton J’s orders.

Magistrate Atkinson refused the adjournment and ordered Chan to enter the witness box to be examined.  Chan refused.  Magistrate Atkinson told Chan that if he refused, she would refer the matter to the Supreme Court for him to be charged with contempt of court.  Chan still refused.  The examination did not occur.

In February 2012, the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court commenced a prosecution of Chan for contempt of court.

This is a cumbersome procedure.  It also encountered many delays.

Chan was the source of many if not all of these delays.

Proceedings were commenced by summons in December 2009.

Chan sought legal aid – his application was rejected and the matter had to be stayed to permit him to appeal that rejection; he sought and was given pro bono legal advice, which it may be inferred he did not accept.  Twice.

In May 2014  Chan raised the question of his fitness to be tried, a question which the Prothonotary considered had to be resolved.  This too proved a protracted process as Chan declined to provide his own psychiatric report or to be seen by Dr Allnutt, the psychiatrist finally selected by the Prothonotary to assess Mr Chan’s fitness to be tried in 2015.  Ultimately Dr Allnutt opined that Chan was not unfit to plead.  On 20 August 2015, by now up to no 15 in published reasons for judgment, Schmidt J held that, though Chan suffered from a mental condition that involved either delusions, or paranoia or likely both, he was fit to be tried.

On 23 June 2016 Justice Schmidt found Chan guilty of contempt.  Her reasons are No 20.

On 21 July 2016, Justice Bellew made orders for Mr Chan to attend for a pre-sentence report and for the filing of submisions in time for a hearing on sentence to occur on 7 and 14 October 2016.

As ever, that was not quite to be, but a sentence hearing did go ahead on 16 November 2016.

A development

But meanwhile, in December 2015, Justice N Adams had held that before deciding to refer a non-co-operating witness to the Supreme Court for prosecution, a magistrate had to offer the witness procedural fairness, and in particular an opportunity to make submissions as to whether the magistrate should deal with the contempt themselves – which they have the power to do.  The significance of this is that if a magistrate deals with the matter, the maximum penalty is less.  Maybe also section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 could apply.  (That’s my speculation, not Justice N Adams’ and its application to someone like Chan would be problematic.)  If the magistrate had not given a witness an opportunity to be heard on this question a prosecution by the Prothonotary is invalid.

The Prothonotory appealed against this decision but in October 2016 the Court of Appeal dismissed that appeal – Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales v Dangerfield [2016] NSWCA 277  .

At the sentencing hearing, the Prothonotary (not that the Prothonotary, a court official whose exact present identity is decidedly difficult to track down, does this themselves) brought Dangerfeld to the attention of Justice Schmidt, but submitted that it did not apply in the case of Mr Chan.

On 2 June 2017, in judgment No 23, Justice Schmidt held that Dangerfield did apply.

Chan had submitted that if it did apply, then that should be an end to the matter.  Justice Schmidt instead ordered that the findng of contempt be revoked and the question of how Chan should be dealt with should be referred back to the Local Court.  In other words, the clock should be wound back to the point where Chan had been denied the opportunity to make submissions as to whether the Local Court should deal with the matter itself.

Despite Justice Schmidt’s stating that, because the finding of contempt was made before the decision of the Court of Appeal handed down its decision in Dangerfield, the proceedings were not a nullity, it is hard to avoid the feeling that all that went before in the Supreme Court was therefore essentially pointless.

What was the point of the examination summons?

By the time TAFE NSW started the process which culminated in the examination where Chan refused to enter the witness box, there were already published reasons from which it could be inferred that costs orders had been obtained against Chan by a whole host of parties other than TAFE NSW in at least the litigation which I have described in Pointless I as:

  1. the tenancy appeal;
  2. the Public Housing complaints;
  3. the train ticket subpoenas;
  4. Perry defamation; and
  5. the Constitutional objection to court fees (finally disposed of on 30 August 2010).

By the time the examination went ahead, it could be reasonably inferred from published reasons for judgment that Chan had also been ordered to pay costs in:

  1. The Local employment training solutions litigation;
  2. The previous proceedings against Mr Tran referred to in the published judgments in those proceedings; and
  3. The vexatious litigant proceedings.

It was also apparent that:

  • in 2003 Chan had been tenant of a room in a house;
  • since 2005 Chan had been a public housing tenant; and
  • he was a Centrelink client (and probably had been for some time given that he had obtained public housing in 2005) most recently on Newstart allowance.  (In fact, by April 2016 he had graduated to a disability support pension.)

The first of these strongly suggested he was hardly a man of means to start with and the second and third made him practically judgment-proof.  You can’t garnish Centrelink payments (only Centrelink can do that). A public housing tenant has no house to be sold up.

A moment’s reflection ought to have led to the conclusion that this situation was unlikely to change, especially given all that Chan’s many litigious ventures indicate about the kind of person he was, of which TAFE NSW must have had its own multiple demonstrations.  Even if Chan did have some assets against which a judgment could be recovered, the proceeds of such recovery would be vulnerable to being clawed back as preferences if any other costs-creditors took the trouble to have their costs assessed and he were then sent bankrupt.  I strongly suspect that most if not all of those with costs orders against Chan concluded that it was pointless even incurring the costs of having those costs assessed.

In the light of the enormous public expense that has been incurred by the State of NSW in one guise or another to date in the pursuit of the contempt charges against Mr Chan, which has still not yet run its course, it seems to me a pity that TAFE NSW took a different view.

 

 

 

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Disguised as a second trombone

June 2, 2017

On Tuesday night to Angel Place to hear the SSO playing Nick’s Playlist.

The SSO “playlist” concerts are a series which plucks members of the orchestra from their (relative) obscurity as members of the ensemble and gives them a short, interval-less program with an Angel-Place-sized orchestra to present a program made up of items which have particular meaning for them.  I’ve listened to broadcasts of some before and mostly they are a bit predictable so far as violinists tend to choose good violin bits, etc etc.  They are also a bit too chatty and made up of bits and pieces for my taste, so I haven’t previously chosen to go to them.

Then I received an email offer of a $25 ticket.  The Nick of the title was Nick Byrne. I checked the program and resolved to go.  The reason?  It featured the ophicleide, an instrumental curiosity which has long held a peculiar fascination for me.

Nick Byrne’s association with the ophicleide is well-known.  In the course of the concert he told the story of how it came to be, and it is a good one.  You can find a version of it in the Daily Telegraph with a fetching photograph of Byrne and, possibly more importantly, his ophicleide.

In about 2001 Nick came off his motor-bike on the race track at Eastern Creek (yes, he is a brass player) and injured his right shoulder and arm.  That is a pretty critical injury for a trombonist (as Nick is) – even left-handed trombonists mostly operate the slide with their right arm. Faced with a good six weeks where he would be hors de combat, Nick rummaged around in the SSO instrument cupboard (it can’t have been quite as simple as that) and found an antique (c. 1830) and delapidated ophicleide.

I suppose an ophicleide could best be described as a cross between a euphonium and a baritone saxophone: most importantly for this story, it has keys (rather than a slide)  so could be played despite the state of his arm. The sound is produced with a brass embouchure.  It’s sometimes described as a precursor of the tuba, but the bore is much narrower.  It is otherwise sometimes described as a member of the keyed bugle family – though I see from Wikipedia that a valved variant was also made.

Nick told how he managed, over time, to produce a tolerable sound from it, and realised that here he might have found another niche, rather than just always being a second trombone.  I thought that a rather comical description of his plight.

Since then Byrne has established quite a profile for himself, recording a CD.  The American composer William P Perry heard that CD and then wrote a suite/concerto for Byrne who features on the recording of that by Naxos.   Nick encouraged us to seek that out and to buy the CD or download it (sign of the times).

But back to the program.  This was:

HANDEL arr. Archibald (for brass ensemble)   Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

BRUCKNER orch. (for string orchestra) Stadlmair  String Quintet in F: Adagio

FALCONIERI  Passecalle (played by 2 sackbuts, organ and percussion)

BERLIOZ    Rêverie et Caprice for violin (Andrew Haveron) and orchestra

MOZART   Masonic Funeral Music

PERRY     Ophicleide Concerto: Pastoral

KHACHATURIAN   Masquerade: Waltz

MENDELSSOHN    A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture

Nick explained that the Handel, played by the brass ensemble from the balcony back of the stage, was a piece he had first played as a teenager (in an ensemble of mostly tertiary students) at the Canberra School of Music.  It was a great concert-opener.  There were flugelhorns and Paul Goodchild on a smaller, higher trumpet.

It’s not quite so clear how the Falconieri got into the program.  It was not specifically written for any particular instruments, and could just as well (as Byrne remarked) be played by 2 viols.  I suppose more specifically sackbuttian music would either require more of them (such as Purcell’s funeral music) or other forces not convenient for the program.

The Perry was the a movement from the suite or almost concerto for ophicleide referred to already.  You can find Byrne’s recording on Youtube.  I’m still scratching my head to work out what the opening solo “lick” in that reminds me of – something niggles at me that it is a tune with words which end “loving you” but I cannot track it down.

In real life the ophicleide came across a bit less prominently than in that recording.  it revealed itself as an amiable instrument – a sort of Perry Como of brass, or given the mood of the piece, some pre-war crooner.  It was good to hear it so exposed, even if, overall, the strongest impression it gave was of being conspicuously inoffensive.

It was hardly surprising that, as a trombonist, Nick should have chosen Bruckner, Berlioz and Mozart.  Each of them has famous music for the trombones – Bruckner – the symphonies, and some church music; Berlioz, any of the brave trombone lines in many of his big orchestral works; and Mozart, church music again and of course, echoing that and echoing down the years since, the famous trombone moment in Don Giovanni.  The oddity of the program was that, probably owing to constraints of venue and available ensemble, none of the works chosen to represent these composers included a trombone.

I’ve never been a great fan of string orchestra stuff, so for me the Bruckner struggled to make an impression after the Handel.  The Berlioz, a violin concertante work based on some operatic offcuts, was new to me.  Its stop-start changes of mood proved a bit elusive and I wondered just a bit about what the rehearsal “budget” for this concert had been, though it remained a great treat to hear it and I shall now search it out.  The Mozart was just right, especially as the plainchant tune sounded forth from the clarinet and oboes – reminiscent, in a way, of the duet of the two armed men in Magic Flute.  And there were 3 basset horns and a bassoon making up the winds.  This was a concert of instrumental peculiars.

After the Perry, things revved up for the big finish.  First the Katchaturian, described by Byrne as a tribute to his Russian… – well, he struggled for a noun at that point as he did at a few other points.  This was rousing.

Finally, we came Mendelssohn’s overture to MSND.  As Byrne said, and truly it is so, this is the piece for which the ophicleide is most famous – certainly, I first learnt of the ophicleide when studying the score an AMEB theory or musicianship exam more than 40 years ago.  The ophicleide part is mostly played by a tuba these days, which Nick declared was “like a bull in a china shop.”

Of course that meant that I had to pay particular attention to the ophicleide part, which is probably a bit of an aesthetic distortion. On strength of Tuesday’s performance, Byrne has a point. How could I ever go back to the tuba? Of course there is more to the MSND overture than the ophicleide, including what I understand to be one of the most difficult woodwind chords in the repertoire to get in tune.  It was a great end to the night.

So an enjoyable concert and very good value.

Afterwards we were invited to join members of the orchestra for a drink in the foyer.  I hope they were given a bar tab for their pains.  I bought a drink (detracting from the bargain rather) but was too shy to approach anyone.  What could I have said?  I might have said to Emma Scholl how much I admired her last G# in the Mendelssohn, but I couldn’t spot her.

In the course of the concert, conductor Benjamin Northey made a little joke, on the topic of unlikely musical sentences.  Northey cited as a classic instance something like:

 “The clarinettist’s Lamborghini is parked at the front of the building.”

(Actually, not so unlikely except as a matter of degree: Mr Celata has pretty flash taste in cars as I recall.)

Northey offered:

“The ophicleidist will be selling his CDs in the foyer.”

Not that, as it happened, he did.

All of a sudden I realised why Nick’s remark about finding a niche had seemed so comical to me.  My own musical sentence in honour of the evening, albeit not entirely without precedent is:

“The ophicleidist was disguised as a second trombone.”

 

The HIP village

May 23, 2017

On Saturday night, on a Saturday afternoon impulse (I heard it mentioned on ABC “Classic” FM at about 4.30pm), to Angel Place to hear the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra.  The title was “Unfinished Romance.”

ARCO is a rechristening of the trendily lower-case and alpha-numeric “orchestra seventeen88,” “established in 2013, by Richard Gill AO, Rachael Beesley, Nicole van Bruggen and Benjamin Bayl.”

Richard Gill was billed to conduct.  I hesitated because of Mr Gill’s propensity to educate.  I wondered if I should keep my phone on to run a stop-watch on his chats to the audience.  He’s not known for his shyness when it comes to this sort of thing.

As the lights came down on an empty stage, Nicole van Bruggen came to a microphone to announce that Gill was indisposed and that the concert was to be conducted by guest concertmaster, Jakob Lehmann.  Rachel Beesley would step up to her usual spot as concertmaster.

That wasn’t all Nicole wanted to talk to us about. She wanted to welcome the orchestra’s sponsors; and also the audience.  She mentioned the 10,000 flyers that had been distributed (a sobering thought: whilst level 1 of the City Recital Hall was reasonably full, levels 2 and 3 had not been opened: perhaps there were 500 of us there).  She reminded us of the next concert, in September.

That is to be one of those “smaller ensemble” concerts.  ARCO is far from the only “orchestra” which keeps itself before the public by presenting concerts of this sort.  I think these are a bit of a swizz but I can understand why they do it.

Back to last Saturday’s concert.

In the first half Fiona Campbell was vocal soloist for a Rossini set:

The Barber of Seville: Overture and Rosina’s opening recitative and aria, Una voce poco fa and Io sono docile;

The Italian in Algiers (this is the conventional translation of the title but more accurate is The Italian Woman in Algiers – “Italian” is crucially gendered): Overture and Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno! and

From Cinderella, Angelina’s (=Cinderella’s) final triumphant recitative and aria, Nacqui all’affanno and Non piu mesta.

Originally the HIP movement made claims for itself a bit like those of Protestants in the Reformation.  If we can strip away the accretions of performed tradition and the distortions of evolved musical instruments [analogy: Catholicism, purgatory, sale of indulgences, etc], we will get back closer to the music as originally conceived [analogy: apostolic church].  What we hear will be more true and more “authentic.” [GOD]

Now the claim seems more limited: the instruments themselves and their sounds will offer insights to the music that a modern instrument performance cannot.

It’s a wise reformulation.  Certainly for the Rossini it would be a moot point which is more authentic: a concert performance of overtures and arias, or an actual staged performance, with a (modern instrument) orchestra which knows its way round Rossini, even if through a glass darkly of the Chinese whispers of accumulated tradition. (Why stop at one metaphor?)

So I didn’t find the Rossini really gave me a HIP epiphany.  Of Fiona Campbell’s arias, the best for me was the one from Cinderella.  It can’t be a coincidence that this is the role she has taken on the stage.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t all very enjoyable, despite some oboe mishaps.  The early instrument sound I most enjoyed was the bassoons – I love that buzz.

I’m not sure though where I would place Rossini in the Romantic pantheon.  Judging from Kater Murr, ETA Hoffmann would not have found a spot for him there.

The second half featured Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony preceded by his very early (even by Schubert’s standards) Overture in C minor for strings.  Let’s pass over the Overture;  the Symphony yielded all sorts of revelations.  I was most impressed by the minatory trombones but the whole was distinctively poetic. The gleaming beauty of the final chords moved me to tears.

On its website ARCO republishes an interview with Ms van Bruggen from Fine Music. The opening gambit is: “It takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise an orchestra?” It’s a nice question.  My own feeling is that an orchestra is a village – which rather short-circuits things.  Venue, musicians, audience and repertoire all need to come together.  Otherwise, in Thatcherian terms, “there is no such thing as society” – and there won’t be.

Orchestras and ensembles come and go.  Orchestra Romantique a few years ago turned out in retrospect to have been a vehicle for Nick Carter which did not survive once he moved on.  The great success story in Australia of this sort has been the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, but it took a few years from 1989 when the orchestra was established.  The big breakthrough for them was probably in 2000 when Angel Place opened: now they give their program there a phenomenal six times with two more performances in Melbourne and another in Brisbane.  This obviously makes assembling and rehearsing the ensemble much more sustainable.

That’s an aspirational goal for ARCO.  First they will want to populate the second and third levels at Angel Place.  As the orchestra was mostly standing, the sound could well have been better on Saturday there than in the stalls.  On Saturday the audience still felt very much one of friends and supporters rather than the general concert-going public.

I hope ARCO can continue and consolidate.  The two things I wish for them at present are that they could (1) muster a larger string complement (especially more violins) and (2) put on more frequent orchestral-scale concerts.  Judging from the Schubert and reviews of their last concert’s Mendelssohn, the early German Romantic (say, Weber to Schumann via Schubert) could be a good niche for them to concentrate on.

Ten years

May 12, 2017

It is ten years since the first post on this blog. Some kind of retrospective seems called for.

I had lurked on others’ blogs for years.  I probably caught the blogging wave just as it was about to recede.  As early as September that year I wondered if that was so as I saw blogs falling by the wayside.  That may have been more churn than decline, but by 2012 or 2013 other social media were clearly leaving blogs behind.  Now it is mostly the older and more fixed in their ways who persist.

2007 was the last glorious year of Howard-hating.

At the start I had a backlog of material to unleash on an unsuspecting and generally oblivious world. A number of those early posts continue to attract a steady trickle of attention.

The earliest of these is a post on my childhood choirmaster, who turned out to be a sexual abuser who killed himself in Indonesia in 2006 when confronted with fresh accusations.  At first, many of my fellow choristers were reluctant to concede that the man they knew and remembered gratefully could be the same person.  In the end the dots were pretty conclusively joined.  Other traffic to this post was probably looking for material about a “controversial” and notoriously tough WA chief detective who was murdered, allegedly as revenge for his shooting of a bikie.

The second is: Never fall in love with a prostitute.  Good advice but not always easy to follow.  I cited a Chinese proverb, 戏子无义 婊子无情, roughly “A performer is unrighteous; a whore is heartless.”  One rueful comment: “of course i know this saying but still fallen.”

Another is Are you Gay? Can you prove it?

Yet another is Rice Queen, Potato Queen.  In that post I took advantage of the strong opinions on both of a young overseas student from Malaysia, Je.  Daniel, Je’s not much older Australian boyfriend, took offence on Je’s behalf.  Not that Daniel disclosed that he was Je’s partner when he did so, but it wasn’t hard to work out.  After Je returned to Malaysia (which was a condition of his scholarship), they split up.  You could read all of this on the internet in those days and I am amazed to find you still can.   Daniel (who according to Je was the dumper) is still a quite the keyboard warrior.  Je stopped posting in about 2010.

I published a number of other posts on gay/asian/in Australia topics at that time.  It’s hard to tell because I am now totally out of any “scene,” but my feeling is that this is an area where, gradually, the cultural/racial/sexual frontier is smoothing out and the terms on which it is crossed are becoming more equal.  There’s still a way to go, though.

Meanwhile, in terms of the racial border and who is crossing it, if you see two men, one “East” and one “West,” out and about, D and I reckon they are more likely to be gay than not.

Caveat Solicitor is a not very interesting post which whose title nevertheless exerts an attractive power.  If you come up against the one you are likely to be looking for the other.

Pussy porn was brazen and quite-successful-for-a-few-years click-bait and my first post featuring my cat.

I wrote a post on Geoffrey Leonard, a self-avowed “boy-lover” who courted fame and (with a bit of help from A Current Affair) found it. This led to his conviction and imprisonment in 2008 for a self-published and internet-published book which was held to include child-abuse material by reason of his reproduction of an edited police fact sheet and edited police statements of 2 boys whom he had been convicted of abusing in 1989.  (The sentence was imposed concurrently with a sentence for possession of since-deleted child pornography on his computer to which Leonard pleaded guilty.) This post still attracts attention because Leonard has become a kind of internet cult figure.

Two later posts on the Guardianship Tribunal (now a division of NCAT) and the NSW Public Trustee and Guardian still attract attention because so many people are caught in the toils of one or the other or both, generally when a family member (usually a parent) becomes incapable by reason of age. In my opinion the Tribunal is far too ready to resolve any intrafamilial conflict by conferring powers on the Public Trustee, which is surprisingly expensive and apparently almost totally immune from any effective oversight.

These posts all still get readers because (apart from “Pussy Porn”) they meet some otherwise unanswered niche demand of one sort or another.

Early on I also indulged in an orgy of self-dislosure on the themes of jobs I have had and homes I had previously lived in.  Since then I have remained in the same job. I have yet to bring things up to date in relation to my last two homes.

I suppose I could try to identify my own favourite posts.  That depends on my mood and probably requires too much context to determine.  Instead I shall confine myself to one generally neglected post.  This, based on a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, retells an almost comic and possibly fantastical story of one night in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney when a bunch of Arabic drug dealers decided to muscle in on the turf of young Yuri Mogilevsky.  I changed the names in the post to protect the Mogilevskys who had meanwhile found themselves in hotter water with the police after moving to greener pastures in St Ives.

I’m a bit disappointed this story hasn’t made it onto the small screen.  My favourite bit is where (as Yuri claimed) one of the gang putting the heavy on him said: “I’m going to enjoy killing you … I’m Palestinian, do you know what we do to Jews.”  Some hapless Irishmen were drawn into the events as well.

When I started this blog I identified my interests as “in no particular order: law, music, opera, gay issues, and China.”  After working off a bit of initial steam, I haven’t said so much more about “gay issues” and I haven’t ended up saying much about China.  I was last there in mid-2014.

That’s partly because, in order since then my cat, my stepmother, my father and my aunt have died.  It is a matter of privacy rather than disrespect to the latter three that the cat’s death has had more coverage on this blog.  He would have turned 20 last month:

P1050719

This retrospective would not be complete without also remembering my friend and onetime housemate, S, who only went to operas if they were set in Egypt and included female nudity.  This March it was five years since he took an early mark at the age of 45.