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For the record

April 22, 2018

Just a short post, cut down from a longer one which was getting boring.

On Friday 13 to the SOH for SSO conducted by M  Suzuki performing Haydn’s Symphony 95 and Beethoven’s Mass in C.

I enjoyed the Haydn and it’s hard to believe that the SSO has only played it once bfore, in 1969 or so.  Well, Haydn symphonies are a crowded field and I can see why it might have slipped down the list.  Suzuki drew a lean early-instrumenty sound from the orchestra.

I wish I could the same about the Beethoven Mass in C (apart from the lean sound, which continued) but despite having enjoyed it when I was once in it, I’m forced to the conclusion that it’s a piano duet of Beethoven masses – more fun to be in than to be in the audience for.  I also find myself impatient in my (approaching) old age with the Philharmonia’s big choir. Actually, when they sing loudly they’re fine but when they get softer there is a lack of focus.

Probably the two most memorable things about it were that bass soloist (in his case a baritone) Christian Immler appeared to be wearing an a-la-Beethoven stock, and the clarinet playing of Ben Mellefont, a bit of an expat wunderkind currently playing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.  Could he be another tryout for the currently vacant principal job?

On Saturday with P to the Australia Ensemble for a concert entitled “French Connections.”

The program was:

Pierre BOULEZ | Dérive (1984)

Claude DEBUSSY | Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915)

Jean FRANÇAIX | Clarinet Quintet (1977)

Gabriel FAURÉ | Piano Quartet no. 2 Op. 45 (1886)

Artistic director Paul Stanhope conducted the Boulez.  At the start he gave  us a little talk on what some of these “French connections”  were, illustrated by some musical examples played by those on stage.  I sensed some impatience from at least one of the musicians about this, though I may have been projecting.  Just get on with it!

I was just really getting into the Derive when it finished. Apart from the music, it had delicious sounds from the marimba.

In his talk, Paul S described the Françaix as inspired by “cafe music.”  I wish he hadn’t said that, because then it was filed away in that box from which it only with difficulty escaped. I enjoyed the slow movement the most, as is my wont, but by the end I found myself thinking of the clarinet part “Who does he think he is?  Till Eulenspiegel?”

I loved the Debussy.  It’s a cliche but towards the end  I really was feeling zoned out in a beautiful dream.  The harp helped.  I’m a sucker for it.  I guess, as with the marimba, too much delicious sound could cloy, but we never got to that.

Second half was the Faure.  (You can see I’m cutting down on those acutes and graves.)  Oh my god are there a lot of notes in the piano part. Just sometimes I thought there could be just a few less to give the piano part a chance to stand back and join in the whole.  The mix of Germanic feel and modal harmonies the distinctive thing about this work.  At the risk of getting stuck in a groove here…well any regular reader of this blog can guess which movement I enjoyed the most but the whole thing was pretty good.

Someone who comes to the AE is on some kind of a ventilator which occasionally lets out a bit of a wheeze.  I am a bit intolerant of extraneous noise at concerts but I can handle this – that could well be me one day and you can hardly begrudge someone breathing.

What I find harder to deal with is hearing-aid feedback.  It’s so insidious and of course pitched, though not at a pitch to which I could assign a note value.  Presumably those whose aids cause the problem cannot hear it.  Their neighbours should tell them but they may well have the same problem, especially at higher pitches.  And what can you say?  If the concert organizers make a “turn it down!” announcement then the risk is the people who had not caused a problem will now be unable to hear the music as they conscientiously adjust their hearing aids for the sake of a problem one or two. That’s so unfair. I do recall a successful announcement on this topic at a previous Australia Ensemble concert.  Successful for me, that is.  Maybe not for those who never needed to turn their aids down in the first place.

Apart from that, it was a particularly enjoyable concert.

Shocking

April 20, 2018

You can view the footage here. (update: or here) It’s a news story on Channel 9.

Police have boarded a bus to arrest an intoxicated and unruly passenger for assaulting other passengers.  He is seated and refuses to get off the bus and lashes out with his hand when a police officer reaches forward to remove him.

Then the officer (a sergeant, no less) lets fly with his taser before a bunch of police pile onto the man to subdue him.  The sergeant continues to use the taser.

Why?  The man is sitting down.  He’s not a danger to anyone.  His hitting out with his arm has been purely defensive, albeit an unlawful response to an arresting officer.  He can be removed eventually.  You wouldn’t shoot him in such a situation (I hope) so why would you taser him?

To me this is totally inappropriate use of a taser – as with much police violence, it is to punish the resister and by terror establish the police’s power  rather than necessary for his apprehension or to protect others.

I know policing is a tough job but this footage raises serious doubts for me as to whether  Sergeant Latham from Surrey Hills police station is up to it.

All the same, I’m not so surprised by his actions.  Tasers are routinely deployed to subdue people and truculent intoxicated people are probably especially likely to receive such treatment.

More  shocking to me is the Channel 9 voice over: (on the original story, now removed from the link though the raw mobie phone footage by a passenger on the bus  survives with a channel 9 watermark)(original story still here)

“the officer is forced to use his taser.”

Really?

 

 

 

Hopeless

April 18, 2018

ABC “Classic” FM continues to disappoint.

The weekend before last, when I was in Canberra, there were numerous broadcast interruptions.  At least there was a kind of automated announcement made about these.

Much worse was to come on Sunday night when I was driving back to Sydney and, from Sutton Forest on, making the journey bearable with the (delayed) live broadcast from the Met of Strauss’s Elektra.

About an hour later just before the beginning of the M7 and M5 (I had stopped briefly at Pheasant’s Nest if you are being finickity about times) the music stopped and was replaced by a terrible hissing sound.  It wasn’t just one station – the noise was on all the alternative stations/frequencies for ABC “Classic” FM I could find.

Grimly determined to wait this out, I continued listening until I got home, a bit over 20 minutes later.  Still the terrible noise – though I turned the volume down in order to bear it.

Was nobody at the ABC paying attention?  Does anyone listen to the stuff they broadcast to check for quality?

I did not turn on the radio when I went into my house, so I didn’t know how long this state of affairs continued.

But now, even more shockingly, I do know, because the hissing, in all its glories, is retained in the “listen again” feed on the website (this link will presumably go dead in a few weeks).  Here is my rough analysis according to time elapsed from the beginning of the program:

  • 00:00:00 – program begins
  • 1:09:48   hissing – towards the end some more radiophonic noises as though somebody might be trying to do something about it
  • 1:54:54   silence
  • 2:09:09   hissing resumes
  • 2:10:00   silence
  • 2:11:35  music resumes.

Unbelievable.  And no sign, as far as I can make out, of any acknowledgement of the slip up.  And with the preservation of the fault on the “listen again” facility, so much for the bruited redirection of efforts to an online audience.

I have belatedly submitted a “complaint”/”enquiry” to the ABC and shall say here if I ever receive any response to it.

Update

Thank you for your message and apologies for the interruptions to broadcast which you encountered. The technical issues behind these disruptions have been investigated and measures put in place to avoid the situation of them occurring again. We hope you will continue to enjoy listening.

Not what I would call an informative or even individuated response.  Do the measures include any actual person in real time listening or monitoring what is going on?

The “listen again” link has now (I’d say prematurely) been pulled.

 

 

 

Ashfield Pool

April 17, 2018

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Ashfield Pool was opened by the then Premier of NSW in 1963.

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That was the ceremonial opening.  It seems actual swimming started the November before that.

The pool has been looking pretty tatty for a while – areas of tiles have been coming off the side of the pool, other bits of the walls have been taped off and most recently even the jury-rig metal stairway on one end of the shallow end had to be cordoned off as it threatened to slip away from the real stairs if you stepped on it:

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Physical deterioration is the least of the threats facing public pools. Cash-strapped councils are always looking for an excuse to close them, and the public land on which pools stand is always vulnerable to land grabs by the more muscular and well organized, as at Parramatta where an expanded stadium pushed a pool aside last year.

Now formally known as an “aquatic centre” the pool is closing for renovations, scheduled to reopen in time for the 2019/20 summer.  These have been a long time coming and were a close-fought thing.  The then Ashfield Council had to go to IPart to have the necessary rates increase specially approved, and even then the job stalled when they couldn’t get anyone to agree to do the job for their price estimate.  In the end the merged Inner West council has gone ahead with an even more expensive proposal.

When the centre reopens, it will be reconfigured. A gym will be included.

I’m not so keen on the addition of a gym. Why can’t we just have a pool?  In my experience it almost always leads to an upping of the admission price.  I suppose I should be grateful that, in Sydney at least, the tide seems to be turning against closing outdoor pools and replacing them with indoor pools only.  Now, for my taste, we just need to lower the temperature to which pools are heated, especially in summer, when it can be hard to get a refreshing swim except in the sea.

My own time at Ashfield Pool is mostly since I returned to Sydney in 2002 after two years in Perth.  Before that I had lived opposite Petersham Pool which, when open (it was not and still is not a year-round pool), would have been my pool of first resort.  At some stage in the 1990s, Ashfield was heated and open over winter, and that’s probably when it first came onto my radar.  Since 2002 however I have often had recourse to it, especially on weekend afternoons when the sea was too distant or too cold, and much more after I moved to Ashfield in 2012 within easy walking distance  and qualified for a multiple-visit pass.

I went on Saturday for my last paid visit. On Sunday the pool was open for free and I went again. Ashfield Pool is a low-key kind of place – that’s its charm – so there was no big bash.  There were still plenty of people taking a sentimental farewell.  Phones make the pictorial aspect of that much more accessible.

I still have one visit left on my multiple visit card. I could fill in a form to have this refunded or transferred to Leichhardt Aquatic Centre. Neither seems worth the trouble. Call me optimistic. I shall wait until the pool re-opens.

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Death notices

March 30, 2018

You know you are getting on when you find yourself reading the death notices.

That was a habit of our cleaning lady when I was a child. It was not my parents’ – maybe because not having grown up in Sydney they had less cause for it.

Still living in the city of my birth, I haven’t started doing it yet, but I did have reason to scan them today. It’s easier now online though I suspect publishing death notices in a “paper of record” is a dying custom. I didn’t find who I was looking for (not that I am wishing for their death) but was surprised to see notices for two people I knew, or at least knew of.

One was the father of my schoolmate, B.

The other was Beryl Potter. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the Beryl Potter but it turns out it was.

For many years Beryl was a leading accompanist in Sydney. Perhaps the somewhat older Megan Evans was more of a fixture on the vocal side of things. Although Potter performed with singers I think of her as the accompanist you would most likely see for any young instrumentalist’s examination or audition.

Simon Tedeschi has written an obituary which has been published in the SMH.

Tedeschi remarks that Potter “could sight read like nobody’s business.” I’m sure that is true, though by the time Tedeschi knew her there can’t have been many occasions when she had to.

Something missing

March 26, 2018

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I only just noticed this.

Compare 2010 (not my picture):

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Don Quichotte 2, 3

March 25, 2018

This week, after a bit of a fizzer of a first night owing to the indisposition of F Furlanetto in the title role,  to Opera Australia’s production of Don Quichotte for the second and third times on Wednesday and with D  to the Saturday matinee.

The opera is a character study based on a play and if you’ve read the first 8 chapters of Part I of the novel you’ve probably read enough.

Between the first time and the second  I tracked down a  vocal score (I couldn’t find a full score) , a recording of a 1957 concert performance in Italian with Boris Christoff and a young Tereza Berganza (this was the only recording the Con library had) and some CDs of Massenet orchestral music which included the two interludes as well as the  excerpts from El Cid which are played in the OA production as an entracte betwen Acts I and II.

Being a star vehicle it was much improved once there was a star.  Furlanetto is a strong singer but the real thing is that, being perfectly in command of the part vocally, he has energy and skill to spare for the acting, in just so many little ways. For me this culminated in Act IV as he wobblingly descended on one knee to propose marriage to Dulcinea, followed by his devastated dejection after she laughingly rebuffs him.

After the first performance I was a bit down on this work and the decision to stage it when so many other works remain out of reach (think: almost the entire Russian repertoire, just for a start.). That’s the risk you take with a star vehicle if the star is indisposed. Now, if it weren’t for the inevitability of an anticlimax (because I cannot hope for a better seat than the one I had on Saturday) I would willingly go again.

I wonder if that doesn’t just go to show that familiarity is a big aspect of musical appeal – almost any music, given a threshold of some reasonable quality, improves on better acquaintance.

Whilst reviewers have betrayed some restiveness with the delay imposed by the scene change between Acts I and II, every time I heard the El Cid music I liked it more.

D rated the orchestral music more highly than the vocal. I particularly liked the variety of banda (off-stage instrumental music) effects.  There is a lovely cello solo in the second interlude and the night as a whole (or afternoon, on Saturday)  is a big one for the cor anglais – verging, I suppose, on a cliche for romantic sweetness but not suffering for that.

Don Q is not a great opera and I don’t think it even pretends to be one. (OK that’s a funny kind of personification: the genre claim for it is “heroic comedy.”) It is a sentimental piece written with great art and skill.  Its shortcomings are more the libretto’s than the music’s.

I’m still trying to work out how the acoustic/electronic enhancement of the pit works.  On Wednesday the sound in row D of the stalls was not terribly satisfactory and the lights at the rear of the stalls (possibly those projecting text onto the curtain) unbelievably noisy to my ears.  I noticed on Saturday (when I sat just behind the conductor, the incredibly vigorous Guillaume Tourniare)  that the cello section are individually miked for sound.  Where’s all that being piped to?

As part of last year’s refurbishment of the theatre a new surtitle display has been installed.

Front row seats have long been sold on the basis that surtitles are not visible from them.  In a pinch surtitles could still be made out if you were sitting in the middle. That’s no longer the case, which is a very sad development for me.

 

 

Australia Ensemble 2018.1

March 23, 2018

Last Saturday to the Australia Ensemble’s first concert of the year with P, my regular companion for these concerts.

The program was:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN | Trio Op. 11 (1797)
Brett DEAN | Sextet (Old Kings in Exile) (2010)
[interval]
Erwin SCHULHOFF | Concertino (1925)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH | String quartet no. 8 in C minor Op.110 (1960)

Not originally advertised as a guest artist, Timothy Young from Melbourne took Ian Munro’s place on piano for the Beethoven (a trio for clarinet, piano and cello) and the Dean.  Young favoured an awful lot of una corda with occasional eruptions into a rather brittle capital L “Loud.”  With such strong players I think he could have loosened the throttle a bit more in the Beethoven.  I’m not in a position to judge about the Dean.

The Dean was last played by the Ensemble in August 2011.  I can remember a piece using paper-clip mutes but am not sure if this is it because that concert coincided with a school reunion in the afternoon and possibly I didn’t make it to the concert.  Resolution: blog, even if trivially, more systematically.  Hence this post, you might think.

The program note for the Dean was strangely uninformative about the music itself but, unusually, said you could ask for a fuller analysis by Roger Covell.  I asked for that and received it – an almost note-by-note/bar-by-bar running commentary b ut still strangely uninformative as to what, if anything, the music might be about.

The middle movement is very much the heart of this.

The Schulhoff was a pleasant surprise – hard to pin down where it lies but you could say Bartok with a bit of Weimar-era jazziness.  I doubt if there are many trios for flute, viola and double bass.  Prominence for the flautist is a given but there were also vigorous moments in the sun for both Morozova on viola and Andrew Meisel on bass.

When the players came out for the final string quartet I’d forgotten who the composer was to be.  There was no mistaking who from the opening D-Es-C-H.  I was sure I knew another theme in piano-and-strings instrumentation – which turns out to be the “Jewish” melody from the Piano Trio No 2 – and it turns out there are a few other self-borrowings.  That’s one way to write a work in a hurry (it was composed in a matter of days). I’m prepared to concede that Shostakovich earned the right to that though on reflection the conservatism of the quartet’s idiom is striking.

 

Star vehicle

March 17, 2018

Last night to the first night of Opera Australia’s production of Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

It’s an obscurity, written as a star vehicle for the famous bass, Chaliapin, and premiered at Monaco in 1910.  So I suppose it was bankrolled by the upper-class version of pokies money.

Unfortunately, on the first night it was a star vehicle without a star.  International big-name bass, Ferrucio Furlanetto, for whom this production was first mounted in San Diego, was indisposed.  He was replaced by Shane Lowrencev.  No disrespect intended to Mr L and the show must go on and it’s good he was there to fill the gap but there were big shoes to fill.

There was an enormous swathe of seats in the front circle – somewhere between a quarter and a third – which were empty.  Did these represent  the free list or production sponsors tipped off and staying away?

My least favourite opera company director, L Terracini, faced the front-of-curtain mike to make the announcement and give us a little pep-talk.  He’d spoken to Mr Lowrencev who was very excited; he (LT) was excited (maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit freely here); there’s some wonderful music, particularly in the second half.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Acts I to III which made up the first half.

At interval the mood was subdued.  “Nothing much happens” I heard one opera-aged lady say to her o-a-l companion.  Actually, a bit happened in Act III but it was oddly underwhelming as for no very obvious reason the leader of the bandits is moved by DonQ’s – well, what exactly – Christlike ridiculousness? (there is an organ banda part and fairly obvious crucifixion visual imagery although also some faintly Wagnerian-grailish stuff)  – to return Dulcinea’s necklace to him.  The chorus of bandits was far too small to be at all scary.  I’d be prepared to wager that they were really all noblemen who have gone wrong, except that they also seemed to have wandered out of Carmen.

Act IV was the first act which elicited genuinely warm applause. Massenet is a skilful theatrical writer and Act V also tugged heartstrings, if rather mildly.  I for one felt obliged to will an emotional response into being.

Because this is a rarity, I was already  going again, which is just as well.

 

2061 years ago today

March 15, 2018

A funny thing happened on the way to the…..can anyone guess what I’m thinking of?

I only thought of this because I went to visit a friend who last night at an SSO concert I learnt was in a rehab hospital following a fall at, as it happened, a reunion at our old school.  (He was there about 15 years earlier than I was.)

(I told him, don’t go!)

When I got to the hospital this afternoon he’d just gone off for an hour’s physio.  I couldn’t wait that long, and so left a note with reception, which is when I came to write the date.