Sunday, March 1, 2015


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (riding high into the second year of David Robertson's tenure and buoyed by the news that, politics and climate change willing, there's a couple of hundred million for upgrading the concert hall acoustics) just brought off a fabulous Opening Gala. It wasn't the first concert of the season (The Schumann Symphonies and violinist Christian Tetzlaff had the honours) but it was the Gala Night.

Quite dressy too, though not stuffy, and a packed house dotted with VIPs - notably the totally wonderful Lord Mayor the divine Clover Moore with Mr Peter of the jolly smile; the GG (a long way from the parade ground); the newly Damed ex NSW Governor and orchestra patron, the irrepressible Marie Bashir; sundry pollys and one whose name I can't bring myself to type but he's the current (just) great overseer of allocation of buckeroos; socialites and sponsors (Credit Suisse with several rows in the stalls), and a very excited Sydney audience in a city that is fairly buzzing as Mardi Gras winds itself up and the Big Boats roll in and out one a day.

Great programming, really great:

Bruckner's       Motet, WAB11  -  Christus factus est

followed without pause by

Berg's Wozzeck Act III

and after interval, and another drink

Beethovens' 9th - The Choral

Conductor David Robertson
Miriam Gordon-Stewart, soprano
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Simon O'Neill, tenor
Peter Coleman-Wright, baritone

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Gondwana Sydney Children's Choir
Sydney Grammar School Choir

This is the work of the new(ish) Director of Artistic Planning Benjamin Schwartz (ex Boston) kicking in, with David Robertson of course.

Bruckner's sacred motet, of Christ's exaltation into Heaven, with a Name above all names, beautifully lays open the case for the ascendency of forgiveness and understanding in, of course, a Christian Catholic way. The choirs - Sydney Phil and Grammar school adding an upper sheen of otherworldly brilliance - delivered a most beautiful rendition freed of churchy sentimentality, not cold but the word of the truth.

That it leads directly into the first of the 5 scenes of Act 3 of Wozzeck (1925, 100 years after the murder case in question) with Marie reading the bible in her room catapults, flings, you into a world of shattered values. Mr Berg's advice is to not to try and listen to the music but to listen to the drama. Drama there was. The scenes were visually enhanced (I think is the expression) with mood lighting - sickly pale green pond, blood red moon, brilliant death white - and worked for me. All four soloists, placed as is Mr Robertson's want behind the orchestra, made it into your head, and into their despair. Peter Coleman-Wright, coming late to the task, showed yet again what a wonderful character actor he and his voice make.

                                                (preperformance showing the new LED lights for easy colouring)

Woyzech was executed for murder in Leipzig in 1824 after considerable public awareness of the case and its questions of culpability and mental state. In 1824 Beethoven completed his 9th, his great treatise on humanity, his great call to brotherhood, equality, understanding and therein forgiveness. The link is hardly obtuse.

Back with routine lighting after interval, we lucky ones were given a stunning performance of controlled intensity, concentration and precision, which brought K to tears (and only excellence of the highest order ever does that) and had the hall mesmerised, frozen, motionless, noiseless, breathless, hypnotised, under the influence, experiencing some thing rare and wonderful: superb music making. Soloists well cast and wonderful, and most notably Simon O'Neills thrilling tenor (a timbre I not always warm to) flying out - 'Joyously, as His dazzling suns' - the sunshine beaming as he threw himself into it. He loves it, it's obvious. He means it. He all but sang the whole thing from go to woe.

Must have been about 200 in the choir and as usual fabulous, for all the right reasons, at the hands of the their task master Brett Wymark.

No adequate words from me for the orchestra and Robertson, the Adagio, except what the tears said in the stillness. I really like David Robertson. He's changed since his first guest visits. He's tight but not stiff. The energy and commitment is palpable. He is, in his own (very genuine) words, driven by and satisfied by the music making. That's it - he's genuine. Not sentimental. Just the genuine tireless real deal.

We stayed for a while, the goodness lingering, leaving as the last idled home.

Ah ha - first review is in.


Our ACO year kicked off with marvellous flair as Richard Tognetti brought in the Coptic Egyptian/Australian Brothers Tawadros (Joseph on oud; James on riq', bendir) to spice up Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, mix it up with other Baroque wonders, introduce works from Joseph's new album and remind us that 'Venice is but a boat day from Cairo'.

Venice and the Islam - cross fertilised for centuries and though few examples of musical influence are overt, the links are there 'in no insubstantial way' Mr Tognetti believes, and hence his programme.

        (Venetian painting: The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511 - as shown in the programme)

Here's the programme ......

Gabrieli             Sonata XXI 'con tre violin'
Tawadros           Kindred Spirits
Vivaldi               The Four Seasons: Spring
Tawadros           Slight of Hand
Vivaldi               The Four seasons: Summer
Tawadros           Constantinople

Vivaldi               Grave from Concerto per la silennita di s. Lorenzo
Vivaldi               Presto from Violin Concerto in A minor
Tawadros           Permission to Evaporate
Tawadros           Give or Take
Vivaldi               The Four Seasons: Autumn
Marcello            Andante from Sinfonia to il pianto e il riso dell quattro stagioni
Tawadros           Point of Departure
Vivaldi              The Four Seasons: Winter
Tawadros           Eye of the Beholder

......  and it was brilliant. Mesmerising. Dazzling. Outstanding playing with Mr Tognetti in splendid form. Critical rave here.

You can glean some idea of the oud ('twang') and riq' ('zing') and the ensemble together:

And one more of the Joseph and James (in Sarajevo) and Joseph's thoughts on the music:


The calendar has clicked over. It's been a wonderful stormy summer and another has just rolled through leaving the late afternoon swathed in mist.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


It's Darwinian I suppose.

I wish I had taken a photo from further away to emphasise what wonderful camoflauge is at play here but I was so preoccupied with its intrinsic beauty at the time it was impossible to pull back. To give an idea of its size, this beautiful thing, the body length was the same as my iPhone.


My ancient laptop which was literally grinding to a halt has finally been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st C. You only need (to know) someone who knows.

I can upload photos in a minute, if not seconds. Like Madam on her birthday. She of the painted nails.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

FEB 14

                                                                    (click to enlarge)

Not one to pay attention to special days (days is days), the window of our local butcher did however catch my eye. How couldn't it?

Monday, January 26, 2015


                                    (Banksia serrata in the hall for 'Australia Day')

January 26 1788. Very likely hot and humid. The First Fleet has moved into Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) with the French not far behind and replacing it in Botany Bay. The Union Jack is planted ashore. Possession is declared and established by whatever it takes. It begins.

I'd recommend Thomas Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves to anyone interested in this extraordinary establishment of a far off colony (equivalent to putting a colony on the moon these days some have said). Keneally recreates the first four years of settlement, the Philip years. Here's Kate Grenville's review, and she'd know a thing or two, she who wrote the marvellous The Secret River.

So, we are stuck with what was once Foundation Day now being Australia Day and my sentiments are exactly these. If we must have a national day, then one day may it be Republic Day.

Down here, I've doused the house in Banksias (such exotica that would take his name Sir Joseph wouldn't have found on the moon) and have decked one table with bark from the Scribbly Gums.

Scribbly Gums are things of wonder. They are Eucalypts. There's several varieties and particularly common are E haemastoma and E sclerophylla. I've planted heaps (I'm told by recent guests from NL that using this word collectively like this is an Australian pecularity, so on this day etc) of E sclerophylla.

The scribbles are the wiggly lines remaining in the creamy white trunk when the bark peals off and these beautifully etched tracks are the paths taken by the larvae of the scribbly gum moth burrowing away under the bark wandering back and forth getting wider and wider from laid egg till pupation.

My Scribblies would be five or six years old now and just this last month have been shedding heaps of bark. I'd thought it might be the weather - hot with some heavy rains - but I suspect it is an age thing. An adolescence.

The markings are on both the bark and the trunk, and when you find a piece of marked bark, it is such a lovely thing that you think you might get it framed, or at least post it twice.