Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Last Wednesday, the State Library in conjunction with Aurora Expeditions marked the Centenary of Shackleton's (ill-fated is always added here) Imperial Trans-Antarctic 'Endurance' Expedition, 1914-1917, with a terrific presentation by Alasdair McGregor, historian, author and biographer of the expedition photographer Frank Hurley, the only Australian in the expedition.

Two parties were involved. Shackleton and his men were to start the 3000 Km crossing at the Weddell Sea, a treacherous gawping yawn in the continent packed with thick and unpredictable sea ice east of the Antarctic Peninsula (we are below the tip of Sth America here - Drakes Passage you know) and then head via the South Pole to meet the second party on the opposite side at the Ross Sea (below Tasmania and New Zealand) and whose job it was to head toward the Pole from their end leaving a series of inland supply depots for the crossing party which itself would be unable to carry enough to get them across. 

There were no means of communication between the two parties.


The story is pretty well known. Shackleton's boat Endurance, converted from an Artic tourist ship with a round bottomed hull singularly inappropriate for ice, became trapped and crushed in the Weddell Sea.

The men wintered it out in what has been described as the most dangerous and dismal place on earth drifting north with the ice and in unimaginable circumstances eventually made it with several sledged lifeboats to Elephant Island where a base was set up, some set out for and made it to South Georgia, and all survived.

The less celebrated Ross Sea party suffered three deaths.

The expedition that had left England three days after the start of the War arrived home alive to a battle still raging and where in sickening irony some who cheated death in the cruel bitter winter of Antarctica would meet it in Flanders.

Sources for Frank Hurley's photographs: SlateState Library of NSW, National Library of Australia, City of Tongues

Monday, September 15, 2014


                                                                 (nsw govt website)

Last Wednesday evening we went to a presentation at the State Library of New South Wales which is one of those under appreciated places undergoing considerable rejuvenation and one that when you do end up there you are forever thinking I must come back more often. At the very least, they have great exhibitions, for free (though not an especially glamorous website).

The library is one of Sydney's lovely old sandstone buildings, in a splendid spot, once by and overlooking the Botanical Gardens and Shakespeare Place, now spliced by a freeway tunnel which makes if for nothing else good surreal art - cue Jeffrey Smart:

I very much liked too that down the cosy cavern between the old and the new, at the back of the old Mirchell Wing wedging Parliament House, when we emerged the homeless were bunking down for the night, calling out to each other and laughing amongst themselves like borders in dorms after the lights go out.

In the interests of keeping a resolution I've made to make shorter posts which actually get posted rather than longer ones which don't, why we were there is the next installment.


I was upset to read that Jenny Diski has cancer. She is, to be honest, the real reason I subscribe to The London Review of Books; that and leaving them lying everywhere around the house to impress people.

She so exposes herself, bare, always letting truth get in the way of denial. I came to Diski late. 'Skating To Antartcica' was on our reading list before we went there on a trip organised by Aurora Expeditions (which leads me onto my next post - breath-holding not recommended), a trip arguably the most memorable ever in that it is an experience of such wonder and beauty that it isn't easy to convey a skerrick of what it is like, though Jenny Diski does well in what it meant to her.

I managed a few on-the-way-to Antarctica posts, but then collapsed under the arrogant weight of wanting to be good too. But without writing a word, there are some impossibly brilliant photographs (impossible to be anything else) and I must get onto it. I will.

Back to Diski. She is taking in water, if not yet listing. I can't say I'm pleased she has decided, or had it decided for her by her within-ness, to write it all down. But I am. And I can't really confess to liking reading about people dying. But I do. David Reiff's (Susan Sontag's son) Swimming in a Sea of Death, about his mother's death, for instance.

Kubler Ross started me off I suspect.


We interrupt this non broadcast (though there are several post incubating, well there's always posts incubating) to bring you some good news. Wonderful news in fact.

There is a Holy Man in Rome. Read this. Look at the areas he wants to address and heal. How did this man get elected? Is the Holy Spirit come?

One thing which caught my eye was the call to restore peace before the end of the day. I had a Catholic upbringing in a Christian Brothers College, and for all they taught, and didn't, I have a very clear memory of a junior school art class where we had to paint an image* of:

                                            Let Not The Sun Set Upon Your Anger.

(* I did a silhouette of two figures - black sexless shadows - holding hands against a huge yellow sun. Basically I couldn't and still can't draw)

Thursday, August 28, 2014


                                                            (pic from the twittersphere)

There was always something slightly dirty and raunchy about Freddie; something incongruously attractive about him, and it wasn't good looks. Beyond the brilliance of composition and delivery, there was a palpable raw energy.

The 20,000 who filed into the arena in Sydney for 'Queen - Adam Lambert' could have been going to a school reunion. And there were uniformed cleaners slinking around with mops and buckets, cleaning the floors lest spot or stain offend. I've not seen obsession like this since we were in St Petersburg and a head lowered head scarfed woman walked behind us wiping the floor of the church after each desecrating step we took.

The production values were big. Camera work and quality, lighting and effects brilliant. Adam Lambert has a good voice. Dr Brian May PhD held the joint together with still brilliant technique which belied his soft gently spoken manner. Roger Taylor and his son did good. The reunion crowd clapped and whistled. A few stood and waved. Perhaps its the venue. Perhaps its the era. Even Mardi Gras is on the brink.

Till out came raw energy in lioness hair, strutting heels, wardrobe malfunction only minutes away, and beamed herself to the very corners of this cold soulless venue with a stunning voice and electric presence. That was when something did happen.

I've seen Lady Gaga. There's tubes of you, from mobile phones, not worthy of linking to cos they capture barely a fraction, in fact zip, of what was going on. She belted out Another One Bites The Dust.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Jonas Kaufmann is down under for two recitals in Sydney (one down, one to go) and one in Melbourne. The programme is the same for all three. Just 24 hours before the last (the second Sydney concert) there are still plenty of seats available (some 300 at a quick count and that doesn't include the blocked off choir stalls) despite the huge acclaim which precedes him, glowing reviews and substantial discounting.

Quoted front of house prices are $145 - $365 plus a $5.00 to $8.50 booking fee. So totting up two good seats, programme, drinks (let alone dinner) and parking (only rich people drive anyway) and there's not much change from a thousand dollars. If that wasn't enough to dissuade fans or would be fans, tickets were initially coupled with subscriptions to Opera Australia's 2014 (not 2015 as originally written, typo, sorry) season.

There's a pricing problem here and it's lose-lose. The house should be full to overflowing, CDs walking out the door, preferably just signed, and as many people as possible hearing him with opera in general the beneficiary which one assumes is what the promoter, Opera Australia, had in mind.

The programming was certainly everyman friendly even if everyman couldn't go - go for what was for many probably the only chance to hear such a famous voice live. We, for this very reason, went to the first Sydney concert. I had failed to get tickets in Munich, despite a good connection, although admittedly it was his Manrico debut night.

'Recondita armonia'    Tosca
'Improviso'                   Andrea Chénier
'La vita è inferno'        La forza del destino
'Vesti la guibba'           I Pagliacci

'La fleur que tu m'avais jetée'      Carmen
'Pourquoi me réveiller'                 Werther
'Mamma, quel vino è generoso'   Cavalleria rusticana


'Du bist die Welt für mich'
'E lucevan le stelle'
'Die ist mein ganzes Herz'

The above were all bracketed with excerpts from similar genre works and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra sounded particularly good conducted by Kaufmann's man with the stick, the very genial gentle smiling unassuming Jochen Rieder.

I wasn't going to say anything about Herr Kaufmann, what with it all having been said before. But, unable to help myself as I am, can I say ...

His stage presence was a surprise, tending toward self effacing. The voice is well worth hearing live in that it is quite difficult to describe, and even harder to imagine from recordings. From the certainly masculine dark not gravelly but with rubbed edges midrange ( I told you it was hard) he ascends with a noticeable gear change to an all but angelic head voice. Dynamics and phrasing are lovely, and his crescendos particularly effective, bringing a gasp and sustained applause at the conclusion on the 'La Vita é inferno', the highlight of the night for me, moments of wonderful wonderful story telling.

I would dearly love to see and hear him in character where he could forget about Being Jonas. But most of all, I would love to hear him sing, diction perfect as it is, something like this which I heard (as you can) in this Andrew Ford interview - Der Leiermann, Schubert's Die Wintereisse. Here it is from Barcelona (a not well balanced pirate - but all I can find).

Addit  19th Aug:

Roger Neill lists the orchestral pieces , indeed much more than just fillers while JK sucked a sweet (he noticeably had a little something in his mouth in the bows between encores). The Bacchanale especially was great fun.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


K smiled and chuckled as I played this interview with Peter Sculthopre (1929 - 2014) where he speaks about being reprimanded as a child for daring to compose because all the composers were dead. Now he is dead.

                                                            (image from the ABC obit)

"That's just how he was. Warm, quite dry, and really lovely. He liked a good curry" They had met in the 70s, and K would house sit when he travelled. In a spooky ever closing loop, Sculthorpe then lived in a tiny terrace house, which he described as a decorated passageway, immediately next door and identical to where we now live in Sydney. It was a time when Peter was increasingly attracted to the east and Shinto, although Australia, its landscape and ancient inhabitants would always be his inspiration. He told the story of being in Oxford and the suggestion: 'you must like it here, it's quite old' to which he said: 'well, you should come to Australia where it's really really old'.

The recurring theme of all the obits is he was the first to show us the landscape musically through our own (he was says his) ears. I'd say rather like a musical Fred Williams, whom I'm equally mad about, if you like that kind of analogy, which I don't. Of his own admission, his work became increasingly political and environmental as the impending planetary crises became ever more pressing.

More good biography here.

The first Sculthorpe I remember was his opera "Rites of Passage" which I now read was commissioned but not ready for the opening of the Sydney Opera House where War and Peace did the job instead. About all I recall were dancers running frantically across metal sheets making percussion. It was the early 70s, and in retrospect a time which increasingly looks to have be a free-wheeling whirl of creativity and exploration with the likes of Peter Maxwell-Davies Miss Dunnithorne's Maggot and whoever whatever filling the house. Nowadays, if it isn't Boheme, no one wants to know.

Limelight has a marvellous interview The Sound of Home :

"My main influences these days are to do with the environment and climate change. It has its seeds in a work like Earth Cry from 1986 in which I was saying we should listen to the cry of the earth as the Aborigines have done for many of thousand of years. Then maybe we'll get the country right. Later in a work like Memento Mori I used Easter Island as a parable for planet Earth and population growth. The way they chopped down all the trees and ended up cannibalising each other. Couldn't even make canoes to escape the island"

His relationship with the SSO was strong. In tribute, the SSO dedicates this week's performances (Brahms Second Symphony and Strauss Four Last Songs, Robertson / Brewer) to his memory and will play his Momento Mori as an encore.

Addit 13 August :

Andrew Ford's (ABC The Music Show) well informed remembrances of Peter Sculthorpe are here from Inside Story. One is starting to get the sense that he didn't set out to create Australian music, or music which reflected Australian-ness, but rather he composed what was within him, and that necessarily was of this place. That said, he did write Kakadu before going there, imagining it, and was later surprised by its reality.

And The Music Show segment on Peter Sculthorpe is podcast here.