Sunday, February 28, 2010


Tired of humourless blogs of poor literary merit and dubious morals? Then you should know, if you don't already, of the output of someone reserved, retiring even, as befits the station, not prone to trolling, reckless commenting or attention seeking.

May I introduce - Sir Roger Migently.

Friday, February 19, 2010


It should be enough just to be hear Mahler's 8th live, anywhere anytime, and it seems lots agree - it always manages to sell out. Last night's Sydney Symphony Season Opening Gala in a bronzed golden dressed Concert Hall was no exception with a sell-out crowd. My problem was that I was more excited about it before the performance than afterwards, unlike last week's Mahler 1 when expectations were lower and I wasn't the only one leaving the hall punching the air with a 'yes..yes' as if we'd just won some football final.

Perhaps it is a bit of a curse with the big one - the expectation that big enough will be good enough and sure to get you to Heaven by sheer size. I think this is the fourth live Mahler 8 I've heard (they don't come around here all that often) with the last being Edo de Waart's (SSO) 2000 Olympic Concert in the vast arena now sponsor-named Acer or similar. And I tried to be ready - I worked through it (my old Solti on vinyl) 3 times in the last week. But it still catches me by surprise, the first movement anyway. There is enough shifting of gears and keys to make it still disturbingly unfamiliar as was Mahler's intent I suppose, the unsettling unpredictable clashing tumultuous conflict of this blighted existence. The second movement's realisation of ascendency and acceptance into the Presence is more digestible at a superficial level but no less dense in its roots from the first (movement).

I didn't get to Heaven; nearly maybe, except that with Heaven there is no nearly. It wasn't because of the lack of some very fine moments. The choral work was beautiful and more than enough in itself to be thankful you were there. Perhaps some of the sound was trapped up the top under the overhang, but how these forces maintained such unison of articulation and balance was a wonder in itself. I wanted the Waldung, sie schwankt heran to go on forever - that would have been Heaven.

And of the femaile soloists, the Russian Marina Shaguch virtually stole the show with a voluptuos rich soprano with the weight to take on the orchestra and Simon O'Neill's Doctor Marianus gave me my one fleeting goosebump heart skip moment with his glorious emotional invocation of the Virgin Mary.

There were a few gremlins nonetheless. The audience behaved impeccably as exhorted but not the poltergeists, who like some defiant moments from the exorcist managed to fling Mr Ashkenazy's spectacles to the floor and then later throw a walking stick or the like to the ground in clatter of outrage at the stillness and beauty of the moment.

C commented afterwards that things sounded very congested where they sat (front stalls) and that on reflection the De Waart Olympic performance was better if for no other reason than it had more air. The issue of venue is pretty relevant. We were front circle and I think that was too close as well. No wonder they built a purpose build venue for the first performance. I wonder what it is like to hear it somewhere like The Royal Albert Hall perhaps.

The orchestra played on, and on, and on, untidy moments notwithstanding Mr A's attempts to keep things together. Olympics is where this exercise belongs. And lots of training. I don't know how much rehearsal time something like this needs, but I think this needed a little more. If I sound ungrateful, I don't mean to be. It is just that Heaven is really hard to get to.

The programme notes mention that "The limited edition recording of the Sydney Symphony's performance with Edo de Waart in 2000 was never released commercially - if you own a copy, keep it well". I'd love to hear that again. I well remember the sopranos, they had the right stuff - Alessandra Marc, Elizabeth Connell, and I think Mater Gloriosa was Shu-Cheen Yu.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


*click on pics to enlarge*

That thrill-boat left us at the river's edge at the bottom of one of the walks leading back up the top. The rocks and paths were slippery but well designed.

At one relatively level section of the track two half-dressed youths hurried past in the other direction, heading down, almost delirious with excitement, yelling out what sounded to me like 'es formidabilo, es formidabilo' and I nodded, our eyes meeting. I blurted out something like 'fantastic, fantastic' which turned them around to ask, arms outstretched, "where you from?" My reply was greeted with exclaims of pleasure and cries of "wallaby, wallaby - we are friends, we Argentina" pointing to the nearest cataract with obvious pride. "Argentina formidabilo - we are friends, wallaby, we are friends" and one then proceeded to engage me in some kind of thumb based handshake while we exchanged more greetings. (Around here it is important to establish as early as possible that one is not British.)

We drifted apart, the climbers coming on from behind, and the boys scatter taking them back and forth. Lookouts dotted the climb. About halfway up, I had stopped at one that lead out to a walkway which projected precariously finger-like towards a huge wall of water, when from the bunched crowd hesitating about going further, these two emerged. "Wallaby, wallaby, you must come, you must come" taking my arm and leading me through the crowd and along the runway to its expanded terminal. They stood beside me for few silent minutes and then with a quick "we must go" vanished backwards into the crowd behind now almost invisible in the mist. I was face to face with a force of nature so close that I was hypnotised. The noise was deafening. The endless swelling and exploding of the caramel waters was like looking at the birth of the universe in sepia. I stared at it and was consumed by the desire to go further, into it, to be absorbed and experience it to its maximum and icarus-like suffer if not enjoy the final consequence. I was broken from the trance by the awareness of my heaving chest. I was sobbing.

The next day and a half was spent seeing the falls from the top. first from the Brazilian side, which gives a wide look at the scale of the them, 2.7 km of hundreds of cataracts, the widest in existence...

... and then back to the Argentinian side. The engineering and access infrastructure is astounding on both sides. When and how they managed to build these walkways is the question.

But the best is the long walk across the vast muddy river to the massive u-shaped concavity where the mightiest of them all churns - the Devil's Throat. This curved cutout in the rock edge throws the river back onto itself as it spills over and the result is like some reverse volcano, imploding into a consumptive vortex of no return .

Even C, who with her sister S was travelling with us and who had seen 'the others', was struck dumb, clutching the rail, mouth open, transfixed with the rest of us not only by scale, power, and noise of it all, but by its endlessness.... it just never stops, always the same yet always changing.


You can see the jungle stretching away forever well before you land and get hit in the face by the heat and humidity. Jungle is the first thing you notice when you go to Iguazu (Big Waters).

Well, it's the first ting I noticed, probably because I hadn't really thought about the place before, and all I can remember about that film, the missionary one, was Jeremey Irons or someone going over the falls tied to a cross. I'm not sure now if I've actually seen the film, but even so, I don't like it - I don't like Jeremey Irons, I don't like missionaries and their presumptions, and I don't like crosses, symbols of execution, which I abhor, as well as nods to salvation by sacrifice, which I reject.

We went on a jungle ride which sounds like something you'd do in Disneyland. (Actually, it reminded me of staying at Fort Wilderness at Disney in Orlando when K and I were much younger.)

You sit in an open truck, dripping with sweat, camera at the ready and everyone trying to sit at the front to get the perfect, and only, shot of the monkey or tiger ot toucan or whatever photographic trophy is waiting to be claimed by the lucky front-seaters. It doesn't really matter where you sit in the jungle truck because all you see is green.

That's not quite true. You do see the arrangement of the jungle, how the light works, penetrating enough that the understorey thrives, and the muddy roads puddled from recent heavy rains, and spider webs sweeping past just too fast to ever really see if anyone is home. And you do get a sense of the density of it. And it's noisy, but you only get to hear the constant tsst tsst tsst tsst tsst tsst when the truck stops and before the guide takes the microphone to tell you about the trees and how the jungle only comes alive at night, even for those sitting in the front, cameras cocked. What she doesn't tell you is that it is busy all the time - removing carbon dioxide.

The real purpose of this jungle trip is to get us down to the river where, once outfitted in garish orange life jackets, we clamber onto a jet boat, the same front-seaters at it again, and fasten our seat belts for a ride into the falls. Cruising down the river is almost boring till you finally round a critical corner and get that first glimpse, not of a waterfall, but of mist, a gossamy white outer orbit.

Something overtakes you, a wonderful feeling that not only is this going to be good, it's going to be fabulous and bigger and better than you ever expected, like Mahler's First. Everyone on the boat is beaming; it's impossible not to.

Everything seems to accelerate, heart beat and jet boat, speeding down the river with the cataracts now in full view, their creamy coffee tops becoming churning white walls whose lower halves billow out in swirls of foam and fine drifts of mists.

We are there, at the walls, in the noise, wondering what will happen next when the boat slows, then drifts, bobbing in the boiling brown water, easing away.

Without any warning, suddenly the engines rev, the boat takes traction and lifts up at the front surging foward and with wild screams we are driven into it. I didn't see anything. My eyes were squeesed shut, stinging madly with water, running mosquito repellent and blockout, drenched, sunglasses hanging around my neck, roaring with everyone else like children at Luna Park.

We emerged, eyes opened, everyone was still there, all laughing that silly laugh of thrill, risk and survival. It happened again and again, driving into the waters, drifting back out, in and out, as we worked our way across several drops. Nothing occupied your thoughts except the enormity of it all and the realisation that the boat was being carefully steered between being in just far enough to come back out, and in too far to be swamped and read about in the next day's Sydney Morning Herald.

It turns out the idiot who kept standing up at the front and filming was in the team and for a very modest fee we now have the we-waz-there video tacked onto a fine documentary about the Iguazu National Park and its famous falls.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


The full programme details of the two year Ashkenazy/SSO Mahler Odyssey are a bit buried in the orchestra's website [ >media room > media releases > performances 2010 > sydney symphony set to record two-year mahler cycle] and then in pdf format.

Here they are if, like me, you'd like to see this as a single thread and not spread through the various subscriptions books:


February 10, 11, 12 & 13

MAHLER: Blumine

MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) with Markus Eiche, baritone

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1

February 18 & 20

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8


Annalena Persson, Marina Shaguch, Sara Macliver, sopranos

Dagmar Peckova and Bernadette Cullen, mezzo‐sopranos

Simon O’Neill, tenor

Markus Eiche, baritone

Martin Snell, bass

WASO Chorus; Adelaide Symphony Chorus; Sydney Philharmonia Choirs; Sydney Children’s Choir

May 20, 21 & 22

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5

May 26, 28 & 29

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde


Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo‐soprano

Stuart Skelton, tenor

November 24, 26 & 27

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4


Emma Matthews, soprano

December 2, 3 & 4

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3

Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo‐soprano

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Sydney Children’s Choir


March 3, 4 & 5

MAHLER: Symphony No. 6

March 9, 11 & 12

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7

May 12, 13 & 14

MAHLER: Symphony No. 10 (completed by Clinton A. Carpenter)

May 18, 20 & 21

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 (Performed on the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death on 18th May)

November 23, 25 & 26

MAHLER: Symphony No. 2


(TBA) soprano ---> Emma Matthews

(Lilli Paasikivi) mezzo‐soprano ---> Michelle deYoung

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It is good to be back home, to feel the city again, and wow! , what a magnificent start to Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's two year Mahler Odyssey beginning its recorded run through 2010 and 2011, finishing with Mahler's 2nd in November 2011.

There was just the right kind of build up: the first concert after being away (which can be a bit of a test - it's so easy to look at the best of foreign cities and the worst of your own), the beginning of the Odyssey with very good reports about the first performances on Wednesday, as well as it being the start of the 2010 Season (although the galah opening is not till this week's sold out Mahler 8). And if you think galah means money spinner think again; the costs of the staging exceeds published ticket price returns by some $100,000 - enter special fund raising.

Anyway, there we went, into the car park on a hot steamy night, storms predicted and storms we got, inside and out.

Strauss' contemporaneous Don Juan got everyone, them and us, well warmed up. Mahler's Blumine, first time hearing for me and many others I'd wager, was a gorgeous romance of trumpet (Paul Goodchild with endless breath and lovely arching phrasing) and oboe on a bed of strings. I liked big Markus Eiche's baritone a lot, with a distincitve edge to it, good weight in the lower registers and lovely light rounded highs. He gave a masculine strong without loss of warmth or tenderness 'Songs of the Wayfarer', feet apart, score in hand, towering over Askenazy. He'll be back in the 8th.

Interval - things were going well. Buzzy. There was a sense of occasion. It was the beginning of a big enterprise, and the night was being recorded for release as well as going out live. Ex-prime ministers, actresses, lots of new year hellos, a crowd eager to get back.

The first two movements of the First went well enough. I like Michael Dauth - he seems to leave his ego behind. The augmented horn section was relatively on the mark, that was reassuring. But as soon as that double bass started into the Feierlich und gemessen a confidence seemed to settle over the auditorium that we were onto something big. It was on. I love that expanding awareness. You don't get it often but when you do the communication and the collectivity raises consciousness to some higher level, I think. Ashkenazy was in masterful control and drove a magnificent and thrilling finale in what, when it slips off the rails, can sound nothing short of a mess. With superb musicianship, precision, tremendous dynamic balance, we were treated to something very special. The applause and yelling said it all. It augurs well.

Into the torrential thunderstorm outside everyone spilled, slowly working their way to the broken escalators to the downstairs covered way home. The air was full of pleasure and excitement. C thought he'd not ever heard them better. A roar and applause from those way behind us suggested someone special had just emerged from the green room. As we inched our way through the Opera Bar ( I like the ying yang it provides) my eyes met a young drinker. "How was the show?" he asked. "Even better than this" I said, nodding at the teaming rain and lightening, and he knew, and threw his curly black haired head back laughing with his girlfriend.

"See you on Thursday" was about all you heard as the crowd thinned out. Yes, indeed, see you on Thursday.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Well, that was a big one, a really big one. We're home safely, tired but exhilarated. It's hard to know where to start as my usual fairly concrete linear approach to travel reports just won't work this time. When I think about it all, my head feels like one of those lotto machine things, full of coloured spinning balls, and unable to decide how to sensibly get them out. I'll abandon time as a framework and give a brief outline of it all, then work out how to get into some nitty gritty later.

We flew to Buenos Aires (and back) direct, a long leg that sweeps down across New Zealand, way south almost touching Antarctica before scooping up over the snow capped Andes, up over the big brown expanse of Patagonia, and finally to the east coast. It was my first time in South America. Buenos Aires everyone seems to have heard is very fab and the place to go. It doesn't disappoint.

From Buenos Aires we flew to Iguazu, to the falls, the cataracts, in the jungle, malaria and yellow fever maybe, very hot and very humid, monkeys and tst tst tst tst tst jungle noises, just like in the movies. The falls themselves are overwhelming. There had been heavy rains and the river was flowing at about 2.5 times the usual, and then they released water from one of the Brazilian dams up river. It was incredible not only because of the scale of the falls, but the immediacy of the access. You are there - the engineering is staggering: you are on them, in them, under them. You are wet, drenched, dripping, the waters roaring and never ending. There was one spot where people took their clothes off and stood, transfixed, arms uplifted in some embrace or worship, a spot which affected me more than any other physical natural experience ever has.

Then from the very top of Argentina to the very bottom, to Ushuaia the busy port for getting to the Antarctic Peninsular, the Falklands and South Georgia. It's a wild town, evolving from a prison settlement last century, then military base, and now into a tourist hub. It reminded me a little of Queenstown in New Zealand in its geography, snow capped mountains all around, sitting by the water, in this case the Beagle Channel.

For 12 days we were on a small St Petersburg based Russian crewed expedition ship with 50 passengers, (including some ABC Catalyst, more later) and an impressive expedition team, leader, naturalist, geologist, doctor. We survived crossing Drake Passage, albatross and petrels following the churning water, swooping, gliding, skies dark and light rain, the sea a dark slate green black. There was great excitement over the first iceberg sighting (with full access to the bridge 24 hrs, and the radar) and as it appeared on the horizon glowing like some phantom through the mist, everything grey except for this shape, this monster of a different light, it made the hairs stand on end.

*clicking on all these trip pics should enlarge them*

The Antarctica we saw, after stopping at the South Shetland Islands, was the Weddell Sea on the east of the Antarctic Peninsular (the tail of the Andes, the tail of the inverted Q shape of the Antarctic continent) and then down the west of the Peninsular. There were lectures, films, books, people who knew, 2 Zodiac excursions a day, to shore as well as zodiac trips through iceberg wonderlands and glaciers and animal colonies you've tried to imagine but couldn't.

It was like going to space, to an alien, other world. From our mother ship, with much ritual you would dress, special gear, waterproofs, boots sterilised and cleaned before and after each trip to each other place. Nothing disturbed, nothing moved, nothing transmitted, nothing removed.

Each excursion was like a moon walk, then back to the mother ship, and on we went, icebergs gliding past, like asteroids, endlessly, on and on. It is exquisitely beautiful, awesome, huge. To state the obvious, nothing decays. It's frozen, snap frozen, nothing changes. You are going back, years, decades, centuries, thousands, millions of years. It is the driest continent and only the sahara had less precipitation. That it is snow and icebound is only because what falls there stays there, a long long time. If all the snow and ice were to melt the contient would rise up by 1 Km! That's how much, that's how long.

Finally, we sailed back up an unusually smooth Drake and, making very good time, headed west to the Chilean Islands of Diego Ramirez (very like South Georgia), a first for this boat, and then sailed east to 'round the Horn', where 10,000 sailors have perished. We slid past in blessed weather as the late afternoon sun came out on the craggy cliffs. I remembered my parents rounding the horn many years ago sailing to Europe that way, up to Montevideo, Rio and Lisbon, and never thought it would ever be me.

Enough for now. I'll probably try to do a day by day thing, if possible, or maybe an animal by animal thing, or maybe just some pics from time to time. I might try to get an Antarctic pic of the day running - they will outlive this blog, and me, that's how many. Like this: (and they're m & m - mine and mines alone.)

But I'm glad to be back. It's Millie's birthday today, she's three, and the old dog is as wonderful and loving as ever.