Wednesday, March 31, 2010


No, not Equinoxe, that's the memorable Jean-Michel Jarre album. I mean that time of year, the Equinox.

(By the way, if you didn't know that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were running this year's Vivid Festival in Sydney, you do now.)

It's actually a week and a bit after the Equinox, when day and night lengths cross on the graph, that time of year when the rate of change is greatest. It is my favorite time of year by far, the days shortening quickly, longer nights, widening day and night temperatures. I like change. I took its name.

There's a mouse in the house. And as I hadn't heard a Bower Bird for some time I went back to check on a well hidden bower discovered a few weeks ago, between a row of Banksias and a clump of Grevilleas, only to find it abandoned, collapsed, with the remains of his blue lures lying retired among the scatter of its fallen arch. (No idea where the chocolate wrapping paper came from.)

The Yellow Breasted Robins are back, perched sideways above the ground, peering down as usual, waiting for food in the grass. Disturb the soil, weeding or poking around, and they are there in seconds. And the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos have become regulars again, creaking like rusty doors as they scoop through the late afternoon looking for last year's Banksia cones, now gone to seed.

A Black Cockatoo for each day's rain. There's been some good rain, light but soaking, cleansing, and the warm pleasure of the steady tinkle from the roof into the gutters whenever you stir during the night . This little Triffid-like creature appeared today. Up close it has John Wyndham writ large...

.... but wandering by, it is an easily missed little lolly red daub in the grasses near a stone wall.

Monday, March 22, 2010



A present wasn't something I expected today, although it is such a day for some (not me though, never has been, not ever), but whooop-de-doo, what good news. The Berlin Philharmonic is coming.

The Herald and the Australian (with a charming interview with Sir Simon) are running it.

Having travelled to Europe every year for the last four years just to hear them take on THE RING (in Aix-en-Provence), their first since HvK, as well as recitals in Aix and Berlin, this year was seeming a wee bit empty and nervous twitches were starting. The god of overdrafts will be appeased for while I've no doubt tickets will not be cheap (why should they be, this is a huge undertaking), it is them to us, not the other way around.

Perth : November 14
Sydney : November 16, 17, 19, 20

And, could this mean a recital by Magdalena Kozena?

MARCH 23 update:

Programme 1

16 November | 19 November

Hayden - Symphony No. 99
Alban Berg - Three Pieces for Orchestra
Brahms - Symphony No. 2

Programme 2

17 November | 20 November

Rachminov - Symphonic Dances
Mahler - Symphony No. 1

Ticket Prices

Platinum $495 (from March 22)
Premium $325 (from April 12)
A-Res $215 (from April 12)
B-Res $165 (from April 12)
C-Res $130 (from April 12)
D-Res $89 (from April 12)

15% off ticket price of second concert when buying two performances. (NB This only applies to tickets bought for the SAME reserve - that's not in the brochure.)

Watching Rattle's face is alone worth $89, except I don't think you will see it for $89. Choir stalls are probably selling as B and C reserve. The phones will be running hot on April 12.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

BLISS thoughts

It feels a bit impertinent to be saying anything about Brett Dean's Bliss except that I went, but I do have thoughts, superficial admittedly. The 10 year project has been (extremely) well documented, and opening night very well received: main press here, and here.

The general tone seems to be it is off to a good start. "The beginning is a delicate time" (Dune) and the handling of this birth (to Brett and Amanda a healthy child, all three doing well) has been exceptional, by all concerned, with international performances already scheduled. I thought David Corcoran's interview gives some insight into the depth of commitment at every level.

So there we were on broadcast night, at D stalls, rather stalled at D stalls, blocked by men in black, bright lights, a woman in (the top) half a silvery dress, surely the elegant slightly flared black pants left at home, or splayed on the floor of the car park with one leg caught in a slammed door, who with her schoolboy faced companion oozed self-importance and, as it turns out, an embarrassment of ignorance. All in a good cause - it was going out live, on TV and into selected cinemas, and free.

Peter Carey's Bliss is a great story and is does, to my surprise I confess, mutate well, thanks surely to Amanda Holden. Actions, guilt, fear, karma - perfect. I was a bit worried about using a 'non-Australian' to capture a timeless, admittedly, story in the local vernacular, risking I feared an overdose of exaggerated Australianisms. Fears unfounded. On first pass, the only awkwardness I felt was the very opening lines -"this is a catastrophe" - which felt over structured and without the immediacy of panic of predicament. But the writing is wonderful. The full libretto is in the programme. Excellent.

Musically the less I say the better probably I am so unfamiliar with it. That said, it is easy and accesible, certainly quite 'situational' in parts, but the emotional depths need much more study from my ears. Britten here, Shostakovich there, bluesy jazzy, very dense, too dense in parts for some vocal lines perhaps, eclipsing much of Merlyn Quaife's middle voice. I loved the (Peanuts) conversational trumpet moments. Elgar Howarth seemed the perfect midwife, gentle, supportive, understanding, great attention to detail, kind, caring - in Richard Hickox place let's not forget.

The (Brian Thomson/Nigel Levings) set was brilliant. I thought it was like being inside Harry's frontal lobes. In fact I wished the opening had been differently lit, and the synaptic brilliance of what followed came only after the near death experience. The persisting static as a cortical (cosmic) sparking, whatever else was going on, thoughts, images, ideas, emotions, was inspired. If one were to be picky, the cardiograph was unusually healthy in rate and rhythm for a post-infarct pre-bypass patient whose dignity and privacy were long gone.

What so impressed about the cast (Neil Armfield directing and Kate Champion choreographing) was that they all were stars. Not a weak link, from the remarkable omnipresent Harry of Peter Coleman-Wright, seemingly to me in a hyperaware state of timeless suspension, looking back with us (frontal lobes again) from his new found earthy minimalism, through Merlyn Quaife's fantastic imploding exploding vocal demands (with some unkind orchestration), hugely successful David and Lucy, I couldn't imagine better (disclaimer - big Taryn Feibig fan here), with all the supports and chorus displaying what we have most - depth. Henry Choo's Aldo was particularly moving.

If someone asked me where there were dramatic weak spots, I would suggest the opening scene and the hotel scene. Both are moments of quantum change which didn't seem to reach some arbitrary but necessary threshold.

Which brings me to Honey B. I always felt Honey was, by name and nature, a mezzo role. And I still think that. Not that Lorina Gore, especially at her upper limits, didn't dazzle us, as well as Harry. But if ever there was a need for a contrast, for a voice to take you to the heart not the head, to the earth not the bank, for me it was here. That is my only real reservation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


News has arrived, rather indirectly via the Austrian National Tourist Office, that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a concert scheduled on September 4, 2010 in the gardens of Schloss Grafenegg outside Vienna, in their Music Festival.

The orchestra will be making their debut along with quite a lineup - the Cleveland Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Mariinsky Orchestra St. Petersburg, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestre National de France, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Bavarian State Orchestra Munich and the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg.

There's nothing I can find on the SSO website, and their search engine is not recognising anything I type in, even words I can spell, like Sidney. Certainly, there is a gap in the orchestra's home calender from August 13 to September 20. So, while it's a long way and big expense to go for one concert, perhaps no news means we are waiting on some other arrangements to be finalised.

It is Austria, and it is the 150th anniversary of Mahler's birthday, and one year short of the 100th anniversary of his death. We are lucky that these years are being given the recognition they deserve by Mr Ashkenazy and the orchestra here at home. Interestingly, of the 14 performances of the Festival, only 3 include Mahler. The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra programme includes Songs for Voice and Orchestra (sic); The Orchestra National de France (c Gatti) play Mahler 5; and the NDR Sinfonieorchester (c von Dohnenyi) play Mahler 4.

The SSO advertised programme is :
Antonín Dvorák – “Carnival” Overture in A major. op. 92
Maurice Ravel – Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G major (Hélène Grimaud)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – “Manfred” Symphony in B minor op. 58.

What a pity we don't get to show how Mahler sounds down here.

UPDATE (17 March):

Thanks to Marcellous (comment below) more news is in.

The Lucerne Summer Music Festival has the SSO playing on Monday 23 August, the progrmme:

Sibelius "Rakastava" Op. 14
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 OP. 73 (Helene Grimaud)
Tchaikovsky "Manfred" Symphony Op. 58

On 26 August the Orchestra will be part of the huge Rheingau Musik Festival (153 concerts; 42 venues) in an already sold out concert (you will need to scroll to the bottom of page 6 of the programme details for that date) of Dvorak, Beethoven (Piano No. 5 again I guess) and Elgar. This festival opens with Mahler 2, c Parvi, again with you know who. (love that home page photo - is that camp or what?). I wonder about the acoustics, but oh to be there.

The Merano Festival has nothing on the SSO yet that I can see.

Wishing them well.....

UPDATE (23 March):

I think it goes something like this:

August 23 LUCERNE

Sibelius - "Rakastava" Op. 14
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 OP. 73 (Helene Grimaud)
Tchaikovsky - "Manfred" Symphony Op. 58


Beethoven (Grimaud)

September 1 EDINBURGH

Elgar - In the South
Ross Edwards - Maningas - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Dene Olding)
Sculthorpe - Momento Mori
Elgar - Enigma Variations

September 2 EDINBURGH

Sibelius - Rakastava
Ravel - Piano Concerto in G (Helene Grimaud)
Matthew Hindson - Energy
Richard Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier Suite

September 4 VIENNA (Schloss Grafenegg)

Antonín Dvorák – “Carnival” Overture in A major. op. 92
Maurice Ravel – Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G major (Hélène Grimaud)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – “Manfred” Symphony in B minor op. 58.

September 7 MERANO

Sibelius - Rakastava
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 (Grimaud)
Tchaikovsky - Symphony "Manfred" Op. 58

UPDATE April 24

For the record, tour details are now available from the Orchestra

22 Aug Stresa, Italy Stresa Festival

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor)

Daniele Petralia, piano

SCRIABIN The Divine Poem (Symphony No.3)

23 Aug Lucerne, Switzerland , Lucerne Festival

SIBELIUS Rakastava (The Lover), Op.14

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor)

Hélène Grimaud, piano

TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred Symphony

24 Aug London, UK BBC Proms

R STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier: Suite

RAVEL Piano Concerto in G

Hélène Grimaud, piano

SCRIABIN The Divine Poem (Symphony No.3)

26 Aug Wiesbaden, Germany Rheingau Music Festival

DVOŘÁK Carnival Overture

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor)

Hélène Grimaud, piano

ELGAR Enigma Variations

28 Aug Bremen, Germany Musikfest Bremen Program TBC

29 Aug Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Robeco Zomer Concert Series at the Concertgebouw

R STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier: Suite

RAVEL Piano Concerto in G

Hélène Grimaud, piano

ELGAR Enigma Variations

1 Sep Edinburgh, UK Edinburgh International Festival

ELGAR In the South (Alassio)

EDWARDS Maninyas – Violin Concerto

Dene Olding, violin

SCULTHORPE Memento mori

ELGAR Enigma Variations

2 Sep Edinburgh, UK Edinburgh International Festival

SIBELIUS Rakastava (The Lover), Op.14

RAVEL Piano Concerto in G

Hélène Grimaud, piano


R STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier: Suite

4 Sep Grafenegg, Austria Grafenegg Music Festival

DVOŘÁK Carnival Overture

RAVEL Piano Concerto in G

Hélène Grimaud, piano

TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred Symphony

Monday, March 8, 2010


(click pics to enlarge)

Somewhere between stateless and no fixed address. Different language and different rules. At sea. It was something I'd only seen as a child on postcards that would later be posted home from some exotic corner of the world.

"We're at sea" I said to C, who with her sister S had joined us after a week or two in Peru. C had been before, and to Antarctica before, from Tasmania, but she felt my excitement. "Yes, we're at sea. At sea" she smiled, relishing the repetition as much as I.

The evening before we had slipped away from Ushuaia with little fuss, sailing down the Beagle Channel, once part of a great glacier from the Andes to the sea, and the very name itself was drawing us back into history. Argentina to port, Chile to starboard.

During the night we had reached that circular place, nothing between where you exist and the extent of your perception, defined by the illusory circumference separating sea and sky. Flat green-black inky sea cupped by a heavy grey clouded sky. It was like being on a little ship in one of those hemispherical snow dome paper weights waiting for a giant hand to shake it. C and I stood alone on the fly deck, cold wind and light rain heightening our senses, and peered as far as we could. At last there was only the sea.

We'd arrived at the wharf in the little bus they'd sent to the hotel. By now our bags were labelled - 401 - and we wouldn't see them again till they sat on our bunks. There were several boats, one a sister ship of ours tied up behind, and a large posh cruise ship on the other side of the wharf. Ours had 'EXPEDITION' one the side and I liked that.

It was late afternoon and a small crowd was gathered at the gangway amid clumps of baggage and goods to be loaded. Two Russian crew looked down from the main deck. Sergey I would learn was one of them, already wearing his distinctive blue bandana, yet to be stamped in our memory along with his steel blue eyes offset by an unexpected dimpled smile. There would be jostling later to get into Sergey's zodiac. Sergey was an enigma, and sexy.

The expedition leader and assistant welcomed us, though that they weren't just other passengers took a little while to detect. The barriers between staff and passengers would become even further blurred. as we would eat together, drink together, chat wherever we were together, and wonder together at the magic that we would soon share. It didn't seem to matter how many times you'd been before - the awe never diminished. Antarctica was a place to which people became addicted.

They collected our passports. I wondered if they went into some beeping nautical black box to be retrieved from the bottom when we became another statistic. They would tell us the boat could right itself after a 70 degree roll. What about 71 was my first thought.

There would be man overboard and lifeboat drill (seven short - one long alarm) the next morning with fifty people tightly packed into two fully enclosed cyclinders, each a little red submarine designed to stay supra-marine, hopefully. There was enough fuel to return several times from wherever we met, mmm, misadventure. And there were buckets.

The first night was cosy but broken. The roll was increasing. At 2am I switched on the little bunk light, its softness through the fawn curtains giving the cabin a weak golden blush. We'd opened one of the portholes and it was so black outside that I put my hand out in case there was some outer covering I didn't know about. Nothing to feel, nothing to see. Whatever shiplights there were, they had no impact on a heavily clouded sky. There was no ambient light at all. There was nothingness - no reflections, no towns, no lights, no night sky and no land. We were at sea.

In the early morning, alone on the fly bridge before C joined me, gripping the rails against the swell, aware now of the cold through my gloves, I really wasn't alone at all. I'd forgotten, or was expecting them later, but I shouldn't have been surprised. Surprise was the one thing that was to dominate this little adventure. How could you not be surprised when experience is beyond expectation. They weren't just birds - they were legendary birds. Albatross and Petrels.

From out of the rain there would appear, swooping, scooping, scalloping in wondrous loops over the waves, flying with consumate skill and ease, skimming and dipping, weaving and drafting.

In no time at all on the bridge, with books, binoculars, and others' knowing eyes, everyone was soon an expert. Look, there, a Black Browed Albatross, and there, that's another Storm Petrel, and a Cape Petrel, oh look at those wings, and over there, a Light Mantled Sooty Albatross, the names rolled off as if old friends. Look, quickly, just above the waves over there, port side and 10 degrees, there's a Wilson's Storm Petrel, he's a long way from home.

They were all a long way from home I thought. I was a long way from home, till I remembered home was cabin 401, our cosy little home heading south. You just knew you were going south. You just knew. It was getting colder and the rain was turning to sleet, and then snow flurries.

We crossed the Drake Passage in two days; the two to three metre swell was kind they said. It could be ten to thirteen metres on the notorious waterway where three oceans meet and where the ever circling waters of the great Antartic Ocean, spiralling endlessly round the continent, are narrowed between the downward reach of the Andes and the stretching upper tip of the Antarctic Peninsular, once juined, and now just separated, like the fingers of the Michelangelo Creation. And we were now below 'the convergence', where the cold Antarctic waters slip below the warmer waters of the Southern Atlantic, a shifting threshold where those with the sensibilities could feel the swell lessen.

By the second afternoon, the two yellow dots on the radar ("Is iceberg" announced the firstmate) became changing textures in the drizzle, mist and cloud and would slowly take form, whiteish shadows with a snowy ghostly white aura, and even at the safe distance of two nautical miles they looked as monstrous and as lethal as they were.

We were now only a few hours from the South Shetland Islands, and our first landing. At last I was about to see isolation, if not solitude, and it was beyond imagination.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


"...and the love that passes understanding has come to me." Vere, Billy Budd

Philip Langridge CBE has died. It was terribly sudden and shocking, and leaves those fortunate enough to have been touched by his mastery better people in a better world. Australian audiences will remember him as the superlative Britten translator who gave us an unsurpassed Aschenbach and Captain Vere, as recently as 2008 here in Sydney, where after his final epilogue he faltered into the blackness of the wings to a stunned silent house wiping its eyes.

The Guardian obituary is here and that from the UK Telegraph here.

Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, op 31

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom‑pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes.
Or wait the “Amen” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my Soul.

John Keats (1795-1821)

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Just when you think the big boys spend all their time hanging round prisons, police stations, setting fire to things, meddling with handkerchiefs and other men's wives, along comes something like this, of such beauty, sensitivity and warmth - blokes do goosebumps too. Crank it up and put a new needle in for this.

"Song to the Evening Star"

The baritone is Joseph Schwarz.

Wie Todesahnung Dämm rung deckt die Lande,

umhüllt das Tal mit schwärzlichem Gewande;

der Seele, die nach jenen Höhn verlangt,

vor ihrem Flug durch Nacht und Grausen bangt.

Da scheinest du, o lieblichster der Sterne,

dein Sanftes Licht entsendest du der Ferne;

die nächt'ge Dämm rung teilt dein lieber Strahl,

und freundlich zeigst du den Weg aus dem Tal.

O du, mein holder Abendstern,

wohl grüsst' ich immer dich so gern:

vom Herzen, das sie nie verriet,

grüsse sie, wenn sie vorbei dir zieht,

wenn sie entschwebt dem Tal der Erden,

ein sel'ger Engel dort zu werden!

Like a portent of death, twilight shrouds the earth

and envelops the valley in its sable robe;

the soul, that yearns for those heights,

dreads to take its dark and awful flight.

There you shine, o fairest of the stars,

and shed your gentle light from afar;

your friendly beam penetrates the twilight gloom

and points the way out from the valley.

O my fair evening star,

I always gladly greeted thee:

from a heart that never betrayed its faith,

greet her when she passes,

when she soars above this earthly valley

to become a blessed angel in Heaven!

Monday, March 1, 2010


(click to enlarge)

"Whatever for?" is almost as common as every other response combined when people find out that you and Antarctica have had a thing going. Even the man at emigration in Sydney looked at my card and said "Antarctica? - why?". I thought it was a silly question as I heard it, from the other side of a counter where you usually wonder if people are bordering on mute. But when I heard my uncomfortable answer - "Because it's there" - I knew that I didn't even know myself. I think the answer I should have given was "I don't know". It would have been the honest one. I didn't know.

For me, It, going to Antarctica, was one of those things that started slowly, gained momentum, and eventually became a tail wagging the dog. It started one happy evening on Lord Howe Island where, buoyed by the togetherness of the like-minded in some remote place, an invitation to join another group on another adventure seemed not only like a natural extension of how I, unusually, felt then, but moreover like a gift I had been wanting without knowing it existed. And it was the easiest thing to say yes, maybe, for something more than a year away. Send me a brochure. What harm would it do? There was certainly plenty of time to worry about things like work, and money, and plenty of time to say no.

The brochure arrived about the same time as I'd begun looking for people who had already been, and others who might be interested, and curiously not long before those who had planted this seed in me were starting to waver themselves. Still, something was happening - a feeling that this could actually happen was settling over me. I'd started seriously thinking about the place - about what it would be like to go, and what it would be like to not go. It wasn't that I really wanted to go; I really didn't want to not go.

I thought about icebergs. I could only imagine big white slabs of ice. How can you imagine icebergs when all the ice you know is ice blocks in glasses. Did I know they were infinitely variable, endlessly changing size and shape and colour, exquisitely complex, old weathered and eroded, and sometimes populated.

What if we didn't see any; if they'd all floated away or had melted. Or if once you'd seen one you'd seen them all.

What if all you saw were other boats, bumping into each other, full of Amercians and Germans taking photos of each other taking photos of each other.

What if all the penguins had left to go somewhere else. What did penguins do? I knew what they looked like; did I need to know anything more? And birds, and whales, and seals?

Mountains, were there any mountains, or just snow and ice? Did you land on ice or was there something else at the waters edge, rocks, or slush, or just ice. What if there was no ice. What if it wasn't white at all, but something else which I couldn't even imagine.

What about the Drake Passage? What about the most dangerous sea of them all? I had never been 'at sea' before except for the glassy waters of Norway's fjordland. I remember my mother saying there were times when the boat pitched down that you almost wished it would just keep going. People drowned on Drake Passage. What is it like to drown? What is it like to not drown?

There was talk about subantarctic islands, like South Georgia and the Falklands. I didn't want sub anything. I wanted the lowest, the mostest. And anyway I remember Exocets, and the Belgrano, and that Iron Woman.

In what seemed something more than just chance, someone turned up, someone with long strings of attachment which wound themselves around me into a rather nice bow. She was the sister of a neighbour of good friends, she had grown up with distant family in far Nth Queensland, we had worked together years ago, and she had been twice. She pointed me down a one-way street. There was no discredit to the operator I had been talking with, but I was put in touch with the Mortimers.

Greg and Margaret Mortimer were different. He was the first Australian to scale Everest, so what more do you need to know? Margaret Mortimer gave me time, gave me answers and gave me what was between her words. Another brochure came, not to idle over this time, but with forms in it. Now there was time pressure. Cabins were being taken.

That one, 401, that's it, that's the one. It chose us. We were going.

In Cabin 401.