Sunday, May 30, 2010


The Darling River at Wilcannia. The recent high water mark from the floods a few months ago can be seen. The water levels are down on that, but the flow is still strong.

Broken Hill, a city dominated by the slag heap.

The Imperial Hotel, Oxide Street, where gutters are gutters.

Silverton, the old church.

Silverton, the old ticket office.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I'm in Dubbo. Dinner was at the Bowling Club, which we were assured was unbeatable. David Lynch was the director. There was a constant queue of thirteen at the food counter. I counted them, always thirteen, though whenever my eyes returned to recount, the faces had changed. But always thirteen. A silent giant flat screen was playing the football. Manly, aka Sea Eagles, kept getting more points, but only scored when I was looking at the faces in the queue.

We had arrived just as the thunderstorms cleared and the setting sun lit up a wet Wellington Valley with a emerald green sheen. The Great Divide is finally behind us and from now on it will be flat until we get to the Flinders Ranges in a few days.

Lilli Passikivi wore emerald last night and now I'm back in the motel, back in the 60's, I'm wondering what she's wearing tonight. Perhaps Mr Lynch could just edit me into the Concert Hall for this hour. I want more Lilli. We sat in our usual seats last night and the major problem was not that I didn't want to be seated there, I did, but I also wanted to be at her feet again, like the Wednesday before. I wanted both at once. I hate being in one place at a time.

Still, the magic of the immediacy, her aura, her movements, and her voice, as I heard it down there, was a perfect memory plate to overlay what was an even more amazing performance. It was more than the change in vocal and visual perspective, I think. The Der Abschied came from another place. The orchestra came through her body, as gently and slowly she became a masque for Gustav's thoughts. The fluid curve of the spine, arms with the grace of a dancer, fingers opening and closing, a tilt, a lean, the neck, the eyes, a total reflection of what 80 or so instruments were playing. And out of all this came her voice.

Distance brought a new perspective - orchestral balance was good, dynamics more subtle, and her gorgeous voice as it now reached me was in full bloom, a slow warm vibrato beneath the shimmer. Imagine a rose bud in that exciting state of early opening, something wonderful about to be, and then see the rose in its glory, open, perfumed, at its zenith. An emerald rose. Petals about to fall.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I can't resist some incomplete thoughts in between performances, especially to say: GO. There's more good how-we-do-Mahler to be heard.

It's not very often I head for the front stalls in the Concert Hall, but then it's not very often there is the chance to get up close and personal with Lilli Passikivi. Lilli Passikivi. Just the name.

And Stuart Skelton, out of costume, but not out of character. And both together. And in Mahler. And in Mahler's most up close and personal work of all - Das Lied von der Erde. And Friday will see me there again in our series seats, and that wouldn't be the end of it except I've leaving town on Saturday.

And if I never come back, I leave happy, driving into the desert carrying this Song of the Earth with me. The programme notes tell the story of Neville Cardus remembering that when he played 'Der Abschied' on ABC radio in 1944 (the World still at War): "From all over the continent, from Alice Springs, came requests for prompt repeats. Something in Das Lied von der Erde sought out a deep spot in Australia's fundamental loneliness."

I think he's very right. Australia is fundamentally and particularly lonely, Erde is fundamentally lonely, our existence here can on many levels be seen as a belief in separateness, separation, and loneliness. This, "my most personal work", by the now cardiac crippled Mahler, grieving father, goes to the very heart of the impermanence, if not superficiality, of our time here, and even more relevant I think, Mahler for once doesn't deal in speculation about the whys and wherefores of any 'hereafter', but only the inevitability of the end.

So there I was in the third row. Lilli was in her angel dress, if I remember correctly, and the air around her had a knowing. Stuart was jumpy, up, very up. His was about to give a very physical performance.

I'd forgotten how thrilling Mr Skelton's voice is - young, confident, strong, seemingly effortless, his bronzed golden tone taking a shining brassy heroic timbre as he opened the throttle. I'm thinking Bacchus here. And with menace, frown, and spit, he called up the darkness of judgement, or sentence, or both ( "Nicht hundert Jahre" ) not to mention horror ("Hort ihr, wei sein Heulen").

It was rivetting and I was in shock, again, not only by the power of the delivery of this song, arguably now my favorite, as the shock of the now - it was finally happening, bigger and better than I'd ever thought possible.

That Lilli Passkivi has a voice I love was something I well knew. I just didn't know how much. It is rich, beautifully rich, chocolate rich, with all but no vibrato yet a glorious shimmer glows around its outer edges and she opens it out, perfectly focused, and you feel this force move past you, expanding on its way to bloom somewhere beyond. In the Circle maybe, tomorrow night. It was for me a noble and grand performance, one of regret perhaps, sadness perhaps, but always driven by understanding and acceptance, the greatest of them all.

The orchestral texture was completely different in the front, the brass and wind quite distant, going over I suppose, but a happy emphasis from the strings, and especially Catherine Hewgill's cello.

Here she is, the spoken word, the singing voice, the philosophy, the beauty...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The exquisite beautiful soprano Anneliese Rothenberger has died aged 83.

Vienna 1960 - Rothenberger (Sophie) , Schwarzkopf, Jurinac, von Karajan

Saturday, May 22, 2010


The Ashkenazy / Sydney Symphony Orchestra Mahler Odyssey continued with a virtually sold out hall on Friday night, the 21st.

Some had had a busy afternoon and I have to say that I'd much rather have been there than where I was, and likewise slipped in at interval for what we had really come - the Mahler 5.

Things warmed up with some young Richard Strauss, starting with the orchestra's first performance of his Guntram Act 1 Prelude, new to the orchestra and new to most of us probably. The strings sounded wonderful. Then came the Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra with a dazzling run around the keyboard, well, up and down, well mostly down, from Clemens Leske, driving himself into a lather of sweat. The luscious softness of the Prelude and the razzle dazzle of the Burleske (and Hans von Bulow is not one to disagree with) only made what was to come even more shocking.

Nothing prepared me, no Rattle, Solti, Abbado, Barbarolli, none of them warned me. After a breathholding silence, Ashkenazy motionless at the platform, the opening trumpet call came, explosive and quite horrifying, leading not a funeral march but a march of death. This was not a look at death survived and, while still inevitable, now delayed, this was immediate, and brutal in its force, and this was, for me, death, in the present. I was overwhelmed and brought to tears. Others may have found it unsubtle, I don't know, or care. Sometimes, in fact mostly, it's the collective that excites me, when minds and senses are joined by the performance. This was a starkly individual experience where I was no longer with anybody but alone with this thing I was hearing, very alone.

I can't remember a similar orchestral experience since I first heard the Siegfried Funeral March in a Sir Charles Mackerras Gotterdammerung, (and I'm not trying to compare the works or the subjects at all) and that's a long time ago. I remember where I sat that night, and the same for last Friday.

I've only been talking about the first movement. The second was as violent, the march of death never far away, and the final expansion of the chorale into the premonition of triumph was like a ray of heaven's light, before the return of disorder and a fade into uncertainty.

It was if a bright light was being shone on the composition, everything exposed, brilliant clarity from all the sections, the dynamics essentially loud and louder, and relentless in the heavy downbeat and momentum. I was thinking how it sat as an interpretation, and could only come up with it being Australian, as silly as that may sound, overexposed and the better for it. I thought about a play off, all the greats doing it, a Mahler 5 Play-Off, and how this would sound. I wouldn't, and didn't, want any other. This was ours.

We had, in retrospect, reached the climax of the night. While the tension wasn't exactly broken, it seemed the overall shape and forward drive slipped slightly. Perhaps it was inevitable and perhaps there was an explanation. The Scherzo was less true carefree Landler and rather more a forced and exaggerated contrivance, and that is no criticism, it was again distinctly raw, a swagger more than a waltz, again under bright lights. I feel sorry for the Adagietto. Such overexposure. The lightness and shimmer of the strings we heard in the earlier Strauss had long gone, and a heaviness had settled over them. Love was hard to hear. The final Rondo came and went, but what had been anticipated so brilliantly wasn't quite realised, or were expectations exaggerated. Not that it wasn't good; it just wasn't like it had been.

Nonetheless, it was one of the most haunting and memorable nights I've had with the orchestra and I clanked my shoes like the old days, wondering what happened or if I'd just depleted myself too early. The first section alone, those first two movements, did me in.

I'm now booking an extra ticket for Das Lied von Der Erde.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Who is this person? From ABC online comes some revelations from Jason Ackermanis. I gather he plays AFL, and writes for a newspaper.

"It's not the job of the minority to make the environment safer" (my emphasis)

"Locker room nudity and homoerotic activities are normal inside footy clubs,"... (my emphasis)

Normal? Let's think about normal. Safe? Let's think about safe. Homoerotic activities? Let's think about homoerotic activities.

Let's think about closets.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Not so long ago, we took the train from Helsinki's imposing granite art noveaux-goes-Nordic railway station. It was opened in 1919, the same year Sibelius had finished revising his fifth symphony into the one we hear played today.

We were heading north 40 km through the wet green Finnish countryside to Jarvenpaa, on Lake Tuusula, in search of Ainola where Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino lived from 1904 till his death in 1957, and she for a further 12 years.

There was hardly anyone on the train and the small town without life except for some movement around the local station and its small cafe. We bought coffee, cakes, a local map, and set off. It was a lonely bleak place.

The lake was deserted, wild and wind swept.

(yes, that's K, having a Beethoven-Sibelioid moment)

It may have been summer, but the little paddle boats were idle.

We were alone, as Sibelius was I imagine, when he saw the sixteen swans and heard the swan hymn that was to become the thematic core of his fifth symphony.

"Just before ten-to-eleven I saw sixteen swans. One of the greatest experiences of my life. Oh God, what beauty: they circled over me for a long time. Disappeared into the hazy sun like a glittering, silver ribbon. Their cries were of the same woodwind timbre as those of cranes, but without any tremolo ... Nature's mystery and life's melancholy." (#1)

He was writing the 5th at the same time as the 6th, a prolonged genesis as he struggled with his God, pantheism, the aftermath of a World War, a Russian revolution and Russian oppression, a Finnish civil war, the pulls to the atonal modernity of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, and not least, the deadline of his 50th birthday. That he stuck to his own "sonic path" is evident, among other things, in the winding back of dissonance, like the shocking trumpet interjections, from his first 4 movement 1915 version to the final 3 movement 1919 one, by which time he had already started work on his 7th, a sublime stream of consciousness of affirmation over uncertainty, a wisp of doubt lingering at the end. An 8th was to be burnt after years of unhappy work, and the green tiled fireplace is all that remains. You look at it, staring into its mouth, and wonder about that night.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was conducting the 5th in Helsinski at the very moment in 1957 when Jean Sibelius died aged 91 at Ainola, his home for fifty years.

I drove up to town for last Wednesday's Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 'Meet The Music' Concert, a concert billed as 'Harmony from Heaven', a concert where symphony declared itself in content rather than form, and where revision, and revision, was a common feature of the programmed works.

Beethoven Leonore Overture No 3
Lentz Gugyuhmgan
Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Sibelius Symphony No. 5

I went for the Sibelius. The young Australian conductor was Matthew Coorey. That he is 'only 24' (make that '36' see comments) goes 'a certain' (make that 'little' see comments) way to explaining that we were given a disappointing swanless reading, with K, the most generous of commentators, resorting to expressions like: it could have been churned out from an organ barrel. And the horns were at it again. And the double bass were up to some strange banging of bows making the oddest of sounds in the last movement when resolution is otherwise on the rise. But, it was "Meet the Music", and the audience was peppered with schoolchildren, fabulous young enthusiastic teenagers, talking, enjoying, yelling and whistling, and they loved it, loved the ending, and loved that they missed it. That was more than enough to make it worthwhile.

George Lentz's Guyuhmgan, as it turned out, was the highlight of the night. I've no idea how he expects it to sound, but its cosmic landscapes were wonderful, and the contra winds played off each other with great elan, and joy, by the look. The silent moments, of which the always insightful Andrew Ford made fair warning, were there, but for me, just not long enough, nor challenging enough. I'm all for silences.

#1 BIS CD Booklet notes - Sibelius Symphony No 5, Original and Final Versions, Osmo Vanska

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


This is doing the blog rounds pretty quickly, and when seen, you'll understand why.

BIG does as big is, and New York, and its Metropolitan Opera know big. This looks very big indeed, big big. It is the Robert Lepage / Ex Machina new Met Ring Cycle , the full Cycle scheduled for the northern spring 2012 (after Rheingold in September this year, Walkure in April 2011, Siegfried later in 2011, and Gotterdammerung early 2012).

Hang onto your seats.

(UPDATE - The youtube upload of the Met new Ring trailer has been deleted, obviously it's more than a case of any publicity is good publicity. To see it, the trailer, look here in the section detailing Das Rheingold)

It looks absolutely thrilling and while 'circus' did pop into my mind, 'Goldman Sachs' didn't. And describing as a "faithful representation of Wagner's great operatic myth" in the $ this way to the front of the big queue $ didn't help. I'm frustrated by approaches which continue to position the greatest moral work of the theatre entirely in a world of fantasy, past or future, and sidestep the direct challenge and confrontation of 'this up here is all about us, and you sitting there, you're us'.

Leplage is only a little more reassuring: "“The Ring is about change,” director Lepage says. “I try to be extremely respectful of Wagner’s storytelling, but in a very modern context. We’re trying to see how in our day and age we can tell this classical story in the most complete way.”" I, you need to understand, worship at the altar of the anti-capitalist Patrice Chereau Ring.

I've been lucky enough to have heard a few of the cast in Aix - Dalayman's Brunnhilde; Heppner's Siegfried (totally wonderful tear jerking stuff, but in a theatre at least a third the size) and Eva-Maria Westbroek's Sieglinde. Here's some intersting casting - the hot tenor with a touch of dark - Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund. And the cover is? Stuart Skelton. I'm trying not to have bad thoughts.

Mr Skelton is also singing Parsifal at ENO next March/April, c Wigglesworth. That I would dearly love to be at. Parsifal is a box still being opened for me, and these two may just have the key.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Look at THAT. Of course, it isn't mine, that's the real thing, dinky di.

If you want more, here's the link to The Sentimental Bloke, a fantastic photographic essay based around the Flinders Ranges.

I found it today while planning a quick trip out to see Lake Eyre as it fills. We'll be going for 1o days or so in a few weeks, meeting friends in Broken Hill after they've travelled down the mighty Darling from Bourke, and then driving on to Wilpena Pound. It isn't that far - Sydney to Wilpena takes three days, easy, and the drive back through Mildura (for dinner) to the bush house will take two. Think about it. There's big water coming down.