Tuesday, December 27, 2011


On Christmas eve we had a drink with J (J was the first letter in this blog) and D in their old sandstone house in North Sydney. The garden is wonderful, a wild mix of natives and exotics. What was completely captivating was a small stand of huge, almost mutant, sunflowers. They stood about two and a half to three metres, reaching up to the sky, like satellite dishes.

There was no way I could get level with them to peer into their round yellow faces, which is what I wanted to do. I love them. But they're not for picking. The only time I bought some was when we did the church for Dad's funeral. We tried for as many of the flowers he grew and so in amongst the more traditional Sydney suburban flowers, arranged with a free range looseness he always did (and he always did the house flowers; Mum would be the one who collected a single bloom of whatever for each place at the table, on occasions, like Christmas, or when visitors came) were some bright yellow sunflowers which he used to grow in the country garden into which I was born and first got dirt under my nails and the smell of wet earth in my nostrils.

Funny how it all came flooding back, not the flower so much as the context, the backyard-ness of it. Not even in France, well especially not in France, were such memories stirred.

On Boxing day we popped into Jy's for coffee and to meet her new grandson. Jy was the birthday girl on Lord Howe Island. Bursting out in her inner city little backyard was this brilliant flowering grafted west coast gum, a Corymbia ficifolia I think, a fabulous explosion of drag queen pink.

Thanks to Mr Apple and the i-phone, that's a camera in my pocket.

Friday, December 23, 2011


You have to be quick. The moment I step outside, the Rosellas are off, Crimson Rosellas mostly, squatting on their stumpy little legs, beaking out grass roots with no interest in grubs or worms. The Eastern Rosella is less common and altogether more discrete, with softer colours of greens and pale yellows; none of that flashy red and blue. I've yet to see one on the ground - it's usually a swooping fly-past and gone into the trees.

(Crimson Rosella with grass root)

Harder to catch is the English Black Bird. At first glance he could be confused with the Blue Satin Bower Bird, but the latter has a gorgeous lilac eye ring, while the Black Bird's is distinctly yellow.

Perhaps he still feels an intruder and is ever wary, for he's never still, not for more than a second (unlike the parrots which stay at the food source until disturbed) and is forever darting around. He even seems to know he's being watched from inside - looking, skipping away, turning back, a sudden change in direction, watching, off again. He like grubs, nice fleshy ones.

The especially handsome King Parrot, as we saw yesterday, is a seed berry guy, and considerably more photo-friendly. A poser in fact.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Polly came today. I was talking on my mobile phone on the verandah when he just flew in. And all alone too. The King-Parrots often, or rather mostly, pop around in pairs or threes, as as such, when one gets spooked, off they all wing. I sometimes wonder if this is some diversion game as not infrequently one or two will return shortly and while I can't be sure, I do wonder if the pecking order has been changed.

Anyway, there he was, sitting directly in front of me, and in a eye-to-eye exchange served notice that he expected food.

The dog, as we'll see soon, happened to be inside and confidence and trust was running high outside. I should say these parrots are the most forthcoming of them all, usually ping-pinging their way from tree to tree approaching the house, then settling close by waiting, and waiting, expectantly. This beautiful thing came sound unheard.

I think preemptive feeding of native animals is a bit of a selfish indulgence, risking upsetting the natural order of things, the food chain. So you'll find lots here providing an abundance in the local diet - wattles for seed, grasses for grubs and beetles, lilies for berries. These days, with the wattle in seed and the grass moist from constant drizzle there's lots of Gang-gangs , Rozellas, Whip birds, Blue Satinn Bower Birds, Grey shrike-thrush, Robins, Willie Wag-tails, and most visible of all - the common (English) Black Bird, with a soft limpid song at complete odds to the calls and shreaks of the true locals.

Anyway, today it was Polly, up close. I confess I do just happen to have a box of seed in the pantry for just such a special occasion. I ducked inside for a small handful of seed (not too much), the camera, and a stern word to the dog.

I deliberately kept my portion small, and sure enough, when done he went straight on to the berries of the seeding Dianella caerulea (native blueberry lilly) spilling over the verandah's edge.

Meanwhile, you-know-who was sitting patiently inside salivating pools onto the floor.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Sydney's summer (and Bill Gates vacation) has been ambushed by the Girl-Child. It's generally cool, cloudy, and wet, despite the few days of dazzling blue sky, which only reinforce what we're not having. I've had one swim only so far, and not one showing of the body-less-beautiful at the beach. Never mind.

So it's all rather indoorsy. There is the not to be overlooked blockbuster at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the 'entire' contents of the Musée Picasso, Paris (closed for renovation) and certainly more than I've managed to see on repeated visits to same. 150 works are superbly displayed, and yet again, one visit is not enough. It's strange to see them dislocated from their more natural ambiance. It makes them even more arresting. I was pretty much drained after two hours, which is about my gallery limit at this level of intensity, and still one room to go.

Here's the about to retire, sadly, Edmond Capon doing a bit of publicity and giving some of his thoughts on the man and his work.

Bookings are heavy. Book in advance.

Not so far away, tucked among the gentrified Victorian terraces of Paddington is the Sherman Contempory Art Foundation founded by Brian Sherman whose son Emile was, you may remember, the producer of The King's Speech.

In this one room there was to be found, until the weekend just past, a deceptively simple installation by Tokujin Yoshioka: Waterfall. In an unintended diversion on the way to the greengrocer, shoes covered with paper slip-ons, I heard myself make a little gasp when I walked in, totally taken aback by the simplicity and beauty and silence - a quantum change from the just outside bustling.

With thousands of straws, Tokujin Yoshioka fills the room with the appearance of billowing soft clouds of transparent water particles, to walk though and sit amongst, in tribute to the greatness of nature and the beauty in that greatness.

Tokujin Yoshioka's world is here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Gross und Klein (Botho Strauss, 1978, Berlin) is nothing if not a 'star vehicle' and in Cate Blanchett it has a very starry star indeed. And incredibly, she's on stage for something like three hours each performance, then home to three children, eight times a week, week after week, while co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company as well. I am in awe.

She seems so hardworking, so sensible, so balanced and yet so naturally glamorous that affectation never blips on the radar, and most of all, she is possessed of this extraordinary talent to assume a character in such a seamless almost mysterious way that the art and craft of her craft and art dissolve. It is a thing of beauty. This is a beautiful performance, far more so for me than the last time I saw her, in a much acclaimed but less convincing (for me) Blanche in Streetcar. Not that she wasn't good. She's always good.

Perhaps it's the language (translation and adaptation by Martin Crimp) with mixed vernacular and straight text laced with German names and ultimately a universal voice for a universal dilemma - the search for meaning and truth in the banality of the everyday. Perhaps it's the character, a disconnected Lotte, in a disconnected city is a disconnected world, who finds no meaning in the meaningless of existence and therein some salvation. As dysfunctional as she first seems, it is she who ultimately sees that the insanity is not within her but around here.

I was not ever less than riveted, and sometimes overcome, as in the final scene, where Lotte, hunched perfectly still, almost transparent, out-of-body for a time, now a spirit (Cate does transparent better than anyone, ever - helped by Nick Schlieper's lighting and Johannes Schütz's set design which are just stunningly effective) as the characters of her world sit motionless alongside her, each chillingly called offstage by name through a cold soulless intercom, as if to execution, none returning. When the doctor (for we are in fact in his waiting room) finding her when he imagined his day was done enquires as to her purpose, she closes the play (almost) with:

"I'm just here. There's nothing wrong with me"

That I could be so wise.

It is not to everyone's taste. One hears things like 'well I just didn't understand it, and we didn't go back after interval" That's the whole point surely. Tell me anyone who understands this thing called existence and I'll show you a very advanced spirit. There has been some criticism of the director (Benedict Andrews for an unable-to-travel Luc Bondy) but that is beyond my level of theatrical maturity. I just found it profound and true to my sensibilities.

I was on the phone first thing next morning and scored two returns for this week. To hear the text, to be transfixed by Cate B again, as for example in the mesmerising moment when the black stage holds nothing but a metallic phone box (lit from within with Lotte dialling haplessly out) starts to slowly rotate and drift, that incredible face and body shape of Cate Blanchett, revolving around before us, now visible now not, drifting away, in a scene that took me right back to that moment in Kubrick's 2001 where the astronaut is cut adrift in space and spins out of control in a fusion of complete horror and incredible beauty.

This 'production' will be reprised in London next year as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (oxymoronic to some I know). I wonder if Luc Bondy will be re-involved.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I've just discovered this. If ever you've wondered what the fuss was all about, wonder no longer. Heavens knows where this is from, cos the heavens are the source. It is early Joan, peak Joan, perfect Joan, unsurpassed Joan. How often is stunning bandied around? Well, even for an old Joan diehard like me, this is completely amazing, technically incredible, crisp diction, infused with emotion, and with her trademark brilliant shining top.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


(source: via the australian)

The SSO's concert year ended with the lively and idiomatic Osmo Vänskä at the helm. I can't remember having seen him before (this being his third visit) but on Friday's showing I'm sure I haven't. He's most memorable. And he happens to be my Sibelius man of choice - Finnish that he is - someone who knows his way around that place, that garden, that house and that soul.

"What secrets of musical emotion does Vänskä possess?" asks a moist eyed Alex Ross. I'm the least to be able to contribute to that question, but whatever he is open to, however he hears a work, he knows how to take the orchestra, and thence us, with him. Thankfully. And it unlikely you've been there before. (I've just given myself this little present for Christmas which fills in a few small holes in my Osmo collection.)

As it was on Friday night - somewhere I'd not been before I mean. The Tchaikovsky Symphonic Ballad, the turbulent disturbing Voyevoda was a first hearing, as was the Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, with a dazzling debut by the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and moreover, as was the Eroica, Osmo Vänskä's Erioca that is. It was (cliche warning) like hearing it for the first time. The Allegro con brio was very brio, a startlingly cracking pace to launch this very personal and very satisfying look at an old warhorse, with extraordinary use of dynamics and a perfectly balanced sound shining new light here, there, everywhere. The critics enthuse here and here.

The orchestra has moved into marketing mode for the end of the year and the end of its Mahlerfest. This promo is worth watching just for the much loved Diana Doherty's wide-eyed take on Mahler and Mr Ashkenazy - the 'little duracell bunny'. And, yes, I'm a buyer.

Yet, there's another recording I'd really love - the three new works Osmo Vänskä introduced me to on Friday night, as I think would many in the full hall (its tourist time in town). If only.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Ken Russell (1927-2011) was nothing if not confrontational, often of the sledge-hammer variety. Now I'd hate to suggest he peaked early, but if there's one film of his that I don't ever want to be without, it's his 1962 BBC documentary portrait of Sir Edward Elgar. The stunning black and white photography of the Malvern Hills is alone enough.

See what I mean:

Monday, November 28, 2011


Well, that's that. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra / Ashkenazy 'Mahler Odyssey' ended on Monday with the final of four performances of the Second. While the ninth and incomplete tenth hold the secrets to where Mahler's thoughts and emotions were finally focused, the ninth was rightly played on the centenary of his death, and so this huge dramatic and overtly Christian version of 'what might happen' made a fine ending for us, if not for Mahler. Thanks for the massive journey to all involved. It's a rare privilege, a once in a lifetime dare I cliche, to get the 'lot' in such good hands. Now let's hope we don't pay for it with years of abstinence - there's no Mahler for 2012. I know there's been new Mahler aficionados and converts gathered so we need a steady feed, like more of the less familiar (down here) 6, 7 and 9 please.

If you missed the Second (and by the way, Saturday was much tighter, and a good deal more moving - read teary-eyed in S stalls, the apex of the perfect triangle in the hall - than Friday), you can hear and watch it on demand, right here.

The performance will be released on CD (Saturday as played would be just fine) but in the meantime, no collection of Mahler should be without this staggering live performance of the Second with a ravishingly beautiful Yvonne Kenny at her very best. And it's about 14 minutes slower than the legendary Klemperer which is not the least of the reasons it packs such a mighty emotional punch. Look around the buy sites - I'm not linking to Amazon or the like as my account details come up - can't have that.

Friday, November 25, 2011


"Hers is a voice of the earth with deeply embodied richness of sound, alabaster smoothness and the sort of diction where word and tone become one."

So says Peter McCallum. There are three more nights - tonight, tomorrow and Monday. We're going tonight and tomorrow. Here she is, pulsing like something in a far off galaxy.


I'm not sure what we would do. We fought for the legality of our existence and the end of persecution. Our lives are organised and we are blessed with loving families.

Those in our footsteps now have their battle, and they will win. There are times when I agree with Lilli Tomlin - 'who wants to be like them' - but then the importance of this recognition to the generations behind me is not for me to dispute.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The background to the staggeringly inept gormless episode is here. It's hard to imagine any organisation so out of touch with consumer sentiment.

Anyway, thanks to Sir Roger (Migently), this has popped up. Have a giggle before it disappears.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Early morning in the country

Late afternoon in the city

Monday, November 14, 2011


From the Guardian is this story of the most expensive photograph ever sold - Andreas Gursky's Rhine II. I find its harrowing minimalism hypnotic.

As someone steeped in naive purism, not to mention ignorance, I was (though shouldn't have been) a little shocked to discover just how much digital alteration had been used in getting the required look.

"... the artist carefully digitally removed any intrusive features ... until it was bleak enough to satisfy..."

I've at last overcome the block that held me captive to the folly that creativity began at the tripod and ended in the darkroom. These days, digital tools are just that - tools. For people who say, oh the computer did that, well it didn't. The artist behind the computer did that.

So, I start off on my third course tonight at the Australian Centre for Photography - Adobe Lightroom. That it is five weeks of one three-hour class a week was enough to convince me that there's a lot more here than can be found in the early entry digital tools of (say) i-photo.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Hello. I just somehow disappeared, not without trace but without apologies. Sorry.

Yes, I've been busy and there'll be a brief rundown on the lost few weeks for diary's sake soon. One thing I've discovered is that blogging is a habit, and a discipline. I think I'm back again, with mostly all good news to come.

A lot of the time has been gobbled up doing a photography course, and of that there's lots to say. But this is just to reignite my fire, and there's no better way than a snap I took during the week in Centennial Park. Of course it's Millie, in a photo I wouldn't have been able to take ten weeks ago, or if I did, would have most likely overlooked or deleted. It's taken with a new (and remarkably good value) lens, a Canon prime (fixed length) 1.8 50 mm.

I think the teacher would say the good points of the shot are that the action is running left to right, into the 'space', the blurring gives a sense of movement as well as concentrates and exaggerates the main subject, the composition has interest, incompleteness invites and engages the imagination, and most of all, there's a story at work. As the course evolved, the emphasis kept on coming back to telling a story.

Monday, August 22, 2011


That blog title had already been written on the weekend as I'd muddled through a few thoughts about Friday's Sydney Symphony's Shostakovich 7th and Brahms double concerto. 'Life goes on' is one phrase attributed to or associated with Shostakovich and The Leningrad.

Then, the news - D's husband Jk died on Saturday and that his struggle was in part the content of my first post on this little memory lane of mine is not the least of the reasons for recording it here now. We, D and I, often spoke about what was going on with Jk. He was a cardiac cripple, and a vasculopath (all blood vessels rooted, as one vernacular said to the other) and I suspect had a malignancy of the male kind with secondaries in his spine. He had lately needed regular morphine for pain. He was desperate to die and there was desperateness in D's voice on Friday when we went over it all again, and again, death and some of its precipitants.

The sms tom-toms were beating yesterday, and she will be happy for him I know, both of them now released.

He was a man of the sea. They met in the Bahamas, sailed the world together, the last years shipwrecked by illness. She is a woman of enormous common sense, hardworking, down to earth, and suffers fools poorly and dishonesty even less. No bullshit with D. A few months ago, on a glorious Sydney Indian summers day, she organised a luncheon at the Squadron, his other home, and he brushed up pretty well for what was effectively the last hurrah. She'll give him back to the sea I expect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert last friday was particularly memorable. The Shostakovich 7th, the Leningrad, St Petersburg, as uncomfortable a bloodied city as any to visit. Then add the Brahms double concerto, add Alban Gerhardt returning, add a gorgeous violinist making a debut, and add a young, rather tall extremely long-limbed Russian conductor also making a debut, and you have a recipe for wanting to go twice, or three times. I checked this idea through, only to find that of the three performances, two were matinees, which I found a bit odd.

Here's a very engaging Vasily Petrenko, talking about Russia today, then, himself, and the 7th:

The Brahms double gets pretty evocative for me, stamped with childhood memories, vinyl spinning on the stereo in the front room, and now I can't listen to it without going back. Which I did. Into the garden, the music overflowing out the sitting room windows, past the Magnolia denudata, in full bloom, on by the big rambling rhododendrons, flowering azaleas and camellias, all the way to the grand old Lady Loch standing tall by the front gate.

Peter McCallum lavishes much praise here, although he seems guarded about the merits of the Shostakovich. I have none of them and none about Mr Petrenko's handling of it. I thought the bolero-esque creep of insidious fascism quite scary, brilliantly managed dynamics and tempo, no risk of crassness, morphing horribly till the beast, the truth, was exposed in a raw mix of awe and terror. I love the middle movements, vast, solid, nostalgic, motherland, a land of broken hearts but not spirits. The violins sounded stunning from where we sat (rear stalls), better than ever and orchestral detail and balance just fine. Again, the pacing of the final movement had more than enough measured momentum and thrill of eventual, at last, finally, exaggerated ambivalent victory.

It was broadcast, and I wished I'd recorded it. Better still, I wish they had recorded it and made it available in the heat of the moment. It was one of those nights, for me. As there has been many others - Armenians lining up for the Sibelius for one, any overseas visitor for another. The technology is out there (I was met with all the why-not reasons when it was raised with the orchestra a few years ago) and happily we met up with it in Cologne in June. There concerts are mixed and recorded live onto disc, and pressed, ready for sale immediately after the concert, within 10 to 15 minutes. In the main foyer they have about six machines, each pressing about six CDs, so delivering about 36 discs every five minutes. You can buy the concert-you-have-just-heard in a CD box for 12 euros, or for 10 euros, stick little nipply things onto the stiffish back leaf of your programme, and clip the CDs there.

You then take home the programme, programme notes, and the live recording, all ready for the music library. Genius. We bought of course, and were out of the hall in no time. Actually, K insisted on going back the next night, just to watch it all working, and buy one more. And believe me, the quality is superb, maybe a case of less is more.

The concert was the Gürzenich Orchestra, Köln, Sir Mark Elder, Sibelius 6 and 7 (not bad, Sibelius played by Germans conducted by an Englishman), and the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante KV 364. It was a stunning night - Maxim Rysanov on viola, Alexander Sitkovetsky on violin. Electric is the word. K said they were in love. Here they are separately, so imagine them together, energetic yet extremely elegant and refined musicianship. And we have the CD(s).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


There's a few things that jump out at me from the Opera Australia 2012 (that company site takes a fair bit of searching and page turning to work through) launch. Call it getting old, but I no longer have a strong emotional investment in the company. I feel like a seagull, winging around on high, happy to stay a bit remote (that means non subscriber status - I'm just not prepared to part with my money up front anymore) and swoop down for the odd morsel. It's not the way it should be - subscribers are pretty important for keeping the momentum - but it is the way it is.

So, what to make of this :

"The Ring has the right sort of weight for the cultural life of Melbourne, whereas Sydney responds culturally a lot better to opera on the Harbour [where] it's outdoors with lots of fireworks". So says Mr Terracini. Apart from the fact that The Ring is Melbourne's and Melbourne's exclusively has nothing to do with anything except the Wheelans are putting up a few million on the proviso it is just that, Melbourne's, this is the kind of stupid sweeping statement, without basis in fact, ludicrously exaggerating an outsider's myth, that is frankly unbecoming someone getting my tax dollars. But not my subscription.

And then there's arguably the most alarming of all - that what can't be played in the Opera House pit will be played elsewhere and relayed in in 'surround sound'. Like the movies. With Mr Beresford. Wooopeee. Die tote Stadt's required orchestral forces outstrip the capacity of the pit, as for many works, think Verdi, Strauss, Wagner ... Lets think about that - the sound is coming via a mixer, with all the modifications that involves, including dynamics, and then through loudspeakers, with all the distortions and losses that involves. So, at the very least, it is only as good as the speakers, and I'm afraid, as rotten as the sound can be from the pit, that's not good enough. It may at first glance solve some problems, or rather set them aside, but it also sets some worrying precedents.

Frankly, I would rather hear the damn thing live in the concert hall (can't we set up movie screens there?), but that raises the question of would you hear ...mmm.. whoever. Opera in the concert hall has been done before, and done brilliantly. I'm tired of going on about it. And it will be done again. Soon, and sooner rather than later. Actually, Die todt Stadt should be done at the Capitol, but even I understand the problem of booking that place where popular musicals book it out well in advance.

What else. Well, Teddy will sing 34 performances, shirtless no doubt, of South Pacific. On his own. Cheryl gets her husbands head in Melbourne, Wegner in Sydney. Susan Foster sings Turandot in Sydney, the great veteran Elizabeth Connell in Melbourne. Mr La Spina continues as primo spinto rotundo tenore with Radames and Calaf. Just stand still Rosario.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Being the biggest blubberer at the opera, ever, I'm was a little surprised, not to mention disappointed, that I was dry-eyed. Well nearly. I got such a shock when George threw Lennie's dead mouse off-stage, and Anthony Dean Griffey's despair was so palpable, that I felt a tear running down my left cheek and it had just started. God, I thought, I'm not going to make it. That however, aside from a few twinges when Curly's wife went limp in Lennies clenching arms, was the emotional highpoint.

The mistake was possibly reading it on the weekend. It is such a beautifully written book, already a play, lean and compact, characters drawn with haunting minimalist word-smithing, and a jabbing use of repetition to evoke and underline. I loved the protagonists and I loved the conceit - that understanding is love - and I loved that JS was born in the same year as my father who as a youngster went jackarooing into the unfenced sheep stations of New South Wales, out in the far west. And by a completely bizarre chance meeting, a photograph recently turned up, sepia'd and worn, but enough to show a tent, a billy, and dad alone except for his dog, Lady. About 1920.

So, over primed, and despite very fine performances, a well honed Lennie by Anthony Dean Griffey in what is arguably his fetish role, a rock solid George by a nearly show stealing Barry Ryan, and for me a quite touching Jacqueline Mavardi in the impossibly difficult scale travelling Curly's wife, it just didn't get me, neither in its portrayal of individuals, nor more importantly in exposing their relationships. My loss I know.

I tended to find it musically counterintuitive to the way I 'heard' the book, like the great crescendos where I yearned for breath-holding silences - putting down the dog, let alone the man - and I was thinking what Peter Sculthorpe would make of this. It was all, not inappropriately I know, very American, and I was struggling with the switch. I ended up playing spot the tune.

Bruce Beresford made it all look and fit well, despite tedious scene changes and slightly cliched stills on the curtain. I actually didn't mind the short movie chase sequence, despite this segment being particularly musically effective, and the one place where visuals weren't really needed at all. However, I'm now wondering if the whole thing might have benefited from using more of his (Bruce Beresford's) cinematic skills. Right from the beginning, before opening curtain, establishing desperateness, and then during each scene change, working up the relationships, so that the 'opera' became of series of 'tableaux' in a grander scale vision of two men and their needs.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Capriccio. K wasn't interested, at all. We were still settling down after a long trip and 'ends' were far from meeting as the travel budget estimates, as usual, had well and truly blown out. It was simply the price thing again. Anyway, a special ticket offer email arrived, it would be the last night of what I guessed would be a last run of a well regarded production, Cheryl was pursuing her Strauss trajectory, and what's more, I'd never seen it before!

Marcellous had given fair warning about surtitle and casting issues with a reasoned debate about tolerance and company artistic development. I compromised with E row, close enough to hear and see something, and still be able to follow the chit-chat a bit without too much neck damage.

Well. For all the banter about words and music, needlessly bourgeois as far as I'm concerned, and all the angxt about who to love (why the handsome one with the sexy boots of course - oh, he's your brother - then better stand in front of the mirror and self-adulate) what really interested me was that I, and maybe a good number of the others, was absolutely fascinated by the production. The sound was pretty crap, choked and truncated, and the words just too important that one either had to stay with a fixed neck extension, risk permanent damage, and follow it all, or give it away and go with the general drift. And vocally, overparted comes to mind. I did like hearing, and seeing, Christopher Tonkin for the first time.

But nevermind all that, John Cox did wonderful things with the cast, and that alone is what kept my interest and I wonder how many others. Theatre won! That's the answer. But even Cheryl, in all her generosity, wasn't going to settle for Conal Coad.

It was all terribly elegantly deco, droves of servants suitably subservient to Madame, suitors as wonderfully ambivalent gentlemen of the arts with more eye on the purse than pussy. To her credit, Ms Barker played all this out with considerable aplomb and being the good Australian girl that she is, had all the air of should it all disappear tomorrow, she'd still be just as content, and just as wonderful. She was, I am saying, deliciously self contained, and perhaps that's exactly what this is all about. Whatever else, conform to circumstance and certain outside forces, superficial as they are or maybe, but adapt to whatever whenever and know thyself.

With the taste of the blood of regietheatre still in my mouth, I could well have done with something like this, bombed out Dresden and Susan Gritton thank you very much, but in the absence, can I say, THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN ENGLISH. Sheeeesh, if any work demands it, this is it. Give me a break. All that effort, so close and yet so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MARGARET OLLEY 1923 - 2011

((self) portrait in the mirror 1948)

"Margaret Olley was one of the most unforgettable people I have ever met. I have never met anybody so rarely passionate, committed and yet retaining a wry sense of the absurd that life inevitably presents to us ...

She was probably the most politically incorrect person I knew. Margaret Olley brought a new dimension to the word individual." Edmund Capon


In a clever move, the Sydney Opera House has celebrated itself with THE SHIP SONG PROJECT

SSO, ACO, Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance, Neil Finn, Sarah Blasko, Martha Wainright, Paul Kelly, Kev Carmody, Katie Noonan, Elliott Wheeler, Teddy, Stones, John Bell ....

There are lots of associated interviews with participating artists on Youtube.

I thought this clip with Richard Tognetti especially good.

Monday, July 18, 2011


It took us off the autobahn and it took me back to my childroom bedroom where I'd left Golden Books, Enid Blyton, my sister's Twin Books, even my very own William Books, and moved onto war novels of the more romantic kind, The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky, and my favorite by a long way, The Colditz Story, where I focused more on the suspense, camaraderie, creativity, dressing up, putting on plays, and tricking the Krauts than much to do with war. It was all very Boys Own to this boy.

That Colditz even existed had long been forgotten till a chance conversation in Leipzig (with a hotel desk clerk who was a very tall young man in drag, I kid you not, thick with makeup, long jet black hair, and neat blue pants suit) - Colditz was just down the road on the way to Dresden.

The countryside was lush and the driving easy ...

(close inspection, double click, shows roadside wildflowers and wind turbines - there everywhere)

... through little country towns (a quarter past one) ...

.. till we wound our way down into a valley, crossed the Mulde and there it was, sitting high above the town - Colditz Castle.

(from the town square)

(from the far side, the exercise grounds of the camp, and adjoining countryside)

The Castle's long history is here including what was a concentration camp for Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and undesirables (1933-1934) now called " 'protective custody' for opponents of the Nazis". I was actually reading Hans Fallada's shocking "Alone in Berlin" at the time. It takes a strong stomach to finish.

Colditz was the camp for allied officers who had an escape history - creating, as our droll guide ('now remember, I am counting', she would say whenever we went through a closed doorway) said was effectively an escape academy. The late Earl of Harewood was one special guest, and inmates were treated like officers, and in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

The Castle is a short climb up through the town (fairly obviously not a bombing target) ...

... across the dry moat

(restoration ongoing)

to the main gates, the coat of arms of the castle and the town above.

Next episode - inside Colditz.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


There were two(*) impressive debuts this week with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra - the lively New York born conductor James Gaffigan, leprechaun in size only, and the young Armenian violinist Sergey Khachtryan. I went on Friday, especially for the Sibelius Violin Concerto (1904, not 1804), and sat close, about eight rows back soloist side. It was strange walking into stalls after being away and thinking - but this hall looks small. Why has everything been looking small?

Who was the curly black haired New York (?Jewish) violinist who played the Sibelius about 20 years ago. It is one of those permanent imprints, perhaps because it was the first time I'd heard it live, but more likely it was the technical brilliance infused with a goodly dose of angst that so moved me.

Sergey Khachatryan looked so melancholic and his reading of this was a serious tragic meditation with even the final Allegro struggling to escape into optimism. It was achingly sad and deeply deeply felt. Did I mind? Not really. It is a seriously thoughtful work for me, the opening Allegro quite world weary and the sublime Adagio a poignant reverie on the struggle for faltering ascent to higher meaning, not realised here, but that's as possible as is (say) Nigel Kennedy's flight into transcendence. James Gaffigan paced it beautifully with nice dynamics and my only reservation would have been to reign the orchestra in even more with the soloist as he indulged the softest, almost disappearing, of highs, sometimes cut off, others left to fade to some cosmic minimalism.

The strings sounded nicely shimmery and pretty together, and it was girls nights in the strings, although I can't help but comment that the private joke and giggle between two after the first movement was mood breaking for those in the mood (obviously they weren't) and better kept till later. I wished I hadn't seen it.

A large Armenian contingent were there, and in fact some didn't return for the second half. They, well we, were treated to a traditional folk song as an encore - the Apricot Tree (I think that's what he said, and was left with the impression that it was the only one, and it had just died)- very beautiful, also very sad. I wanted to call out - do happy!

The Prokofiev was a Gaffigan arrangement, and a good story was told. They played well for him, with a high sense of drama and dance (does being a New Yorker help with dance), and the Death of Tybalt built to such an exciting climax (even in row 8) that spontaneous applause erupted, sparingly, through the house, enough for him to turn and quip -'Fortunately, that's only one dead - two to go!' - either to remind people that no, it wasn't over yet, or more likely in the rush of the strong audience connection.

That's the second good American conductor with an interest in opera (Gaffigan is MD in Lucerne) I've heard here this year. The other was Andrew Litton (Rosenkavalier for OA).

(*) Maybe two and a half if Tobias Breider's viola solo was a first.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


There's a few half started posts from the trip I'll get up soon - things are fading fast.

Firstly, back to Amsterdam and the Concertgebouw. We actually went on the guided tour after we'd been to two concerts, two wonderful concerts, in themselves enough to make the trip worthwhile - Brahm's German Requiem, June 9, and then a thrilling Russian night, June 11.

So that opening sombre funeral beat of the Brahms, Residentie Orkest, conducted by Claus Peter Flor (Leipzig born), with Ingela Bohlin, the amazing Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl, and the Nederalands Concert Choir, were the first sounds we heard. It was quite overwhelming. The thing is, the sound doesn't come to you - you are just in it, immersed. It is warm, and soft, and caressing, and most interestingly, with little sense of directionality, made even more so when the organ was playing. K said it is 'wet'. Whatever resonances and reflections are occurring, it seems little is lost (maybe there's some smudging of detail, loss of brilliance in say the brass, it would take more visits than this to say) and everything good is reinforced. The changes in dynamics are immediate, in front of you. I felt I was completely in the middle of the music, but I was sitting a few rows back in the stalls on the aisle. It is, can I say it again, a very beautiful sound space, and as we were to find out (another concert and a tour during a dress rehearsal for Handel's Messiah, with a lot of moving around), it matters little where you sit. Hence the legend of the Concertgebouw.

The choir (I counted 80 plus - the sopranos and altos separated by the men - producing one blended voice, again the room at work also, such as I've not ever heard) was conducted by Claus Peter Flor as if they were the only ones there. He lent into every word, syllable, with them and they were with him. They are very close to him, on his left. It makes our choir arrangements seem so distant. It was profoundly Germanic reading, heavy, funereal, but never despairing. Humanistic. Robert Holl was deeply emotionally involved, red faced, the pages in his hands trembling, leaning to the choir, the conductor - such an intense and genuine singer, the voice of enormous depth with the most beautiful subtlety.

Then comes silence. At the end of the performance, the audience sits, absorbed, replete. It goes on, more than seconds, forever, a self perpetuating acknowledgement of the power of the work and the performance, till gradually sporadic applause starts, and slowly gathers, till unison is achieved, the volume swells, and then another phenomenon - some people stand, here and there, till, like birds taking flight, the audience, separate yet together, and without the slightest self-consciousness, slowly stands. This is not some routine reflex indulgence. This is understanding.

Two nights later it was 'From Russia with ...' : The Shostakovich Second Cello Concerto op.126 (no, I'd not heard it before; why?, don't know), Stravinsky's Petrushka, and an unexpected amuse bouche, the dangerously familiar Romance from the film music for the Gadfly (Ovod), op 97. Well no danger here. Beware Thomas Hanus and the lady concertmaster for they will steal your heart and make you cry.

Below is Daniel Müller-Schott, cellist (in rehearsal). See that cluster of seats in the upper corner - that's where we sat this time, and again it's in the middle of the music. A magic place.

The cello was amazing and the concerto stunning. I own a copy now, and that's just the beginning. Has this been played here? Cop this -

The Pertruska was just brilliant. Then that Silence again. I am out of adjectives and gush.

Monday, July 11, 2011


We've been back a week now. There's something about coming home, something ambivalent. It starts with that sunrise you see from the plane - the red is burnt with residuals of black, a deep indian red, with a slightly sickly lurid yellow halo, and the whole effect, unlike the pink, blue and pale yellow pastels seen from the ground, I find unpleasant. It's like looking into some space not meant to be seen at all.

Then comes the forced squeeze through the pores of over-lit crass duty free shops before emerging in front of a sullen customs clerk. Everything is starting to feel crowded, and unlike most airports, escaping through customs in Sydney is just the beginning. Now the herding really begins. Another line, another wait, another sniffer dog, another layer of authority. When you finally burst through the crowded arrival hall into the day, they've saved the best for last. Ill-designed garden beds and hideous rust steel somethings, sculptures is too generous a word, need to be navigated before the piece de resistance - a cattle grid worthy of a Four Corners programme, stinking of whisky from a smashed duty-free bottle, hardly a taxi to behold despite thousands waiting yonder, harnessed till called, unable to cross some unimaginably poorly designed road network.

Why is this so cramped, so small, and that's without mentioning the minds, and the thinking.

The drive to the city is along one of the filthiest roads in the world. Rubbish and filth. And then the town house - ah, home. So small, so little. Some perceptions have been reset and something needs rebooting. It wasn't till some hours later as I drove up the winding red dirt road to pick up the dog, through a clump of white scribbly gums, ghost white against the brilliant blue sky, as tens of Magpies swooped from tree to tree, laughing and warbling, that I felt a little rush of pleasure.

Since then we've been buffeted with gale force cold winds, enough to cut off the power for four days and drive me back to town. So we lined up for Terrence Malick on a cold blowy night, only to find out it was sold out in just enough time to iphone our way around the block and into the arms of Bob Connelly and his wonderful documentary. And I cried, not at the end, but the beginning. I was home.

Friday, July 1, 2011


The heat and humidity continue but today was the last full day, so armed with an umbrella, as you do, off I went. At least it was overcast. I was keen to walk along Tokyo's "Champs-Élysées" - Omotesando Boulevarde in the Omotesando neighbourhood, a long tree lined boulevarde constructed in 1920 to conduct worshippers to the Meiji Jingu shrine. Today the avenue is lined by designer buildings, boutiques, and fashion houses. It's a far cry from the crazy scene around the corner at Shibuya and degrees cooler.

At one subway stop from the hotel, it was a walk there and a ride back.

Time for iced tea.

The little side streets extend the posh vibe a short way before it quickly fades away.

Eclectic just about covers it.

I was about to cross the pedestrian overpass the explore Tod's when the battery on the little camera ran out.

Unfinished is good.