Tuesday, June 26, 2012


This gorgeous little person was sitting on the terrace this morning facing the big glass doors and that's not a good place to stay when there's a kelpie around. I was expecting a flash of wings as I slowly approached but no, all was stillness as I gathered him (I think) up, the bright red eye looking right at me. He was probably stunned from flying into the glass, flying into the reflection of the valley, with a little ruffled feather on his neck the only clue to some disturbance.

He's an Eastern spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tennuirostris), one of the smallest honeyeaters at just 150 cm of which 25 to 30 are that perfectly curved black bill. He feeds on nectar and insects and at the moment there are lots around the house where I've planted Banskias and Grevilleas, flowering now. He's the one who can hover with his bill down tubular flowers.

The back is a grey-brown topped by a cinnamon collar with the cute angled head half black to below the eye then white to the upper chest with a chestnut brown centre. Not even the iphone I slide from my pocket for this snap worried him. Minutes passed, eye to eye, before he suddenly took off, wobbling through the air till he made it to the rough barked gum nearby where he steadied himself, took stock of things, then off again in a broad low arc into the nearby scrub.

The Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds, which Dad gave me so many years ago, well before I could appreciate it and much more, is invaluable and unbeatable in my experience.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I'm waiting for the woodman to deliver a big load. This weather - the days have been consistently cool to cold and the nights too of course, but without dropping to or below zero. The grass is not yet frosted off. Nonetheless I've been burning through the home-cut wood at a fast rate and now need some bought ones.

Meantime, there's bits of news around.

You have to laugh before you cry - the increasingly unattractive (and I'm not talking about her looks, though I could be) world's richest woman (look - I can turn this lump of black stuff into fabulous pearls the size of asteroids) is determined to get editorial control on the oldest and arguably still independent broadsheet in the country, our Herald, already being nicked The Sydney Mining Herald. She's hardly endearing - the family is at war with itself in the courts, she stood waving a poor-me placard on a (sturdy) fruit box railing against the mega-miners paying more tax for ripping the guts out of the country. And she doesn't believe in global warming. I bet she believes in air conditioning.

Nor does she have a philanthropic bone in her body someone hissed when the subject of a tiddly mill here or there was raised in the admirable context of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra embarking on improving the quality of its strings through acquisition as the ACO has been doing with such success. Matthew Westwood has a great pay-wall-free piece in today's Australian on that subject headed by a very eye-catching photo of Julian Rachlin who is here in Sydney to play the Berg Violin Concerto with the orchestra. If there's anything in the Sydney Mining Herald I can't find it, so well done to the Murdoch press for such a long and informative story. And here's the Saint-SaĆ«ns in which he 'dazzled' and surely loosened a few pockets:

"What is driving the material ambition of Australian orchestras? Consistency of strong sound, which the Sydney Symphony regards as so desirable, is only part of the story. Special instruments bring glamour and exclusivity to an ensemble, or what marketers would describe as a unique selling point. The aura of success is attractive to audiences and supporters alike."

While Mr Westwood suggests there may be need for some caution in fetishising antique instruments, investors are on fairly solid ground. On the graph of a Strad vs Gold vs Dow Jones for value over time, the old violin wins by a long bow.

The other big acoustic news is that my huffing and puffing was premature and unnecessary. All is about to be revealed, and sooner rather than later, as the funereal drapes are to go and altered sections of the concert hall revealed. The serrated timber sides, I hear, will be changed to a finish that is promised to remove 65% of the existing acoustic problems. That figure met with some scepticism by those, and I am one, who think a big part of the problem is the vaulted ceiling above the concert platform. Fingers crossed.

And this morning comes the news that the American Deborah Voigt has cancelled out of her down under tour citing the need for hip surgery. It's a very late withdrawal (fractures aside, and I do hope it's not that) for an operation which usually takes some planning and has significant recovery time. She will be replaced by Angela Denoke whose Salome I was especially lucky to hear. Refunds are offered. I'd keep my tickets.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Popping onto the Sydney Symphony website to read the programme notes for this weeks Berg Vioin Concerto / Bruckner 6th  8th concert was a bit disappointing. The notes are not up yet which is a shame when the weekend is a good time to bone up. More significant is the news that Donald Runnicles is not able to come and will be replaced by Lothar Koenigs. I had really booked this concert to hear Runnicles, and Julian Rachlin of course, but especially Donald Runnicles. And one can't help wonder if everything is alright, and hope it is.

Lothar Koenigs reads very well. As far as I know this will be his first visit. He's busy and there must be some scheduling changes taking place for he is still listed to be conducting T&I with the Welsh National Opera (where he is Music Director) on tour in Birmingham tonight 16 June. And he has worked with Neil Armfield in Cardiff. (I have bad thoughts when I read dots that could be joined and aren't - Armfield, Wagner, conductor, Melbourne ...)

Lulu is solidly in his rep so that's good. I've just played (as in listened, not played played) the Berg three times this morning. A commission by violinist Louis Krasner, it was the death of 18 year old Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler and her second husband, from complications of polio (an especially cruel disease for the wild free-spirited beauty and her vicariously seductive mother) which coalesced Berg's thoughts and saw it dedicated 'to the memory of an angel'. It is quite harrowing, born with difficulty but promise, a young life with just a hint of the blossoming of the fruit, and then the agony of interruption relieved by a final peace.

I thought again of Lindy Chamberlain as I listened, moved as I had been by the final coroner's findings handed down this week, and that always association of child's death and angel. The film they made about 'the dingo got my baby' was, you may remember, called "Evil Angels", noted at the time for how good Meryl Streep was at nailing the Australian accent, which is hard enough for Australians, than the serious questions raised. It was a dark time of lynch-mob mentality from which I think we have learnt little. Even one of my three sisters, a Territorean and moreover in the desperate isolation of a remote cattle station having herself had a child, her first child, die before the age of one, could not resist the rush to judgement and declared the interloper had brought discredit to the women of the Territory.

There is an interesting and insightful ten minute interview with the woman who spent three years in jail for infanticide. The last four minutes are worth the wait, and she's nobody's fool, with a book to promote as well.

Update 18th June - It's the Bruckner 8th not the 6th so I might stay after interval after all.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Friday's SSO concert was Brahms second Piano Concerto followed by Shostakovich 6th conducted by Oleg Caetani, ex Melbourne. I don't think they got on very well.

I didn't really settle into the Brahms, nor am I sure did they. The first two movements seems hurried and muddy, and at times all over the shop. The third brought things more together with lovely work from Catherine Hewgill on the cello. Phillipe Biancone made it look hard work, which it is I know, but the trick is etc. The handkerchief kept appearing and for a time he held it to his forehead as if feverish. I was wondering if he was. No sooner was I in the mountain house than the old Cliburn/Reiner Chicago was thirty three and a thirding it out in mono. Scratched and distorted maybe, but slow and loving, dancing and sparkling. That's the trouble with early imprinting.

A different orchestra and /or conductor came out for the Shostkovich. This was sharp, tutti, and fabulously attentive to detail and nuance. The first introspective movement was deeply moving and the excited race to the end a fine display of brilliant playing.

All that aside, what I really want to carry on about is the state of the Concert Hall. For what seems like years, and probably is, we've been subject to black drapes over the side boxes and side upper reaches of the hall. Acoustic improvement is the reason. Allegedly belongs in there somewhere but it is one of my least favorite words. Well I for one am sick of the look of them. It's funereal. And moreover on Friday night they looked like they'd been hung by drunks. If the decision has been made that the drapes are to stay, could someone (where are the style queens when you need them) embrace the big decision - what colour. A deeper cerise perhaps. There are seat colours to give guidance here.

And, the speakers (those big black menacing hanging things) were askew. Really. One up one down.

Outside everyone was oohing and aahing about the look of the building. Inside fared less well.


Sydney's three year old Vivid Festival, designed to liven up the winter months and boost tourism, has, to my mind at least, been essentially musical (think Brian Eno, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson). This year it seems the talk is very much about the lightingI've finally made it into town to catch some of the buzz. And quite buzzy it is, at least down by the Quay, which is all I managed to see.

We had dinner for six at one of the east Quay-side restaurants, then a subscription concert, and then best of all, a quiet half hour next to the Opera House, the air clear and crisp, before driving down to the country for the long weekend, the night getting colder and darker, a million stars overhead.

The crowds were pretty thick, weaving in and out, with lots of tourists (or at least lots of Asian faces, they seem particularly drawn to light shows) and everyone very smiley. There was the usual stuff - regular street lights now coloured, buildings used a flat screens for colour and movement (getting a bit tired these days), the giant chandelier from the Traviata on the harbour now a gaudy drag queen pink suspended somewhere 'over there', fun street installations with heaps of photo ops, but most special of all was the German's Urbanscreen projections onto the Opera House. Their thoughtful and well considered, and very clever, lighting effects put the rest of the city into stark superficial relief. Not that the other wasn't fun, or entertaining, or eye-catching, especially for children of whom there were many, rugged up and loving being up late in the big city.

It was just that the slow moving, and site specific, effects on the great sails were subtly compelling. It took a moment or three to slow down and connect with what was happening. Soon it was difficult to leave, as figures slid across and over the sails, and tiles peeled off, holes opened and closed, and the building itself rippled and trembled. It was, dare I say, extremely sophisticated. I wish I'd had more time, and been able to go back, with something other than an i-phone. But see the video. These snaps give the merest hint of some of the effects.

Monday, June 4, 2012


The lighting for this year's Vivid Festival has been the talk of the town. I'll get to see it this Friday and may, or maybe not, get some snaps. In the meantime, here is the German team Urbanscreen - Site Specific Projections - talking about their work and the challenges of working on the Sydney Opera House.

And here is a short look at some of what they achieved. Gasp.


For the record, here's an extra clip of Steve Reich being interviewed during rehearsals (in the Utzon Room) for his Big Sydney Show.