Tuesday, August 30, 2016


                            (except Catherine Hewgill didn't play, at least on the Saturday)

This Mahler 2 with the SSO conducted by David Robertson was a strange affair. There was always something odd about it - a late addition to the calendar, very poorly marketed right to the end, in the Sydney Town Hall rather than the Concert Hall. And for this massive work, with Robertson getting the orchestra in good form and now doing his first Mahler anything in Sydney, there seemed to be not nearly enough interest. It showed on the night with the side galleries barely half full. Perhaps the venue and the composer were filters and only true believers showed up.

A hazarded guess might be that they were testing things out for the concert hall closure. 

The Town Hall wasn't my first exposure to the SSO. That was orientation week 1965 in the Great Hall where I stumbled into Dvorak's New World. Revelation is an understatement. But, with a gentleman companion, there were to be notable concerts ahead in the Town Hall and usually in the East Gallery, where Sheila Scotter would be ensconced, in black and white. That said, most memorable was the front of the main hall for my first ever Mahler - DLvDE with Yvonne Minton. Revelation is an understatement. The most recent I remember was the Shostakovich Festival where I opted for the East Gallery and thought it was all terrific. 

So here we were for Mahler 2 in the front row of the East Gallery where, note to self, the leg room is limited. Everything looked splendid, especially the great organ. The concert platform had been extended well out (to Row M). Harps and double bass had swapped sides and the cellos were behind the first violins.

It is a warm sound, but suddenly you recall and wish for some of the clarity of the Concert Hall acoustics. The choir sounded a bit 'through a scrim' with their usual impeccable diction sounding less impeccable, though the stunning Urlicht from Caitlin Hulcup (the high point for me) came though beautifully. From where we were, the strings seemed light on (and they've been sounding anything but, lately) and the double bass lacked depth (and foreboding) when you needed it most. Friends sitting in the South Gallery, such that they couldn't see the double bass, thought the strings were fine.

If this is a test, then I think South Gallery mid hall might be the answer for where to sit. I wish I could have gone again Sunday - to change seats, and to hear that Urlicht (I played it at Mum's funeral, so it's pretty special) again. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Oh yes, very very cute for the baby photos, but never forget ---

---  once was wolf.


In the second of the run of Three Stravinskys, David Robertson and the SSO did it again.

The programming was excellent, again:

Sculthorpe's short 10 minute 'Sun Music I' (1965 and a SSO commission to impress the poms) made great sense, or rather David Robertson made great sense of it. He gets this stuff. Beating a wide brown land into submission and respect indeed, but I'm sure I heard some melting bitumen in there. I hope we get more Sculthorpe. There's surely room for some major visuals to run alongside his music.

Then Syzmanowski's first Voilin Concerto with the brilliantly emotive Christian Tetzlaff, and finally The Firebird, three years The Rite of Spring's junior. The audience was especially appreciative, more so than with The Rite, which I actually enjoyed more and that's not a reflection on anything but the works themselves, and I'm mad about Firebird.

With only one evening performance, I'm sad I can't get to Petruska which David Robertson (in the Andrew Ford interview I think) noted was what he considered the truly forward looking composition.


We've watched the Mahler 4 and you have a couple of more days to see it free. I recommend it. And don't forget there's the Berg Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust in half a space suit. There is more audience noise than we had (the night before) unless the mikes were picking it up

The Mahler speaks for itself, but quickly: I thought the orchestra very good; Harding extremely facially animated and interesting to watch face on after the wonderful balletic total body look as seen from the stalls; the tempi are the thing, stretched to their limits - especially the first movement (marked not rushed) coming full-on brisk and frisky, and the third (somewhat slowly) is etiolated with a delicacy yet strength worthy of a spider's web, the sheer beauty of it alone worth hanging on to (and I teared up again, and had to walk around a bit thinking how Mahler had finally got a glimpse of the other side) before a very grand climax; and the details of Christina Landschamer's lovely vocals are actually the better for the recording process -she was double miked (Sydney soloists only get a single I think). The miking was generally close.

I'm tempted to say they are taking on the Berliners - new hall, same name, resident orchestra, and now live broadcasting, which the French turn out to be very good at, and very photogenic to boot.

The biggest difference is probably the camera work. The French are hands-on and hand controlled (vs remote) and it shows. Nine camera people are listed in the credits, although I don't know how many cameras were used, but nine is a lot if there were. The camera angles are good and the general feeling is that much more personal.

The close ups were exceptional, well cued musically, and some lovely framing - the face of a cellist (say) with the bowing of the cellist behind also in the shot giving a human multi-screening effect. Plus things like lovely lips on reed, bow on strings, player and the score. The sound is very clean.

For something really fun, watch this organ recital.

The organ console sits centred on the concert platform, connected to the electronics by a single cable. K loved this - sooo digital. Most of the pipes are behind a 'scrim' and can only be seen from the hall by special lighting, with the opportunity for stunning visual effects - spotlit organist, a slash of red across the hall, ghosty blue organ recess, etc

(from our high up seats on the first visit)

And the puppy slept at our feet for the whole thing.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


The Philharmonie de Paris is offering selections of its 2015/2016 Season free of charge. I haven't had a good look at what's available, but it looks like the selections are very eclectic. Some performance are complete, others extracts, and the access periods look variable. 

For example, the Mahler 4 with Daniel Harding which so moved me in the house is available complete for 7 days. (Actually, it's the performance the night after the one we attended.) I'll play it through on the weekend, a little bit anxious that the magic may well not be reproduced. I ducked the recent SSO Mahler 4 not wanting to yet overlay the memories. Silly probably, but there you are.

By the way, the recent SSO Reich/Stravinsky was televised for later showing on Foxtel Arts.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


It was a dark and stormy night. Etc.

And last Friday's SSO concert was pretty special. In what I thought was brilliant programming The Rite of Spring was preceded by Steve Reich's The Desert Music - the sequence making on-the-night programme sense; nothing follows the Rite of Spring.

Now that I've heard the concert, and The Desert Music for the first time, in my head they are intricately linked, but play the other way around:  

the (early 20th C) 1913 explosive genie-out-of-the-bottle* Rite of Spring, spewing unbounded primordial passion and desire onto the dance floor and with no way the lurid musical expressivity of such genius would ever be contained again  vs   the (late 20th C) 1983 where-the-fuck-are-we-now minimalist (not withstanding some maximalist orchestration) meditations from The Desert. That's the thing with the desert - its imposing vast stillness, its awe, its empty hugeness, its temporary stripping of attachments to the essentials of survival, no room for lust or carnal wants, a meditative state a lifetime otherwise in the making. Jesus went for 40 days.

                                                               (Arkaroola June 2010)

We sat upstairs, second row circle. This was probably good for the Reich but the stalls would have been better for the Stravinsky.

The Reich: David Robertson conducted. Synergy Vocals (London) sang. The orchestral forces were huge and their arrangement fascinating with three blocks of strings fanning the stage, pianos and synthesisers 'piano side', tympani and the bangy tappy things centred. The soundscape was unusual, very 'spread', complicated (for want of a better word) by the synthesisers and vocals being miked to speakers. I wondered how much if any of the orchestra leached into the electronics. K thought the speakers seriously let the side down (well, he would). And notably, the very good ears of harryfiddler heard fuzzy.

It was good, and it was meaningful, and it was simply impossible to trance out because there was much to see with who was doing what to which, following the vocals, and general agogness. I tried closing my eyes, but just couldn't keep it up. It is a work needing to be dwelt upon and known, and immersed beyond the familiarising into its depths. For it poses in its dark reflections, amongst others:

'Now say to them:
Man has survived hereto because he was too ignorant to know how to realise his wishes. Now that he can realise them, he must either change them or perish."

The Stravinsky was fabulous. Seriously fabulous. I mean it is fabulous, and Robertson and the orchestra were in top flight giving a very sophisticated nuanced reading. Beyond bombast, this was deeply felt and informed, played with a precision and balance that made me think European. Boy were they happening together, conductor and orchestra, oozing confidence, they in him and he in they. It was one of those rare performances where the 'thing' takes a life of its own, the swaying smiling hair flying Robertson totally dissolving into the piece till there's only the piece, and the audience is as pinned to their seats as in take-off.

It wasn't till afterwards that I realised that I needed it. I was elated, invigorated. It was a fix.

* (the lovely bassoon solo with a hint of creepy sexy was beautifully played by new chief bassoon dude Tod Gibson-Cornish)

Post Script:
And now I've finally been to Théatre des Champs-Élysées,

I've been lying awake at night fantasising about that May night just a month after it opened, even down to what they were wearing.

I've just found Andrew Ford talking with David Robertson in his dressing room after conducting the programme above - here.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


We like a country dog, and that for us means a Kelpie - very smart, personality, good size, good outdoors with strong working dog instincts, good indoors and, of course, good companions. So there's a road trip involved. And the road trip becomes the birthing, with unexpectedly deeply etched memories.

The 9 year old is exactly that - a sensible 9 year old - and she's from Harden on the SouthWest Slopes. She chose us - there were a few in the litter up for sale - on an Easter Monday, the hills browned off, the rivers and creeks snaking green through the valleys and gullies, the gums massive against the rolls and almost sensual swells of the tapering ranges, and as we nudged closer to my birthplace, getting that strange comfort feeling, I heard myself saying "This is my country" while immediately embarrassed at the crass pretension of even the thought before thinking no, no, for as comparatively little as my exposure might have been, not decades, not generations, not embedded forever in genes, nonetheless the feeling was the feeling.

Orange is another drive altogether - across the Great Divide (Bell's Line) where the sandstone rock faces can still raise a gasp, on into the Central West in sleeting cold early morning showers, Lithgow more bleak than ever, Bathurst cut thorough with a biting cold wind, a Full Breakfast in a warm friendly cafe so big the scattered customers may well have not been there at all, and so un-place-ably retro only a photo can do it justice ...

... and back on the road, along the highway, finally now skirting the town (famous for its cherries, rose gardens and uppity residents) whose outer suburbs have all the horror of city outer suburbs, turn north deep into grazing country, and finally we were at the gate. 

She was chosen for us. This is your puppy. She had been 'allocated' to another, who defaulted because of health, and now she was ours. And it is someone-in-Melbourne's loss, I can tell you that. I like that there was a slip or diversion or two in the process - it seems less coldly calculated.

8 weeks, 9 weeks, 10 weeks. And looking good.

She slept for the 4 hours drive down the western side of the ranges, stunningly beautiful country, through old mining towns like "Tuena"

and the hairy hair-pin bends plunging down to cross the Abercrombie River then onwards through Binda and Crookwell - rich country this. 

We were home by dark, just. With Noonburra Olwyn.