Wednesday, December 20, 2017


By chance, we went to Muriel's Wedding, The Musical, Sydney Theatre Company, on the night the marriage equality legislation finally passed. A tortuous and disgustingly politicised process had at last come to its proper conclusion. I'd bought the tickets more than a year ago for K's birthday.

Driving through the city in heavy traffic on the way to the theatre, we heard the final moments, and then the cheering, crescendoing into We Are One from the visitor's gallery. it was emotional, but also a strange feeling which I struggle to define. The best I can come up with is perhaps it's like being let out of jail after decades kept in the dark - the light is too bright.

It's a terrific show, and tracks the film very closely. Maggie McKenna (she's Gina Riley's daughter - Kath and Kim, The Games) stands out from a stand out cast, with perhaps Gary Sweet just missing the sleaze needed for the sleaze bag father, he's just, mmm, too sweet. (booom tish). It's a bit too long, and easy to trim, and the ending needs a bit of a rethink maybe, but no matter really. The ghosting presence of ABBA is genius.

And so, in the curtain calls, this fabulous cast took on the spirit of the night. That's Maggie McKenna (Muriel) holding the Vote Yes placard.


It seems to have been a long year. Uppermost in my mind are the three operatic events in the concert hall, two from the Sydney Symphony, and one from Opera Australia.

1. Charles duToit led a wonderfully hypnotic Pelléas and Mélissande, beautifully realised by a mostly imported cast, and fine musicianship from the orchestra under his elderly but firmly disciplined hand. I sort of tranced out, and thinking about it, so must have the audience who, while not always in the habit of being silent and composed in the euro style, behaved impeccably in what was for many I suspect, and for myself, a first time live encounter with this Debussy and his magic ways.

2. In an outstanding contribution to opera in the concert hall, Opera Australia's Parsifal was a stunner.

                                          (lousy pic, but shows the rapturous audience on their feet)

Sold very much around Jonas Kaufmann, this was anything but a one man show and everything about excellence on every level, with conductor Pinchas Steinberg at the top of the trickle down. The pacing, shading, textures and balance (for a difficult hall to get right) were wonderful, and the orchestra a pleasant surprise, which reflects a lot more on me than them. How good do they sound! Simone Young went through a phase of 'getting them out of the pit into the open', and we'd be very lucky if there were to be more of this.

Savour the cast:

Conductor       Pinchas Steinberg
Parsifal           Jonas Kaufmann, a beautifully elegant sound of much depth of feeling
Kundry           Michelle deYoung, god she's got the goods, and the presence.
Amfortas        Michael Honeyman, stepping into a big sing and singing big
Klingsor         Warwick Fyfe, perfect histrionic casting hurling out malice
Gurnemanz     Kwangchul Youn, rock solid top drawer
Titurel             David Parkin, interesting casting with a lighter voice adding tragic frailty

with delicious Flowers Maidens, Knights and Esquires (listed in the link).

The very lovely emerging Anna Dowsley was alto solo, and also Genevieve in Pelléas and Mélissande. She was also Lucretia in Sydney Chamber Opera's Rape of, and that I missed that is the one regret of the year.

On top of all that excellence, what was also especially satisfying was the beauty of the production with some small elements of semi-staging, perfect placement of persons and voices, and a fabulous chorus which were actually arranged and lit like a swan at one stage, which brings me to the lighting of the most subtle and sophisticated kind, even and up to finally spilling red, red and then some more red.

3. And last but not least, the year ended with Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Bluebeards Castle, right up David Robertson's tightly controlled alley. This was another first outing for me, and while I had planned for thrice, I made it twice.

                                    (don hans narrator, david robertson, john relyea, michelle deyoung)

I'm not even sure now that I want to see it fully staged. It is theatre of the mind, and to the extent that they overdid the lighting effects, with the exception of the almost orgasmic brilliance of the fifth door as Michelle DeYoung unleashed a stunning high C into the hall, they actually only emphasised the need to keep this pared back to a gradual parting of the dark shrouds of the imagination. (The earlier special effects in Parsifal are a fair reference point for less is more.)

Together, Michelle DeYoung (six foot one) and John Relyea (at least two inches taller I'd guess) were fabulously paired in an illuminating exploration of fear and love, the great eternal opposites, brilliantly scored by Bartok.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


No, not those doors. These doors ~

Decades ago I was in Melbourne for a Meeting, and on the morning of the first session I rang M, who was staying with J & P, to see if she was going in. M was in the shower, and J kindly chatted to pass some time. 

"What are you up to?" she asked.
"Oh, not much. But we have seen a block of land in the bush, and we're seriously thinking about buying it, and building a house."
"How fabulous. P and I have some land on the peninsula, and we were thinking of building, but have decided against. In fact we've bought the front doors!"
"You've what?"
"Bought the doors. You don't want any doors, do you?"
"Well, you know me. Who knows. Where are they?"
"Oh, here's M. They're in a shop in Albert Park. I'll give M the details"

We found the shop. We bought the doors. We shipped them to Sydney. We built a house around them.

So it happened that on Sunday, on our last night after the Trade Show, we ducked dining with the crowd, and opted for an early night before the drive home, and found ourselves in an Italian Restaurant not too far away from the hotel. In Albert Park. It was lovely, and deliciously traditional with terrific staff and smiles all round.

Full and happy, we walked a little after, along the wide streets, thinking we'd see a taxi. A tram rattled past. The sky was darkening. K was feeling the night air, and took to ordering an Uber. "No wait. I want to cross over, and see what's down there", feeling a vague familiarity. Not more than a few doors along from the intersection, there it was.

Totally unchanged in twenty years, there was the shop where we'd bought J's doors, her wonderful doors, our happy threshold, unchanged to this day from the day they left the shop. 

Not that long after they had become ours, even before they had a house built around them, to our horror came the news that J was no longer with us.

What little we know. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017


                                                                  (albert park lake)

It's not nearly as bleak as it looks in the pic, although the air feels cold. Melbourne looks more like this these days ~

We are down for a trade show, and there's much to enjoy. The friendliness and helpfulness has caught me by surprise and reversed prior reservations. It seems to me there is a new generation who have an ease and confidence, perhaps from growing up in the 'world's most liveable' city without the defensiveness I used to think was hovering just below the surface.

The hotel is right on the lake, is very comfortable and the lobby is huge with lovely lounge areas, and nooks and crannies to sit and watch, and read. 

There's black swans on the lake, with signets. So cute.

It feels noticeably calmer than Sydney, its edges softer. Maybe I'm getting older. Well, that's a given. But I can say, I'm having a lovely holiday.

Monday, October 2, 2017


It's well time to shine the rainbow spotlight onto the incoming SSO CEO Emma Dunch. Her guidance and honesty and gold dust words in the Marriage Equality debate reveal a confidence and air of a leader whose values are as deep as they are precious.

And there's a sparkling brightness and energy of purpose and joy in the future leaping out which betrays, admittedly to my prejudiced eyes and ears, an Australianness, dare I say even a Sydneyness.


                                                    (emma dunch, right, and elizabeth scott)

In a welcome about-turn, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Board has changed its mind on the pseudo neutral position it had taken in the current Marriage Equality debate. You may recall it supported the right of people to register their 'vote', but in deference to the mix of its stakeholders, found itself unable to take a stand one way or the other. To repeat myself, abstention is the failure to support the Yes, which is default support of the No.

The initial stance was met with outrage, ridicule, disbelief, and withdrawal of box-office support and patronage. It stays a wound which will heal and the extent of the scar is very much in their hands. My personal feelings are of overwhelming relief. I was ashamed and had taken steps to completely withdraw any formal association with the Orchestra to become an incidentalist.

And on the wave of public contempt, a tsunami even, the musicians themselves have made clear their own public support. It has been suggested the musicians were dissociated from the collective thinking by their recent trip to China, itself named as a possible constituent of those not to be disquieted.

But more significantly, for me at least, is the heartfelt and very moving statement by the incoming CEO, Emma Dunch. While her private life had been very much kept under the radar in the announcement and welcoming of her appointment, her beauty of thought and leadership on this issue augers well. We received this news, and these statements, via texts. Reading them out to K, I couldn't make it through Emma Dunch's in one read. Tearing up is one thing. Tearing up in Cross Street Double Bay quite another.

From the Board ~

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra initially decided that it should remain neutral on this question (marriage equality), taking the view that as a matter of principle it would not take a position that might be seen to commit its wide range of stakeholders to one side or the other. 

In doing so, the Board now acknowledges that it misjudged to need for such an organisation - with its long commitment to inclusiveness, equality and fairness - publicly to proclaim its support for the yes vote which plainly advances each of these ideals.

This decision has the overwhelming support of the SSO's musicians and staff.

From the musicians ~

The musicians of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra wish to unequivocally declare that we strongly support Marriage Equality.

We are proud of our history as a rich and diverse arts organisation performing every week to thousands of people who share our passion for the arts.

We believe in an inclusive and fair society fir all.

From the incoming CEO, Emma Dunch ~

As the incoming Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra next January and an out, gay leader, I am proud to express my personal and professional commitment to advancing equality and inclusion for the LGBTQIA community, and to affirm my unflinching support for marriage equality. I believe that same-sex marriage is inevitable in Australia, and that this outcome is right and just.

Over the weekend, I have joined the SSO's musicians, staff and Board members in discussions that have helped clarify the organisation's position of support of marriage equality in Australia. I deeply appreciate the thoughtfulness that has been brought to bear throughout a respectful and nuanced dialogue. I know that there are very diverse views across Australia on this issue, and I respect the Board's commitment to encouraging every Australian to develop his or her own opinion, and to vote.

For me, personally, this is about more than my own identity. I believe that our society and our institutions are made stronger and more vibrant by the diversity of the individuals who people them. And I believe that denying those of us in same-sex relationships the civil rights accorded the married is the antithesis of the Aussie "fair-go" and perpetrates profound inequality. I hope that my home country will soon be one that validates my committed relationship of seventeen years.

Artists and their art have long played an important role in challenging accepted norms. I am committed to leading a Sydney Symphony Orchestra that champions its exceptional musicians, serves Sydneysiders in new ways, and provides value to our city beyond traditional concert-givng. I hope that you will join me and my colleagues on that journey, confident that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will continue to welcome and support our LGBTQIA community and be an organisation that fosters respectful and meaningful dialogue around complex issues.

After nearly two decades in New York city, I will be returning to Sydney with my life partner Elizabeth  Scott (above left). We have been gratified by the terrifically warm welcome we have received from the SSO's Board, staff, and musicians. We look forward to making new friends when we arrive next year and to proudly counting ourselves among the many Australians who support a fair and inclusive society for all.

#VoteYes #LoveisLove

Saturday, September 30, 2017


More on the SSO's inability to commit to Marriage Equality aka Same Sex Marriage aka Should Marriage be a Right available to all Citizens.

Despite its effusive self praise, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as I noted has withheld public support for Marriage Equality in Australia which the vast majority of other arts institutions have endorsed - the MSO, TSO, WASO, ACO, Brandenebrg, Orch Victoria, STC, MTC, Malthouse, Belvoir, Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, Syd Phil Choir, Musica Viva, Bangarra Dance ...  ASO and QSO have not made statements.

The orchestra's Current Sponsors make for interesting reading.

One sponsors presumably because of a belief in the product and as a marketing tool - the consumer supports the sponsor who supports the product. Then, there's the reverse.


Australian Government
NSW Government

Credit Suisse


One Circular Quay
Sydney Airport

Official Car Partner

Technological Partner

Allens Linklaters
Symphony Services International
Theme Variations

Austria Arrive And Revive
The Committee for Sydney
Wilson Parking

Media Partners
ABC Classic FM
Fine Music FM

Vanguard Partner
Young Henry's

Regional Tour Partner
Rex Regional Express

Thursday, September 28, 2017


I first heard the Sydney Symphony Orchestra live in 1965 in the Great Hall of Sydney University in Orientation Week. They were playing the New World. And it was a new world with which I was suddenly in love.

I have three loves now - Kim, Sydney and Music.

Now, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors has resolved, apparently unanimously, whatever that might mean, that:

"There is no question that the SSO strongly supports the rights of all citizens to place on the record their views, by way of private and confidential postal plebiscite and as such, the company does not feel it has the right to take a position and commit our stakeholders to be on one side or the other and had decided to remain neutral."

Weasel words. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies - they at least support the right to vote, but even that seems a stretch for them, in that they have to say so.

Never one to mince words, Leo Schofield says it like it is, calling them cowards. Which They Are. Cowering in the face of whatever it is they fear - loss of patrons I suppose. Well, they just lost this one. And fear is what it is; fear of what exactly in their case, other than dollars, is another matter.

Leo continues

"In defying the palpable solidarity of the arts community and its manifold supporters, the craven directors of the SSO have, by this decision, aligned themselves with the antediluvian Catholic Archbishops of Sydney and Brisbane, the ginned-up contributors to the skewed letter pages of the Australian, the smoke-screening non-entities of the Christian right and those parliamentarians too cowardly to put the issue to a vote on the floor of the house."

"But despite the current frenzy of piety, hypocrisy, prejudice and hatred, whether by a victory in this farcical process or by the sheer force of history, Australia will, and sooner rather than later, bow to the irresistible force of time and join the twenty-two other enlightened countries that have legislated for same sex marriage"

"The reason the board, supposedly unanimously, has opted for this course is that they don't want to politicise music. Utter drivel. Music, even in the pursuit of change, has always been political."

There is no abstention. There is only Yes and No. Abstention is a default No.

If I hadn't just renewed my sub, I would now not. Whatever concerts I might be interested in in next year's uninspired programming, I'd be more than happy to take a chance on. That's how I feel. Music for me is all but completely an emotional experience. And so is my politics.

As I said to them today - 'I am deeply saddened by the failure of the SSO board to have the courage and decency and respect for all persons to publicly support the Marriage Equality issue. There is no way that I (and I suspect others) can divorce that from how I feel about the organisation. I am absolutely in shock. Even a change of mind on their part I would now see as a capitulation to public ridicule, rather than a reflection of their mind set. This will take a long time to come to terms with.'

Friday, March 10, 2017


(dogs with federation pavilion)

"We demolish your houses, destroy your avenues, build hotels on your parks and zoos, flog your institutions, lock your bars, empty your streets of life, fill your burbs with motorways."

Elizabeth Farrelly's piece in the SMH today touched a nerve. Read it. She's genuine and heartfelt, and not bunging it on. I'm not saying she ever did, but there's something there, some end-point, that feeling that enough is enough and 'the point' is close if not reached. You really don't know you are at those moments till you are there, till something goes snap. SNAP.

I had a less than pleasant experience last week in Centennial Park. A bit of a snap experience. The park has been the subject of some criticism for its increasing privatisation of various parts, for varying periods of time, some regular (out door movies), some recurring (fun runs), some one offs, two offs, who knows what's next (film shoots). Plus film festivals, food fairs, garden shows, you name it, they've probably thought of it. Even camping or glamping is mooted. I bet the wildlife can't wait.

There's one area of the park which is especially dog friendly. It's the valley - Federation Valley -where the Federation Pavilion sits, a large sandstone edifice which all but totally overwhelms the sandstone plinth commemorating the union of the states therein. In years I don't think I've seen anyone inside (it's mostly gated and somewhat forbidding) looking at this memorial, which once sat in a bit of a rough paddock, surrounded by a steel picket fence, open to the elements.  But it did ask the question - who am I?

If you look at a map of the parklands, you can see why this doggy area is just that - a hugely popular doggy area.

(map 1 - overview)

Below is the detail of top-right of map 1, and shows the Federation Valley below the Moonlight Cinema area and surrounded by all the parking hullabaloo that goes with it  :

(map 2 - detail)

Now, dogs aren't allowed off-leash within what's called Grand Drive (the white circle in the top map) and for reasons of access (foot or car), topography (level and grassed, suitable for all ages, with good wide visibility), animal safety (a good distance from roads) and free of competing interests, this Federation Valley is essentially the only decent place for dogs and their owners to (both) socialise safely. It wasn't always to be. Park management went through a phase of wanting to ban dogs in the Valley, as hard as that is to believe. A public outcry, Rally for the Valley, eventually saw the public emerge the winner. 

But you wonder if there is still is some smouldering resentment. There's no poo-bag dispensers except for one, not infrequently empty, a steep climb was up yonder beyond the sandstone ridge (see map 2). Bins are scarce and roadside, for ease of emptying, not for ease or safety in disposing. 

And (slowly getting to the point) the Valley has been recently taken over for a film shoot (Peter Rabbit). For months, maybe 3 or 4 months if memory serves me well. The closed off area (it even had no photos notices splattered around at first) occupies the whole of the Valley but falls short of the Monument, effectively forcing dog users elsewhere, or around the Monument, and therefore much closer to the main road, cars, and bicycles. 

Note the "Centennial Parklands is proud to support the Australian film industry". They're not doing it for free - that's the whole point - and the subtext is a pretty strong:  if you have any problem with this, then you're not supporting the industry.

Anyway (very slowly getting to the point). recently there have been signs advising that there may be loud explosions from the set. Like loud explosions that could scare dogs, off leash dogs. Indeed they could. 

We arrived the other evening, and getting out of the car, with the dogs of course, were met by a pleasant woman from the shoot, warning that explosions were imminent. Thank you I said, quite calmly actually. It wasn't till I got down to the Valley and saw the dogs on the roadside side of the monument, with a ranger driving through them in a ute, that the prospect of a loud BANG and scattered dogs became quite real. I was worried for the puppy. Before I could gather myself, let alone the dogs, the ranger had arrived in the ute. 

"Are those lovely kelpies yours?"
"Yes, they are."
"Well, there ..."
"I know, the lady up the hill told me. And can I say I am really pissed off about it."

(Verbatim, continues)

"Dog owners are usually nice people. What happened to you?"

And off she sped, across the dog off-leash area, waiting-for-loud-explosion-to-panic-the-dogs area, leaving me wide mouthed.

SNAP. It was a snap moment. I was playing the ball. She had played the man. I phoned the Park management. He was polite and indulged me. But, as I unleashed about having used the park almost daily since the man walked on the man (when I had first moved into the immediate area - yes I was a University student, and now I'm old), and about my father born 1902 who had played in the quicksand, probably the swampy lands in the centre, and how I felt strongly about the park being a people's park, he eventually got a word in edgeways, and pointed out that no I wasn't paying anyones wages, that as a tax and rate payer I wasn't contributing to the Park, and that the Park actually got no funding from Government, none. From a Government not exactly short of a quid. He seemed rather proud of the fact. 

I was left to say : "So it isn't my Park. In fact I am a guest in your Park". To which he did not disagree. 

SNAP. My attachment was severed. I felt disenfranchised. I felt I knew something of what it was like to be disenfranchised. I felt I glimpsed some understanding of how people who are disenfranchised took action - at the ballot box, on the street. And moreover, the more I thought about it the clearer it became that apart from the dog issue, which will revert shortly to the status quo, at least until the next 'Proud to support the Film Industry' episode, there is simply nowhere in Centennial Park where there is guaranteed peace and solitude. Not like the great parks of the world - Regent's Park, the Vondelpark, the Tiergarten, even the heavily used Central Park in New York. 

I'm with you Elizabeth Farrelly. 

By the way, the inscription on the Federation Monument reads:

                                     MAMMON OR MILLENIAL EDEN

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The air of excitement carried over the weekend. People were talking. Daniil Trifonov
was the hot ticket in town, and it was one night only. The full program is here.

Robert Schumann

Kinderszenen, Op 15
Toccata, Op 7
Kreisleriana - Fantasias, Op 16

Dmitri Shostakovich 

Selections from 24 preludes and fugues, Op 87
                           No. 4 in E Minor (a late addition)
No. 7 in A Major
No. 2 in A Minor
No. 5 in D Major
  No. 24 in D Minor

Igor Stravinsky

Three movements from Petrushka
Russian Dance
Petrushka's cell
The Shrovetide Fair

There was certainly only one piano, and no music, but there were many moments when that we were hearing one man with two hands playing only that one piano defied comprehension. Two hands can't do that. One brain can't concentrate and sustain that, whatever the cerebral memory, whatever the muscle memory, and ten fingers on two hands simply aren't enough. The physiology involved is staggering, even for peak physiology - he's 26 and one day.

The entrance was as brisk and the perfunctory bow as deep, but the posture was different now he was just him. The intensity still burned. Upright more, leaning back more, neck sometimes quite extended, eyes to the heavens - I could see them, white balls with irises unseen staring into the infinity. And as the evening progressed , so did the show. By the time we were at the Stravinsky, there were chair leaving leaps, and serious grand gestures. This was a mighty good show. 

To say anything about the concert is pretentious beyond belief. It's music I am not especially familiar with (but the Shostakovich is mine to get to know much better, much), and hey, I can barely play chopsticks. But I have thoughts, with the general sweeping comment that there was lots of forte from this pianoforte, but no lack of subtlety.

The Schumann Childhood Fantasies were a slowly evolving slow careful reflection of dreams and memories, a wonderful lesson in how music can say what words can't express. The Toccata that followed was as jaw-dropping an example of technical brilliance as I've ever heard. Or likely to hear again. There was a roar from the audience, a not especially good audience sadly, some late arrivals, some persistent coughs, and a damn mobile phone that waited till the final note of the last Fantasia to bring us back to earth with its vulgar melody. It earned a deserved rebuke from a vocal audience member. Not to mention those who at the end of the evening couldn't get out quick enough. Rudeness writ large.

The Shostakovich I enjoyed the most, and dedicate myself to exploring in depth. The final 24th had a finality and sonorous depth that the evening could well have stopped right there. But the circus was about to begin, and while circus is completely the wrong word in its superficiality, the showmanship of the Stravinsky was dazzling in the extreme. As I've said, words fail me. Except thank you. 

Monday, March 6, 2017



This is worth a big shout out. HURRAH.

Yvonne has pointed out in comments in the preceding post that the SSO does have a program library dating back, as far as I can see, to 2012 inclusive.

Great news. Save the link : SSO Program Library.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


The only trouble with Siren Theatre Company's The Trouble With Harry was that it was nearly, so almost, trouble free, but just enough short of fully trouble-free to be a bit frustrating.

In a conscious effort to get to more theatre, and a conscious effort to support the Mardi Gras events, off we went. I knew little about the story, other than Harry wasn't a real Harry, and murder most foul was only the beginning of what scandalised Sydney in the 1920s. K knew nothing. The audience was very female skewed, and I happened to quip to one couple - "Bit of a girl night!" - which drew a quick retort - "then you'll fit right in dear" - and we roared with laughter and giggled about it sitting across the aisle from each other, she especially pleased with her quick wit. "Serves you right" said K.

On a spare set, so beautifully lit that I wish there were some visual records somewhere, with some stunning compositions and direction by Kate Gaul, with marvellous use of four simple curtains to define time, space, illusion, and mystery, the story of Harry Crawford from Lachlan Philpott's pen evolves in the lanes and pubs and poverty and struggle for survival and love in the rough guts of early 20th century Sydney. This was the Sydney of my parents formative years. It interests me a lot.

I loved what Mr Philpott wrote. I'd like to read it, and linger with it. The use of the 'Under Milkwood' like man and woman to describe the scenes, paint visual and acoustic pictures, play with emotions, echo (literally) the action, and spell gossip and innuendo in a poetic vernacular was at once much the core of the beauty of it while at the same time much the source of the trouble. I, and not alone I think, was missing too much. It flew past me too fast when I would really have liked to savour the words, let alone stay abreast of some details.

The full story I didn't grasp till I read the Herald's review (and what an amazing and heart breaking story) after the show.  I had a pretty good grasp on things, but K was struggling, and one woman we spoke with heading to the car park said she hated it because she didn't ever get to grips with the plot. Which is a big shame, because it was all there, the jig-saw falling into place. And yes, audiences have to pay attention - it's not play school - I know, but ...

Anyway, I'm reluctant to criticise. The cast I thought were wonderfully good, especially the difficult woman playing a woman playing a man of Jodie Le Visconte, Jane Phegan's brave but hapless wife, the wide-eyed innocence, not for long though, of Jonas Thompson's son, and the deeply disturbed daughter of Bobbie-Jean Henning. I was ultimately moved to tears.

The Seymour Centre was pretty brutally minimal. Maybe some lights swung outside? Gosh, even coloured ones? Or is this the new way of the world. Anyway, it's a good theatre space, the small one downstairs. Heads up to Siren. Ham Funeral next.


(because I like it)

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra season doesn't seem to have an 'Opening Galah' anymore, which I assume has something to do with David Robertson's time schedule. But the early season gala with Vengerov was a very fine start to the year. The concert programme is no longer available on-line (hate that) ~ Brahms Violin Concerto followed by Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony, Vengerov soloist, David Robertson conducting.

Limelight review is here. It was that good. He is technically astounding, no news there. I (also) went to a rehearsal and sat close, really close, though he didn't play his cadenza, a very showy affair, saving it up. Unexpectedly, I think I enjoyed the Tchaikovsky even more, which is a pretty silly thing to say, considering. But it was the surprise element that caught me and swept me up and along. The cellos and violas have swapped places, the horns are bunched and not linear, and the orchestral sound is very good and solid. Like the Germans K mused, even.

The 5th is Tchaikovsky dealing with life's cards, the homosexual ones presumably. Robertson kept too much sentimentalism at bay, and while not matter of fact either, there was a truthfulness about the presentation that I found moving, a progression to resolution and acceptance. And Ben Jack's noble horn solos finally put that damn cigarette ad to rest, praise the lord.

But wait, there's more.

There's fame-preceding-him Daniil Trifonov himself, with much excitement all round. And also for the first time the elegant young Spanish conductor ex-percussionist Gustavo Gimeno, an Abbado protégé, conducting big stuff in Europe, Nth America and Japan, and what's more, moving into opera.  I like Spaniards.

The programme was Young Russians (I hope that links lasts; there's some good reading) : Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, Op. 25; Rachmaninoff''s Piano Concerto No 1, Op. 1; Shostakovich Symphony No 1, Op.10.

Well, words fails me. He's cool, but incredibly likeable. The intensity of his relationship to the music, at whose service he is alone at, and the instrument is amazing. I was thinking if I closed my eyes when I reopened them he wouldn't be there, but instead morphed into a man-piano fantasy. He's incredibly intense; did I say that? He doesn't play the piano, as say Bronfman plays the piano, he becomes the piano; did I say that? The posture is strongly hunched, head so close to the keys as if there's a current between them, pulling him closer, till a wonderful arch of arm and hand, musically driven of course, eases him back and his body opens forth, as if letting doves fly into the heavens. I was, quite frankly, bewitched.

There's much written about him, not the least by Alex Ross here.

Gustavo Gimeno is a very welcome addition to the roster, may he return soon. The Prokofiev was most elegant and restrained, eschewing showy exaggeration. And the Shostakovich I thought wonderfully delivered. The thing with Shostakovich for me is it really needs to be heard live. It's such an immersive experience., the textures, details, and dimensions easily blurred but thrilling when fully realised. Here we had this amazing cauldron of ideas, bubbling away, with little spurts of the future flashing out, fleshed out, and I want to go back but I can't.

But I can go to Wunderkinde's recital on Monday.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

R & R

By the time we reached Dong Hoi I was feeling a bit drained. I thought it was probably that on top of the long drive (which is anything but relaxing when you still can't help thinking everything and everyone on the road will eventually run into you), I would really have liked to have stayed in Hue

Actually, all of the above, plus I was coming down with a cold.

Dong Hoi is another city where the river(s) open and empty into the sea. The whole extended coast of Vietnam is shaping up in my mind like this, with these massive rivers flowing out of Cambodia and Laos. The area reminded me if anything of the central coast of New South Wales - emerging out of slow development because of isolation and a lower capital base, but blessed with wonderful natural resources like lakes, inlets and outlets, and stunning beaches. There's a brightly painted fleet of squid trawler boats which putter out at night and whose bright spot lights dance about in the black sea.

We were meant to be doing the going-up-the-river-thing and into some caves - UNESCO ones I think. But I couldn't muster up the energy.

Some rest and sleep was on the agenda, Hanoi was on the horizon, and this did just fine:

Monday, February 13, 2017


It's a few Kms drive (east nor east toward the coast) from the bridge over the Ban Hai river through lush and beautifully managed farm land to reach the incredible Vinh Moc tunnel complex.

It's gorgeous country - well sealed heavy clay roads criss-crossing their way through fields of corn, pepper trees, rubber tress, grazing stock - roadside houses with open street frontages doubling up for business - food, repairs, mechanics - children on bicycles, scooters loaded up or pulling wooden carts, a pagoda here, incense at a shrine there, yellow stars on red flags against the lush dense green, and very little tourist traffic. And brilliant telecommunications, as usual.



There's our car at the rear, silver, where we shared water and (pho) chicken noodle soup, add you own spices to taste, with a gentle Dutch couple. 

The tunnels are very well organised for visitors - a large visitor centre, a row of street sellers to run the gauntlet though but where buying a bottle of water gets you a loan of a torch, and not far past the ticket box we bump into a small tour group whose guide readily invites us to join.

Her father, she would later tell us, had been born in the tunnels and spent the first six years of his life there - in a tunnel complex dug by hand by a whole community desperate to survive the increasingly heavy American bombing - 9,000 tons of it - from raid after raid of B52s (a word they well know). 

Two kilometres of tunnels - living, sleeping, cooking (smoke was diffused through chimneys to not be a give away), maternity, meeting rooms ~ existence.

Above ground the whole ares is riddled with shallow trenches (are the Vietnamese the shortest people in the world) for moving about unseen, and dotted wth big bomb craters.

And bombs. No shortage of bombs.

                                                          (person for size reference)

And in a jolt back to normality, there's this charming house just a few metres away.

The entrances are well restored, well, over-restored, and there's occasional light globes along the way, but you still need that borrowed torch, or the light from your phone. I could only occasionally stand up, and it was a matter of just following the person in front, crouched, down steps, up steps, around corners, glancing sideways into a narrow room from time to time, the heat building up, and the claustrophobia getting a bit unpleasant. 

At last, eventually, thank god, there is a god, finally we emerged. At the South China Sea!

Relief was short-lived. Back up again, in we all went, sweating and stooped, till eventually, finally, at last, why didn't someone warn me, we climbed out of entrance 5, very near the complex entrance.

There were 140 networks in the region. They lived like this for six years. Six B52 years.