30 March 2018

Turnbull's un-Austraian Liberal Party: government: cruel and hypocritical

The federal government has outlined its plan to cut income support from up to 7,000 asylum seekers living in Australia from June, in a move lawyers and refugee support groups say could leave people destitute, hungry and at increased risk of self-harm.
Some of the asylum seekers likely to be affected have been in the country more than five years waiting for the government to make a decision on their application for protection. The Department of Home Affairs has also specifically said asylum seekers studying full-time will have their support cut.
The Guardian Australia 30 March 2018

Barnaby Joyce and five former parliamentarians disqualified by section 44 of the constitution have had their debts waived by the finance minister.
Mathias Cormann has waived the debts of the member for New England and the four senators ruled ineligible in October by the high court due to dual citizenship – the Greens’ Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, the former Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts.
Guardian Australia 30 March 2018
This is bastardry of the highest order.
I'm ashamed to be an Australian.

24 March 2018

Peter Dutton: a member of the kakistocray.

kakistocracy (/ˌkækɪsˈtɒkrəsi, -ˈstɒk-/) is a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.

Mr Turnbull's Liberal- Nationals front bench - including Peter Dutton -  is such a system of government. 

" ...Hamed Shamshiripour is dead to him. He was mentally unwell, his case well known to Australian authorities. He killed himself on Manus Island after asking to be returned home, his persecution in Iran preferred over the conditions Peter Dutton had created for him.
Perhaps it is glib bravado when Peter Dutton announces that the press is dead to him. Perhaps on talkback radio the echo of his voice makes him feel important.

When Peter Dutton says the press is dead to him, he means that he will not answer to its criticism. He means that he views himself as being above reproach."

As usual First Dog on the Moon says it all:

18 March 2018

Death and the Maiden

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Alina Ibragimova, Guest Director & Violin
Hamer Hall
Sunday 18 March 2018

My mate Ian had heard Seraphim Trio.

“Do they have other jobs?” he asked.

“Well,” I expertly replied, “take my mate Tim. He plays rank-and-file with the Sydney Symphony, he teaches at Sydney Con, he plays with the Sydney Soloists and Sonus Quartet. Seraphim takes up a lot of time when they are on tour up and down Eastern Australia. As well, he gets an occasional call from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The present ACO tour involves him playing Newcastle-Canberra-Melbourne-Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney for a couple of weeks. Somewhere in all that there’s a concert-standard viola-playing wife and a couple of nippers.”

The call from ACO meant he had to be absolutely note-perfect – ie know the program more or less from memory – before the first rehearsal: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, (which was new to him and, presumably, the rest of the gang) Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ arranged for string orchestra.

Tim might be able to hide in the ten cellos of the SSO but in the Seraphim Trio any cello problems are down to him. Alone. On Sunday afternoon he was one of three ACO cellos in a total of 17 strings so a mistake of any sort – note, timing, dynamics – shows. He was totally focussed and played superbly. In that respect Tim was typical of the ACO gang on the stage of Hamer Hall.

Their playing was meticulous: the phrase entries and exits (without a bloke in a bow tie up front) were precise but warm – except in Hartmann’s concerto. It was clear that each player had the arch of each phrase in their head before their bow touched the string. Each player had the same vision but the vision was organic – far from mechanical – and capable of evolution as the first chairs responded to the leader, Alina Ibragimova.

I’d gone to hear Tim play ‘the Maiden’ and discovered Herr Hartmann. His was a stunning concerto written in 1939 and revised in 1959. The music overflows with the intellectual and spiritual hopelessness of the period but the chorales of the outer movements were written as expressions of hope. So the piece demands huge understanding and high energy. It got it from the soloist, Alina Ibragimova, and the other 16 players. They gave it a whole body approach that made the listening disturbing, exhilarating and, sometimes, exultant. It was not easy to listen to – it demanded concentration – but it gave me a ‘Wow!’ and ‘I want to hear it again’.

Alina Ibragimova demonstrating it is possible to play a classical (or period) violin without black dress.
source: http://pronetoviolins.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/alina-ibragimova.html

Part II: I hadn’t re-read the program so it took me a while to realise what I was listening to. I’m not a big Arvo Pärt fan but when ‘the Maiden’ began, the programming made excellent sense. The harsh, sometimes anharmonic Hartmann concerto gave way to Pärt then Schubert and my Prussian-ish genes were massaged; they approved.

‘Death and the Maiden’ was the real danger territory for this gang. Most of the audience knew it, some very well. It was a scaled up from string quartet version and its playing needed to retain the delicacy and transparency of the original quartet. The ACO did just that with delicacy, lightness of touch and incredible knife-edge-accuracy. They played with a high musicality that put Schubert in the centre of the performance: his pathos, his anguish and his little specks of joy. Tognetti’s arrangement reverted to quartet at times and the full orchestra re-appearances were gentle and seamless every time. Occasional vibrato-less playing simply heightened the tension the music created. For my ears the brilliant, absolutely precise Presto movement was an absolute stand-out. So often orchestral strings in this city go to mush when they play very fast. When did you last hear the Allegro con brio movement of Beethoven 7 played with absolute clarity? 

Play it faster, boys. Bugger the clarity.

Thankfully, there was no encore.

But I wondered … was the lone double bass (Tim Gibbs, whose barely audible pizzicato - with the cellos also pizzicato then under the legato cellos in the Maiden - was magnificent) rank and file or first chair? Did he get the first chair fee? Never upset the tympani; never upset the bass. They can bugger the tempo at will and there’s not a hell of a lot the conductor can do about it. In this performance he was but one of a collection of stunning musicians.

This concert/recital was among the best I’ve ever heard – world-wide.

Even in rehearsal, Bloody brilliant!
[Tim cello at 0:29]

Sort of disclaimer:
We (my wife and I) went to the repeat of this program at Hamer Hall on Monday 26 March. The seats we were given were at the front of the Circle with all the nice people. Thank you Tim cello Nankervis for arranging them. Thank you Australian Chamber Orchestra for supplying them.
"Death and the Maiden" was even more superb.

13 March 2018

Seraphim on the Mount: Music at Resurrection

Seraphim Trio
Church of the Resurrection
Sunday 11 March 2018

If I believed in hell I’d be worried at saying this but the bushfires that ripped through Macedon in 1983 did one good thing. They cleared the block for the construction of a superb new building: The Church of the Resurrection. The building has a billion* dollar Leonard French stained glass window and acoustics that are absolutely ideal for chamber music.

Add the Seraphim Trio and you have a world-standard concert. And the delight is that it’s all tucked away in a tiny Anglican church, capacity about 150, in a tiny town 60km from The Smoke.

The building has a red brick floor, timber and glass walls and a soaring, multi-faceted timber roof. It’s the roof that reflects the sound across and out so that a piano trio sounds like a sextet – at least. On Sunday it had to deal with an unusually good concert grand, three international-standard concert musicians and a program that, to quote Tim Cello, evolved over the three trios of the afternoon to become superbly cello-esque.

That beautiful timber roof immediately fell in love with Tim’s cello. It was very, very respectful of Anna’s piano. It simply sparkled at the thought of Helen’s violin. Make that two of each as the acoustics of the ceiling played with the sound and we had a mini piano concerto.

The program began with some (at first glance) light-hearted Mozart written in 1786 when he was 30. It was cast as a trio but it was really piano (or piano ancestor) with a couple of strings. This was Anna’s first and final chance at being lead instrument so she grabbed it with both hands (sorry!) and made it sparkle. Anna was clearly able to get into young Wolfgang’s head.

Ten years later, in 1797, young (he was 27) Beethoven wrote a piano trio, his first, that makes a mockery of the ‘this is serious stuff and it must be played in white tie and tails; no smiling’ syndrome. In it, the strings are beginning to put the piano in its place as equal rather than superior instrument. Could the trio let their hair down enough to find the working-class humour in the last movement: nine variations on "Pria ch'io l'impegno" or, prosaically, "Before I go to work I need to get some tucker into me.” (fair enough) Yes, they could! This is a group who knows (Helen summarised the idea in the introduction) they are not front and centre; it’s not even the place for the composer; it’s the place for the music. At some point in the variations of the tune whistled in the lanes, a cockatoo (aptly name Cacatua) screeched. It wasn’t out of place.

Helen had heard Anne Sofie von Otter singing Schubert; "The music is even more important than the composer - and certainly more important than the performer."

But then, with Schubert’s Piano Trio No 1 in B flat major death stared us in the face. He wrote it in 1827. He died on 19 November 1828. I think it’s death and defiance in equal quantities. Writing that knowing you have months at the most to live would have been hell on earth. Getting it out and making it work as music that hits us in the gut is much more difficult. It needs mature musical minds that have dissected it, thought about each phrase and put it all back together into a coherent whole. Audience comment said they nailed it!

Friends of Music at Resurrection curate Music at Resurrection. They, including Dianne Gome (organ recital on 23 September) and Elaine Smith, have extracted a promise from Seraphim to present an annual recital that Elaine underwrites in tribute to her late husband.

I would be glad to be remembered in a similar way.

*Only slightly hyperbolic

11 March 2018

MSO vs TSO: no contest!

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
Saturday 3 March, Hamer Hall Melbourne

Beethoven: Piano Concerto Number 5 in D major, Op. 61; Nelson Freire (piano)
Wagner, Verdi: arias; Stuart Sketon, tenor

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Marko Letonja (conductor)
Friday 2 March 7.30pm
ABC Classic FM Concert broadcast from Federation Concert Hall, Hobart

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61; Veronika Eberle (violin),

“Not much oomph.”

The three mature-age gentlemen were in a huddle at half-time. One clutched a plastic flute of bubbles; another, an icy pole; the third, hands in pockets. Bubbles leaned his head into the triumvirate. He spoke slowly and deliberately, “It just lacked oomph”.

And that about sums up the MSO, the Emperor and Freir.

I’d saved up my pension specifically to hear Stuart Skelton again. First in the Adelaide Ring, then Mahler in Sydney, Tristan in Hobart and now ”Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” from Die Walküre. The bonus was going to be The Emperor – I’d first heard it and was fascinated by it when I was about 15 – played by Nelson Freire.

The MSO has some of the best orchestral players in the world. It does not have the best conductors. Neither does its managers always select the best soloists.

Nelson Freire is a gentle pianist without the very up-front pianism of, say, Stephen McIntyre or Timothy Young or Kathryn Selby or Anna Goldsworthy or Stefan Cassomenos or Benjamin Martin or Kristian Chong or Adam McMillan or Laurence Matheson et al. His playing seemed not to inspire the orchestra. Neither did Davis. But worse, more fatally(!) Davis got the balance wrong. Too-loud, turgid double basses swamped the brilliance of the smaller strings and the piano; even the bassoons struggled. So the texture of Beethoven’s brilliant, often angry, very harmonic orchestration was never there. I thought about the Victorian performances of Messiah with a 1000 voice choir and the sort of conducting that Malcolm Sargeant excelled at: Tom Sawyer with his 4” whitewash brush attacking the neighbour’s fence when a #3 camel hair bush was all that was needed. Beethoven got the 4” brush treatment and the MSO’s pre-break playing made me glad I’d subscribed to other bands in Melbourne for 2018.

Perhaps the problem is that, in spite of their high-level technical skill, the MSO musicians don’t like or don’t respect Davis. The tension sometimes erupts with sniping at each other in rehearsal. I wondered if Davis hears the orchestra in the conducting sense. If I can hear 'turgid', 'moribund', 'boring' surely he can - or can he?

The balance and the lightness of touch needed to expose Beethoven's complex textures was way off in the first half. Things fell into place much more happily when Skelton and Wagner hit the stage. (Wagner? Lightness of touch? Nah!) He wasn’t togged up in the ridiculous 19thC tail coat that the orchestra had to wear. Did that fact alone give them hope?

The TSO is a much smaller band – but still big enough to handle Wagner brilliantly. It’s true that they excel at baroque repertoire and that’s next door to Classical Beethoven.
It was no surprise that the TSO made their Beethoven sing and sparkle. I had the advantage that a broadcast gave me of standing in and above the orchestra. From that position the balance was spot-on. You can’t hide technical wobbles from a microphone a few feet from you and there was none as you’d expect. It was the controlled energy and unrestrained musicianship that made this performance so exciting. Veronika Eberle, Latonja and the TSO band understood each other and you could hear them all smiling at each other at the end.

There are some world-class conductors tucked away in hidey holes in Australia. One is running Vic Opera, another is playing clarinet in the QSO, a third is conducting the Adelaide Symphony.

It’s time to get rid of the Europo-centric cringe and put a great Australian musician-conductor whom the musos respect in front of the MSO. Until MSO’s manager do something courageous I’ll spend my concert ticket allowance elsewhere. There are lots of choices in Victoria.