24 May 2012

For wounded colleagues

It was not till late in the Save the School of Music concert that we felt the pain and loss that the changes proposed to the School would impart. Larry Sitsky came on stage for the penultimate act. He dedicated it to his “wounded colleagues” and commented that “I was here to turn the lights on and I hope I’m not here to turn the lights off”. His Slavonic Dance by Dvorak was impassioned with profound dynamics and a sense of time that rippled right hand against left. Then followed the SoM Chamber Choir with one unaccompanied work and one work accompanied by a string quartet. Dvorak and Vasks: both religious works and both slow and deeply emotional and deeply felt and gloriously sung by the choir. Close harmonies, moving gently, a featured solo male, soaring sopranos. This was a touching end that left the audience virtually in tears. Most of the night was like a classical variety show, a family show with snippets, varied, some joyous, some passionate, some despairing, some angry. The adults performing with panache, the juniors with some trepidation, the babes (prep students) welcomed with their keen intent and involvement, the distant rellies from the jazz school welcomed if not fully understood. I felt it was mostly a classical scene, but Miro and mates were well received, even if the Llewellyn acoustics did them little justice. It was a big family. The Canberra Times reported it as the biggest event held at Llewellyn. I could believe it. The audience overflowed into the Larry Sitsky room and viewed a video stream with who knows how many others on the Net. The building held 2,000 so almost 1% of Canberrans were on the premises. It’s impressive and a message although maybe to the wrong decision makers.

So what did I learn beyond Canberra’s love of music and the School, which I had little doubted in this quietly intelligent city-state. Perhaps my two favourite pieces on the night were both Prokofiev piano works. The first, Toccata Op.11 played by Philip Johnston, sent me for a musical spin with its virtuosity and manic turbulence and rabid dissonance. The second, Sonata no.7 Op.83, 3rd movement played by Arnan Wiesel, responded to murders at the hands of Stalin and was reactive, angry, perhaps frustrated, with its heavy, repeated left hand two-note phrases. And the Dvorak, although very different from Larry Sitsky and the choir, seemed to me the most clearly true and deeply touching. I loved to hear the different sounds of sweet and toneful pianoforte next to the potent and percussive Steinway, and the Australian bush tones of flutes and frog-like percussion that surrounded the audience in the first piece by Ross Edwards. I enjoyed hearing the juxtaposition of levels of skills: the dedicated students who performed with growing then impressive skills and the insightful masters who seemed to just become one with the music. I enjoyed a few operatic pieces. How could you not enjoy Louise Page and Christina Wilson performing Delibe’s Flower duet from Lakme, and Rachael Thoms did a great job on Verdi’s Sempre libera from La Traviata. Tom Azoury and Andrew Rumsey surprised me by introducing me to a genuinely interesting film theme, a quizzical but relaxed march called Viktor’s tale by John Williams. I also enjoyed the classical guitars, especially Timothy Kain playing a prelude by Figuerdo. The jazz contingent struggled with the acoustics, but did three tunes with sharply harmonised melodies and nicely ruminating grooves. I especially noticed Mike Price’s comping and various horn solos including from tutor but Canberra visitor James Greening and Matt and John and Miro and some marimba by Gary France on Miro’s Bronte Café. I couldn’t much hear the pianists and much the same for Eric’s bass.

What else? Daniel Dim, Luke Keanan-Brown and Rohan Dasika playing standards as we arrived. The Fabulous flutes that performed that shimmering surround sound piece by Edwards. Alice Giles with 8 other harps, later alone and later still with David Pareira for a dreamy waltz by Arvo Pärt. A pre-tertiary string/piano quartet and a student guitar quartet and the student Wolfgang Quartet. Barbara Jane Gilby with Meriel Owen playing a Frank violin sonata and James Huntingford and Andrew Rumsey for four-handed piano and Geoffrey Lancaster and Allan Hicks for four-handed fortepiano. The SoM Chamber Orchestra played a string-heavy Vasks piece that was all the world like Barber’s Adagio.

Lots of music, lots of variety. In the end, it lasted four hours. It was unexpectedly lengthy, often exhilarating, tiring towards the end, but I left with a feeling of loss and sadness. This isn’t the only institution of its type but it’s clearly a bloody good one and it’s well regarded in Australia and internationally. Its loss would leave a gaping hole in the soul of Canberra, our own musical Anzac. It will be some time before we hear of any decisions, but clearly very many Canberrans care for a positive result.

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