29 December 2016

Blockie II

(Cont.) Second was Versailles. I hadn't expected to attend, but went with a Christmas visitor. I was surprised and pleased from the first objects in the first room. Plenty of sweet paintings of powdered faces, sturdy marble and lead and porphyry works in 3D, homely (if indulgent) things like lovely floral china servings and a menu that records one lunch for the king, less homely but impressive things like tapestries and huge rugs, a desperately indulgent story of failing to plumb fountains for the ill-located Palace. It all had me welcoming revolution by the end, and sure enough, to my pleasure and the gasp of a woman beside me (her comment was "it's in all the text books"), David's pen-and-ink sketch of the oath at the tennis court (Le serment du Jeu de paume / Jacques-Louis David). Wow! Revolutionary politics in superbly detailed drawing. Fabulous. And a final, lightly despairing painting of Louis XVI awaiting his fate. So goes such indulgence (as I wonder why modern Australia still has a Queen).

These were two informative and attractive exhibitions worthy of our time and monies. Versailles : Treasures from the palace is at the National Gallery of Australia.

28 December 2016

Blockie I

I know I'm being ridiculously lazy with few posts, but hey it's Christmas. In the meantime, just a short note and some pics of the two blockbuster exhibitions currently in Canberra.

First is the 100 objects show from the British Museum. A string of important works dating from the earliest days, the stoneage. I remembered some from the BM, not least that stone handaxe from the Olduvai Gorge, which is actually the oldest thing on display (1.2-1.4 million years old). And there were some distinct favourites, not least due to my historical interests: the bronze head of Augustus; the Lewis chessmen and the model of Chinese Liubo players; the pieces of eight; the Peruvian Moche pots and Benin plaques and Iraqi clay tablet and Chinese jade bi and bust of Sophocles and Arabian bronze hand and Hebrew astrolabe and Russian revolutionary plate. And others. It will never be like a visit to the real thing (the British Museum. That's just overwhelming although still not my favourite museum: NYC's Met wins that for me). But this small sampling was a great pleasure and a worthy waste of a few hours. (cont.)

A History of the world in 100 objects : From the British Museum is at the National Museum of Australia.

21 December 2016

Photos all

When I've attended concerts in Canberra over the years, there's usually been a photographer. For jazz, it was Brian Stewart and I was lucky enough to launch his exhibition at early this year at Smith's. I wrote about it on CJ as a golden era. For classics, it was Peter Hislop and I've just attended his exhibition in the decidedly upmarket location of the High Court Foyer, now a popular classical music venue. Funnily, as I entered a guitar duo, Duo Amythis, was playing the final bars of a yet another concert. I hadn't known. Then Peters pics. Unlike Brian's, these are colour; like Brians's, they are digital. I loved the behind-the-scenes pics, especially when I knew the subjects and occasionally when I remembered the gig. Also the arrays of performers (choirs or orchestras) in black or common colours that is so attractive in this scene: it's great fun to find familiar faces. Peter's earliest pics go back to the first ACO gig in Sydney in 1976, so he's got serious history. These pics were mainly around Canberra, at Llewellyn or CIMF or NGA or the High Court itself, of local or visiting stars like Peter Sculthorpe, Roland Peelman, Chris Latham, AYO. I was amused to see jazz got a shoe in with John Mackey and Miro Bukovsky's shadow. The photos were too few, but interesting. I enjoyed his eye, it's good and eminently professional. The digital colour was just a little edgy in a big print, but it's an unavoidable vestige of the technology. It's good to see performers for the ordinary people they so often are. My mechanic surprised me the other day saying he'd played violin in an orchestra in his school days and had completed several years of AMEB. He went on to talk of the good, even raunchy, times of the students off at camp, and that the fine music types are not much different from the rock stars. There's a window on some of that ordinary humanity here. Nice. Excuse the pics; it was impossible to quote through glass in a bright High Court foyer.

Peter Hislop displayed a small selection of a very large collection of photos of music making in Canberra.

PS, I dropped into the National Gallery to waste a few minutes and found a new fave: Ethel Spowers. Here are some pics.

18 December 2016

Answers to different questions

There are answers here, but to totally different questions. We went to hear the latest concert of our mates, the Australian Haydn Ensemble, and it was fabulous. This was a larger ensemble for the night - they do a bigger ensemble every now and then. We've followed AHE since early days and they are seriously getting in their stride now, having released their wonderful first album on ABC records, and with a following and a history, they are developing a sense of presence and real purpose and, from the frequent open smiles, a great pleasure in the whole outing. AHE brings players from around Australia, but also from OS, not least some expat Aussies from London. This program featured a lineup of 21 in various combinations, guest directed by Eric Helyard with leader Skye McIntosh and solo flautist Melissa Farrow. The music was three of CPE Bach - Sinfonia E min Wq.178, Flute concerto D minor Wq.22 and Harpsichord concerto F minor Wq.43/1 - and one of namesake Haydn - Symphony no.49 F minor "La Passione". The whole was played with great dynamics and a fabulous sense to time and togetherness - I was in awe. We were lucky to be up front. Melissa's flute was clearly articulated and massively quick. I was stunned by the fast scalar lines with tack sharp tonguing. Fabulous. Then Erin with his harpsichord concerto part, again fast as, sweeping through phrasings that spelt harmonies that moved at will. Fabulous in playing and in the intellectual feat of the composition. Then Haydn. I'd played this (NCO 20 Aug 2016) so knew it intimately and that's both exciting and engrossing. The score doesn't look too scary, but this baroque era is unrelenting with occasional tripwire rhythms and sudden double-time phrases, so it can be tricky. And what pleasure to hear such experts laying into a tune you know: the easy bowing, nimble fingerings, comfortable reading, all on gut with baroque bows. And of course, the horns and bassoons and flutes and the rest, appearing inexorably but subtly amongst the strings, of the passages passed to seconds or violas, or Skye's lovely, purposeful solo-as-leader melodies. Suffice to say I enjoyed this immensely and it had us driving home, thinking of London, where so many concerts must be like this. A huge pleasure.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed CPE Bach and Haydn at the Great Hall at ANU University House under Erin Helyard (conductor, harpsichord soloist) and Skye McIntosh (violin, leader, musical director) with Melissa Farrow (flute soloist) and 18 others.

15 December 2016

No answers here

This was the end of year wrap-up at Politics in the Pub, chaired by Australia Institute director Ben Oquist with journalists Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Daniela Ritorto (SBS News), Matthew Knott (Fairfax) and Alice Workman (Buzzfeed) and I was disappointed. I guess I have to recognise these are all press-pack journos form Parliament House, so that's what busies them and pays their keep and I doubt there's much time for anything else, and they were called to speak for the 2016 Political Wrap. But despite the concerns about 24-hour news cycle and expectations of continual breaks and the sheer speed of Australian politics, this was all "Beltway' stuff. Probably it is all "Beltway" stuff because of that - the journos are just too busy to have time to think. I was interested that they remembered Turnbull's press conference clashing with Usain Bolt and Turnbull speaking at some club or other when the Brexit result was announced and Turnbull's delayed and caustic speech after the election and Shorten's treating it all like a win and the year as the "rise of the deplorables" and that photo of George Christensen. All jokey, and I guess you need this to survive the blistering pace in this bickering place. And it was interesting to hear of threats to Turnbull and likelihood of another PM being rolled and incumbency as the new burden, of Pauline Hansen as the big winner of the year, that she runs a "slick operation" after 20 years in politics and that she avoids the press and publishes videos direct to followers on FB. There were questions about post-truth and what to do about it (MK admitted he'd been fooled by one for a while - so was I): media has a role, but the public must be "skeptical consumers". About the saving Medicare stoush and opinion vs facts; di Natale representing his supporters who allow no deals with government; economic insecurity not being enough to explain Trump, culture is also important; that disdain for politics has always been around, but it's highlighted now, partly by the double dissolution election (One Nation would only have won one quota in a normal election); about incumbency and consistency and policies (ACT cited here, but demographics is also an issue); about sneering at bogans and need for conversation; about SkyNews as an internal broadcast between politicians (interesting). But not a mention that I remember of the end-game issue of climate change, and nothing substantial outside Australia and nothing at all outside US/UK. So we remained in that puddle of inbred concerns and battling that we all rail against. I wanted to ask "how long can they keep blaming Labor" but my question, too, would have been in the local swamp (excuse the borrowing). As the Arctic melts and our kids' future with it, along with 1% and education and poverty and the rest. Things are mighty wrong and Trump/Brexit are not the answer but sadly no answers here. We all just keep getting consumed.

The Australia Institute staged its Politics in the Pub 2016 Politics wrap-up chaired by director Ben Oquist with journalists Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Daniela Ritorto (SBS News), Matthew Knott (Fairfax) and Alice Workman (Buzzfeed).

13 December 2016

Hard one

Maybe I say this after every concert. This Maruki concert was as hard as anything I've played. It's also the best we've played the pieces (my perennial "she'll be right on the night" optimism). This Maruki concert was the best we've played these pieces. And the pieces were tricky. Saint-Saens Havanaise is a pretty easy read despite frequent changes of time signature and a tricky passage of thirds on the basses. That went nicely with the very capable Georgina Tran playing the violin solo out front. So young, so capable. Then Rossini William Tell overture. Everyone knows this one, especially the stormy, fast, tricky bit, but the work is four parts run in together with several tricky lines (not least chromatic runs at brisk speed and some latin dotted-crochet arpeggio-like phrases that jump into the thumb positions) but to sit on that idyllic pastoral melody or to bounce the two bass parts against each other (one playing on 1,2,3; the other playing an octave up on 1+,2+,3+) was a pleasure. When I got time, I noticed some impressively neat, fast, nicely intoned high strings which were a pleasure. Then John Gould, our leader, taking the solo violin role in Bruch violin concerto no.1. It's always a huge pleasure to play with a true professional (LSO principal viola, retired) and to hear his playing, so well phrased, incisive, intoned. (Mostly we hear his humourous tales of conductors and orchestras at rehearsal instead). Maruki member and ANUSOM graduate Elisha Adams took the baton to lead Bruch (her major was violin performance but she's found a recent interest in conducting). She did nicely with clear leads and I liked when the basses got a big smile for coming in on time after a particularly long count (I guess she was relieved). Then afternoon tea and the big work of the day: Dvorak symphony no.7 D minor. This may be the most difficult work I've played - symphonic in scope, complex with interleaved themes and phrasings, neat but also unpredicted. It's a work you need to know well or read very carefully, and we did it some community orchestra justice. So, another successful and challenging outing for Maruki.

Maruki Community Orchestra performed Saint-Saens, Bruch, Rossini and Dvorak at Albert Hall under John Gould and Elisha Adams (conductors) with soloists Georgina Chan and John Gould (violin).

10 December 2016

Catching up

It's coming on time to relax for Christmas, so that's my excuse. Here's my catchup on last Thursday, somewhat late and no pics. Morning was two performances, both recorded. Firstly, the Wind Ensemble from Brindabella Orchestra playing one of literally hundreds of Overture/suites by Telemann, this one in D major with four movements comprised of formal dance styles of the era. The Wind Ensemble was a quintet comprising 2xflute, 2xoboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. Then the U3A Recorder Orchestra led my Margaret Wright. This is a large ensemble with a range of recorders from the descants and tenors down to the boxy, new-styled (and seriously costly) basses. They played a range of music, Mozart, Paisible, Liadov, Bonsor and did it well, but the highlight was an world-premiere, original composition by member Graham Ranft, Requiem Thiepval, a reflection on the Thiepval Cemetery memorial in France, in four parts, apparently recreating the sound of wind through the arch under repair using a dissonant F/F# pair. Then some jazz at night. Tilt played a gig with our mate Richard Manderson sitting in on various saxes. An outdoor gig for primary school kids and their parents, an end-of-year celebration with sizzles and beers. Good fun and an opportunity to let go (for me on EUB and JB) with a beer or two. Always much enjoyed.

Brindabella Wind Ensemble, U3A Recorder Orchestra and Tilt played at various locations last Thursday. Tilt comprised Richard Manderson (sax), James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

07 December 2016

Almost the big one

This was the final concert for the 49th year of the Canberra Youth Orchestra. Next year is CYO's 50th anniversary. That makes 1967/68 its founding year, at the height of hippiedom, the Summer of Love, Sgt Pepper's, before the ecstasy of Woodstock and the descent of Altamont. Then disco. And in jazz, Miles' second great quintet and into his electric years, and the death of Coltrane. But the Western classical stream continued and continues. The CYO is a fine ensemble and the musicians excite beyond their almost-tender years. Last night's theme was Brahms, specifically his Symphony no.1 Cmin, as the main work, but accompanied by Chaminade for flute and orchestra with soloist Lily Bryant and Mendelssohn for violin with soloist Donica Tran and Sibelius Finlandia played by unaccompanied brass. The soloists were both hugely impressive and I guess we can expect even more over time. Finlandia is wonderfully evocative and a demanding play for brass alone, not least standing as they did (especially for the heavy metal tuba), but they did it well and it rings so nicely for brass. The Brahms was big, four movements, complex, sometimes innocent and delicate, other-times lyrical and mellifluous (I borrow some descriptions from the program), later bold and triumphant. Some eye-wateringly fast bass lines had me chuckling. Congrats to six bassists! This orchestra is a great training device but more than that, a huge pleasure to hear and follow. And a great buy to boot: get your generously cheap season tickets soon. 2017 features Idea of North, Claire Edwardes and Gabi Sultana, a concerto competition winner and James Morrison. Sounds like some jazz-age partying will seep into the CYO half-century celebrations.

Canberra Youth Orchestra played Chaminade, Sibelius, Mendelssohn and Brahms at Llewellyn Hall under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with soloists Lily Bryant (flute) and Donica Tran (violin).

05 December 2016


It's funny to think that I cut my middle finger, left hand, cutting a tomato for lunch, and I got through the NCO concerto concert with a bandage. It wasn't so bad (not bad at all) but it's a fear of musicians. I've heard tell of musicians' hands insured for millions; apocryphal, perhaps, and worthy of some amusement. This was the National Capital Orchestra's Concerto Concert. It's an annual end-of-year event where members take the limelight to play movements of concertos or perhaps take the stand as conductor. This time, the concertos were an interesting bunch: for two violas (Prot), for four horns (Schumann) and one more common, for flute (Mozart). Also a few songs from G&S and Verdi and a devilishly difficult piece, Liszt Les preludes, and a famous unfinished symphony (Schubert). It was a varied mixtape of music with plenty of challenges. That's how I like it. As expected, we cut the Liszt better than ever before ("she'll be right on the night") but still not perfectly. That must be a common refrain. The Mozart and Prot sat with nice classical order, so much so that we played the Mozart without conductor, in chamber style. Kaitlin was lovely in the arias and hit plenty of high notes. The four horns fascinated me with their volume and smooth interactions. Interesting to see the ear plugs out in the front rows that took the full force of the horns. (I wished for earplugs for the percussion to finish Liszt: it was ecstatically loud and close behind me). Then to end, Schubert's Unfinished symphony, simple lines but quite compelling. To end my first year with the NCO. I feel blessed. These guys can really cut it.

National Capital Orchestra played its end-of-year Concerto concert at John Lingard Hall at Canberra Grammar School. Composers were Liszt, Prot, Mozart, G&S, Verdi, Schumann and Schubert. Conductors were Leonard Weiss and Christian Renglii. Soloists were Alex Kunzelmann and Suzanna Powell (violas), John Smiles (flute), Kaitlin Nihill (soprano) and Angela Liu, Dianne Tan, Anne-Marie Siiteri and Iain Hercus (horns).

03 December 2016

Here be intellect

These are people I've heard a million times (or thereabouts) but even still it can be magical. Ambassador and bassist Jean-Luc had gathered John Mackey, Greg Stott and Mark Sutton to feature at a charity gig for Fijian schools. It was held in a relatively bush-like area of the Belgian Embassy gardens. ArtSound provided sound. Attendees were not huge but close and appreciative. Thanks also to donations from a few supporters and refreshments from Stella Artois and Tasmanian Ninth Island winery. I was in front of John, seemingly hearing every nuance from the bell of his tenor and following his uber-developed sense of melody. All the factors were there: time, form, harmony, substitution, extensions. It's in the book of jazz improv but it's a special pleasure to hear it unfolding in real time in real life. There's emotion of course, but not without immense intellect. On that score, I was disappointed to read the recent report on the ANU School of Music fiasco where I found jazz lumped somewhere with rock/pop as a lesser art relative to classical. Jazz is nowhere near a lesser art given its demands for theory and technical and emotional skills to improvise in real time while responding to others. But back to the pleasure of hearing this sophistication at close quarters. The clear sound from playing in the open helped. The notes that started or featured in a phrase, the lightly flashed fills, the sixteenth note run that fell endlessly, the scales of various colours, perhaps interrupted by quizzically repeated notes. All immensely satisfying in its exploration and interplay. And a solid band behind. John mentioned later how he often prefers his companions to hold when he goes out. Greg, Jean-Luc and Mark could do that. Mark might be more playful at times, kicking or snapping an accent or two. J-L played his walks and latins with consistency and skills that surprised me, given this is now a hobby for an otherwise busy ambassador and father. But his training shows. And Greg, playing a George Benson model semi-acoustic, simple, crisp toned and unaffected melody with lovely chordal fills and accompaniment. Understated but so pretty and so correct. They played a few of the most obvious standards - Cantaloupe, Softly, All the things, Blue bossa, Stella and the like - but these were anything but ordinary in their hands. Just a grand pleasure of the highest sophistication. Then the Telopea Jazz Band. This is a school band, but I chuckled when someone said "they don't make school bands like they used to". I think that was after Weather Report's Birdland. Birdland? This is demanding music and they pulled it off well. Some Motown, some jazz charts. Lots of kids playing surprisingly well. Again, Birdland, school band? Wow.

John Mackey (tenor), Greg Stott (guitar), Jean-Luc Bodson (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) played for an "Adopt a School" Fiji fundraiser at the Belgian Embassy. Telopea Jazz Band followed.

01 December 2016


Jeremy Leggett gave the Solar Oration 2016 at the ANU. I've not felt a lot of hope around climate change for a while, what with our politics and Trump and the rest, but I do read there is some: we perhaps have a year or four to turn things around; Paris succeeded and change is "irreversible"; business is coming around and technology is changing rapidly. A few stubborn outbursts still arise, and one was raised in questions: apparently Matt Canavan (LNP, Senator, Qld, Minister for Resources) had that very day extolled coal in the Senate. But even some of those who recognise the science, have some hope. (Only some ... quite a few don't). But I understand, if you give up you have definitely lost, so hope is needed. JL provided some hope in this talk. He spoke of his background, then of the global perspective, under three themes: global society awakening to the threat of climate change; insurgencies disrupting energy incumbencies fast; incumbencies facing multiple threats. His personal story was early years in oil research and exploration (not all geologists and oil-people are denialists), then environmental campaigning with Greenpeace in the 1990's, then social entrepreneurship with Solar Century and a few books amongst this (his latest was the basis of this talk and is available for free download from his site). He further split his talk into ~13 topics, around governments getting serious, public action, regulator activities, divestment and capital, legal actions, prices, batteries and electrical vehicles, efficiencies, role of data, development, utility death spiral ("coal in terminal decline"), oil/gas/nuclear debts, shale boom busted. There were some nice facts: the average age of oil industry staff is 49 (so soon for retirement); solar PV, battery and electric vehicle should have payback of 7.6 years in 2020 without subsidies (ROI 7.3%); little money is yet made in Green tech; Bloomberg: solar/wind to win cost war by 2020; solar lighting (now costing $5) replaces kero in Africa with $70pa saving; the climate wars are an "epic drama"; 4 US cities are already on 100% renewable power; legal actions against VW, Netherlands legislation and Exon-Mobil; solar has been bid at $24/MWh; some buses in Geneva can flash recharge in 15 sec (did I get that right?); carbon industry debts are rising and unsustainable. Not sure I caught all those correctly, so read the book. But regardless of the positives, "we are in a race against time ... desperate" and at least Paris has "given future generations a fighting chance" (Obama to US Delegation to Paris COP; not sure of precise quote). There were questions. Canavan got that mention above; militaries are not included under Paris, but none-the-less US military is active on reducing carbon; biological fuels; capture of carbon already in the atmosphere ("there's hope but..."); marine and aviation; behaviour change ("we won't shop our way out of these problems"); deniers respond to evidence by going to the bunker; leakage from coal seam gas mining; transition ("none of this happens overnight"; need for a "structured retreat"). And threats (was it HSBC who predicted a possible Oil crash 2013?), but predictions are only perfect in retrospective. In the meantime, there's a G20 Financial Stability Board Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures due end-Dec 2016: keep a watch for this! Lots of ideas and news and some hope, I guess.

Jeremy Leggett gave the Carbon Oration 2016 at ANU.