30 November 2019

Other times

It's the oldest church in Canberra (1844), to the extent that it has a European feel ascending the very steep staircase to the organ loft. St John's Anglican Church is small, even with its extension of 1872. It's proud and tall with its 1877 spire. Internally, the stained glass is pleasant and of an era and the wall feature plaques for deceased parishioners, often military, MPs and the like. And the organ loft features a none-too-large but quite lively-sounding two manual, tracker action organ built by Ron Sharp of Sydney Opera House fame. I am working my way through the organs of Canberra with the Royal School of Churn Music (ACT Branch) and this was their last monthly concert for the year. Three organist played and one flautist featured on one piece. Darryn Jensen opened with four chorale preludes by Bach. Nigel Poole played three movements from Yon Advent suite. Rosemary Shepherd and Shiela Thompson played Grétry Concerto in C major for flute and keyboard and Shiela ended with five canonic variations by Bach. Suffice to say, a lovely and moderately understated concert. This is not a big organ with big, deep power, but neat and textured and nicely spoken and the pieces were similarly restrained. Really a very lovely outing and a touch of an older Canberra, to the degree that there is such a thing.

Darryn Jensen, Nigel Poole and Shiela Thompson (organ) and Rosemary Shepherd (flute) performed a program for Advent for the Royal School of Church Music (ACT Branch) at St John's Anglican Church, Reid.

29 November 2019

The kids are alright

At least most of the kids. They get it and they will take the brunt of it. I only managed an early visit to the SS4C sit down in front of Parliament House. Too early; they were just getting set up. I passed by a few hours later, not too much later I thought, but there was little happening. As I write this, I have yet to see any reports. I hope for the best. Inside Parliament, they were making battle, to close down Unions and over Angus Taylor's latest indiscretions. It's indicative. The kids get it; the adults battle. The Taylor incident may be trivial, but it's indicative of the culture wars and corruption that we have come to expect. I once had some respect for Government, even when I didn't agree. I argued pollies entered to do good, even if they got waylaid. But now? With Adani going ahead and the Daily Telegraph informed of changed and unlikely numbers and the PM just innocently checking up with his Chief of Police mate in this context. And no Corruption Commission. And unions targeted while Westpac is found with 25m (now 29m?) errors with money-laundering implications. And remembering back to Indigenous walks across the Bridge and massed demos against Iraq when there were no WMDs and when this was transparently clear at the time and yet we went to war. I can understand desperation and mental illness and tired resignation in these circumstances. What I don't understand is the ethics of those who can carry all this out. I find it hard to believe intelligent people believing the cherrypicking and rare denier academics and echo chambers and the rest. And ignoring follow-the-money path around the world's biggest industry. (Although I do despair that truth is increasingly hard to determine. That's a parallel argument of our time but climate is clear enough). Here's my letter once written seeking to understand climate denial:

I'm intrigued by the psychology of denial. Is it a deep internal conflict that expresses itself in phrases like "I don't question the science, but..."? Or in claims of "technology neutrality" associated with demands for coal, or attacks on the "ideology" of others while ignoring or twisting the science. Or worse, maybe they are just lying through their teeth, or have sold their souls. Remember, we're talking end of civilisation here. Not trivial. I wouldn't want that on my conscience.

It got in the paper without the final sentence (Letters, Canberra Times 16 Jun 2017) and I was attacked for calling names and not seeking proof (joke!) and amazingly chided on "the difference between science and faith". Amusing. I had previously written my concise summary of climate change and sent it to papers and pollies and, despite the CO2 figures requiring updating, I still stand by it. As I hear of 153 fires in NSW on the news just an hour ago, after a bushfire season that started in winter in the middle of a drought that has country and now city water supplies dangerously dropping.

All you really need to know about climate change. We're one big civilisation and climate is changing fast given a sudden imbalance of carbon since the industrial revolution. The mechanism of greenhouse gasses has been known to science for 150 years or so and we're at 400ppm and adding another couple each year, and 2 degrees warming (guessed to come at 450ppm) is a rough, perhaps optimistic, estimate of where runaway climate change could happen given various feedback loops (the ubiquitous "tipping points") and it looks to me like we've got Buckley's chance of staying within 2 degrees. With business as usual, IPCC estimates 3-6 degrees rise by 2100. That's just 86 years. Scientists provide the proof of all this for honest readers. To me it looks like game over and sooner than we think. I just hope I'm wrong because nobody wins an argument with physics.

I sent this one to Letters, The Australian, Dec 2014 but it wasn't published. We are now at CO2 ~408ppm and rising 2/3 ppm each year. (Monthly Average Mauna Loa CO2 : October 2019: 408.53 ppm / October 2018: 406.00 ppm / Last updated: November 5, 2019 [https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/, viewed 29 Nov 2019]). In that context, I will lead a short discussion session on Climate soon. Here are our preparatory readings.

It's such a big topic but my thinking was thus: 11,000 scientists warning ( > Paris gaps > Specific countries > Tipping points > Possible futures ). I suggest we just peruse the 11,000 scientists warning, then the rest can be happy reading over our Christmas break.

11,000 scientists warning
Article > https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/climate-crisis-11000-scientists-warn-of-untold-suffering
Paper > https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806

UNEP Gap Audit 2019
Article > https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/26/united-nations-global-effort-cut-emissions-stop-climate-chaos-2030
Paper > https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/30797/EGR2019.pdf

Country contributions
Article > https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/each-countrys-share-co2-emissions

Climate tipping points
Article > https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/27/climate-emergency-world-may-have-crossed-tipping-points
Paper > https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0

Possible futures - Implications of +1 degC, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ...
Article > http://www.globalwarming.berrens.nl/globalwarming.htm

So there you go. The whimper is all around us; the bang is coming. I wish the kids the best. They get it.

The School Strike for Climate (SS4C) staged a sit down strike outside Parliament House.

25 November 2019

So this is Christmas

It's Messiah so it must be Christmas. We went to Handel Messiah. Not a rare event, but a pleasant one. This time, in Llewellyn Hall, with nice comfy seats in place of church pews, so that was a plus. Not the only plus, of course. It's a great work, very memorable and attractive and satisfying as choral works are. And it's a work of audience participation, standing as we all did through the Hallelujah chorus, then clapping. The clapping surprised me. It's the end of part two, but I didn't expect the interruption of applause. Roland Peelman was up front, conducting from the harpsichord chair, flailing and emoting as he does so effectively. Anything Roland puts his hands to is gold. And the orchestra was that. They worked hard, certainly not least Kyle on bass, and it was consistently comfortable and easy and melodious. Peter Clark led from the first violin chair, emoting with body movements and leading a very responsive and neatly consonant and flowing group. Amy Moore, Stephanie Dillon, Richard Butler and Andrew O'Connor sang the solo parts with confidence. At various times, I was convinced by each of them. The choir was large, Canberra Choral Society Massed Choir, being the CCS augmented with paying unauditioned guests. I toyed with this one year, but it's a big ask, a short, intensive preparation and quite costly. So no. The Llewellyn never grants players the ability to overwhelm with power and volume. No different here: for all the numbers, the choir was not powerfully loud, although you adjust and it is satisfying. The part were a little unbalanced, too, but that's a function of lack of men in choirs and largely unavoidable. Dan Walker had clearly prepared the choir well with Anthony Smith as accompanist. But the time went quickly, and I felt more intimacy this time than most. Perhaps the choruses or the structure is becoming better known to me, but the hours (3.5 hours from start to end, including the interval) went intriguingly and pleasantly. It's a lovely tradition if a harsh story that's less central to our society these days. But the program argued it had been written as entertainment, for theatre rather than church, and so it's fitting and it worked. A big and satisfying production.

The Canberra Choral Society, its massed choir and orchestra, performed Handel Messiah at Llewellyn Hall under Roland Peelman (conductor) with Peter Clark (concertmaster) , Amy Moore (soprano), Stephanie Dillon (alto), Richard Butler (tenor) and Andrew O'Connor (bass).

24 November 2019

One take

In some ways it takes one to know one. I'm learning that as I listen to music I've played or groups in the style I play. I joked as we entered the Albert Hall for the latest Australian Haydn Ensemble concert, featuring visiting European period violin star Midori Seiler, that we were there to learn from our betters. From the first notes, I decided it was evidently true. I don't think I'd quite realised it before to this extent, but this was very close to home, an ensemble in format somewhat like Musica da Camera and playing Mozart and Haydn much like much of our music (although we can be more disparate, too, more modern, even minimalist). But the clarity and precision and sweet tones did it for me. And the glances at Midori as leader and her bodily interpretation. All wonderful and exemplary. I can blame the instruments to some degree (we play modern instruments tuned to A=440 and no gut) and I do, but that's mainly a joke, although the tone is wildly different and avidly apt. Jackie's bass was sweet, deep, soft (gut, baroque bow) where mine is edgy, crisp, clear and hard to bow (Spirocores, modern bow). But that's just one aspect. Ignoring that, they just do it like a dream. I love AHE in their end-of-year large format and with Midori they just positively sang. They played one symphony and one violin concerto from each of Mozart and Haydn (K.319 and K.211; VIIa/1 and I:80). Did I mention I enjoyed it? And that learnt a motza? Just a fabulous outing.

Australian Haydn Ensemble were led by Midori Seiler (violin) at the Albert Hall.

23 November 2019


I can little comment on Stuart Long and his latest concert. I set up a recording, heard a first piece by Prokofiev, then had to leave. That Prokofiev was a pleasure. Short, but sweet; recounting, in four short movements, a grandmother in front of a fire in a bitter Russian winter telling fairy tales to her grandchildren. So this was quite delicate. It was Old grandmother's tales op.31. He then played Scriabin 24 Preludes, but I was gone. Wish I could have stayed. That Prokofiev was a lovely entree but the main course went missing.

Stuart Long (piano) played Prokofiev and Scriabin at Wesley.

22 November 2019

What si truth

We are in a time when truth is relative, when facts are queried, where people will say and believe something on flimsy evidence or none or on hearsay. We used to be certain; we trusted our institutions and media and their truths were ours. Largely. For good and bad; in a decent society, mostly for good. These days I feel conservative, trying to maintain some grasp of truth, still laying trust in science and largely in the media, but the pollies have lost it and the West, or maybe the Anglosphere, is awash with the unbelievable. From pollies, from some media, from various conspiracies and self servers. I remember a visiting ex-US Admiral in Canberra in the '80s who spoke to a political group about CIA stories that were invented and published through MSM to influence opinions. He talked that time of one case which had been very successful. I had followed this very case a few months earlier, about something in Africa, that seemed odd but... It had been successful so it ran an unusually long time, perhaps 2 weeks. But it was false, invented. That is, if I could believe this ex-US Admiral, if that's what he was. Then we watch conspiracies, the noddy ones like no Moon landing and vaxxers. At least they are just nutty and not commercial or government plots. Either way, they can still be dangerous. Vaxxers have real personal and social costs and climate denialism is existential and unrecoverable. That's the biggie and it may finish us all off. So who do we trust? People we know are a start, and institutions that have history. But when you don't know how you can confirm truth, you/we are in trouble. So this mills around in my mind as I go to a book launch by Tony Kevin.

Tony is a musical acquaintance and ex-diplomat and author of some serious works of investigation, not least on Siev-X. He was interviewed by a friend who holds my considerable respect, Ernst Willheim, lawyer, advisor, academic. Tony was launching his new book, Russia and the West : The last two action-packed years 2017-19. It's a product of Tony's recent visits and consideration of international relations with respect to Russia. He talked first of Russian's awareness and acceptance of their history: WW2, Yeltzin's "failed state", revival under Putin. [What, I think: Revival under Putin?] "It's not an accident that Putin is so popular in Russia". [I had heard something like this before.] Then on through normality, manners, pride, law and order which are "ahead of Australia now" [thinking of strip searches and Dutton's blackshirted staff]. Russia is self-sufficient, no longer worrying what the West thinks of it [!]. There's inequality, oligarchical capitalism, and Putin requires "loyalty" from his capitalists, but for ordinary people there's welfare, health, justice "better than Australia" [thinking of our string of current secret court cases, Collaery, Witness K, several others and ex-NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy: "At first blush, this looks like the complete abandonment of open justice" ('Are we now a totalitarian state': case of Canberra's mystery prisoner alarms judge / Christopher Knaus, IN The Guardian 20 Nov 2019)]. Then misreporting by Anglo/Australian media. Proof? 1/ Tony has analysed the Skripal case and claims the official Western story has contradictions and lies: different poison, little evidence, threadbare story and passing nurses and contradictory evidence from Swedish scientists. [I think of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iran and the conflict with UN investigations, but still used as an excuse for war. The unreliability of claims was self evident a mile off, even in our press, but we - Howard, Bush2, Blair - still went ahead. Great outcome there!]. 2/ White Helmets, "killers under humanitarian cover", and that Syrian chemical weapons attack. [I think of the recent news announcement of the leader of the White Helmets having died and how I'd been surprised he was ex-SAS or similar. It seemed odd even before I heard from Tony]. The evidence of the chemical attack and the missile on the bed with moderately russled bed clothes and no injury to the bed and that hole in the roof. "Completely false story, accepted by the West" says Tony. He also claimed we were very close to WW3. [I'm not sure how I feel on this. See https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/is-this-proof-white-helmets-staged-chemical-attack/ and more]. 3/ Downing of MH17, "an unexplained incident full of ... " [I missed the last words here]. No impartial investigation was held; within hours the US Secretary of State had allocated blame "I've seen the evidence" (Quick evidence may be feasible with satellites etc. but I am assuming that it was not released]; "convenient", Air traffic control had even allowed the flight. "It's been a propaganda stunt" said Tony. Tony talked on about being on the outer, how he's not now invited to ABC or book events despite his success with Siev-X. He spoke of an entrenched narrative, that Russia and China are the West's nemesis and of a new cold war. Then of who sets policy. It's clear enough that DFAT is less influential and intelligence and defence agencies are more. Why? The Military Industrial Complex, or is that another conspiracy? But wasn't the Iraq war illegal? Certainly it didn't have Security Council approval. Then on to Julian Assange ("being brain murdered") and Collaery and the whistle-blowers and thinking more broadly on "the national security state that we've become". Think Dutton again, and how our Internet and mobile use is tracked (all of us, quite legally, and we pay for it) and those ~80 pieces of security legislations since 9/11. And Five Eyes as the real source of international policy formulation for Australia. And Tony again: "I don't see that changing in a hurry". Then a few words from the Russians, from a representative of the Embassy who advised that "our relations [with Australia] are frozen at the moment". That trade/economic ties are "below zero" (and the Russians know of low temperatures) although some cultural, medical, scientific sports tourism relations continue. Our 2014 sanctions on Russia include a ban on political relations, so no Federal Minister of higher can meet with Russians. And to end, truth, trust and fear ("truth is what trusted people say"). And imposed narratives; agents provocateurs, loyalty. And finally advice to put Russia on your tourist bucket list. So, I leave in a muddle. Truth is more confused and its sources more vague and unsure than ever. I'm sure someone wins out of that. Trump and his mates, perhaps?

Tony Kevin (author) launched his latest book, Russia and the West : The last two action-packed years 2017-19, at Paperchain Bookshop with Ernst Willheim prompting the discussion.

21 November 2019

Hard work

My first gigs were with pop and rock bands way back and I remember the standard gig as 4 hours. These days, such a time seems unusual, too long, but Tilt did one the other night. And, come to think of it, we did another at a party just a few weeks before. It's hard work. Setting up, then playing, then dismantling. Mostly we play 2 or 3 hours or thereabouts these days. I particularly like the 90-min single set as a concert-like format: long enough to warm up and stretch out, but not so long that you tire. I play double bass now, so that's much more effort than the old e-bass. In this case, the 4 hours gig on a Saturday night was sandwiched between Musica da Camera gigs on Sat and Sun afternoons, one in Cooma, and otherwise the weekend was long and busy with other activities. We managed the gig with 3 long sets and just one slightly lengthened break for a shortish speech. Despite the hard work, the gig was immense fun. We played well; the family was in good spirits and was enjoying each other and the music; the theme was James Bond and we played influences from that. All in all, a great outing in a busy weekend, but wouldn't have missed it for quids.

Tilt Trio played a Bond themed party. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass).

  • Thanks to Wikicommons for the James Bond pic. Sean Connery as James Bond in Amsterdam in Diamonds are forever. Pic by Rob Mieremet; provided with permission by the Dutch National Archives.
  • 19 November 2019


    Our travelling circus reformed for the last of this year's concert weekends and again it was a great pleasure. And, I trust the audience considered it a musical success. This time, we featured visiting soloist Rowan Phemister on harp for a Handel concerto and a Debussy pair of dances. Yes, a varied pair, with the order of Handel and the C20th impressionism of Debussy. The Debussy was a pair of dances, Danse sacrée & Danse profane, so not obviously danceable in any contemporary sense. The other works were for the string orchestra, more Debussy and a Sibelius and one work that is another unusual find, perhaps not otherwise on the Net, that had one of our members converting the score in Sibelius from the hand-written part: Castrucci Concerto grosso op.3 no.4. Castrucci is largely unknown today, but Hogarth caricatured him and he studied with Corelli and played with Handel. He was a Roman violin virtuoso living in London. It surprises me that these discoveries remain, but they are not particularly rare given lots of hand-written music in store. The more obscure are in various libraries; ours was just a scanned handwritten score on IMSLP. So, another successful and satisfying Musica da Camera concert series, first up in Cook then reprised in Cooma for a small audience.

    Musica da Camera performed Handel, Castrucci, Sibelius and Debussy in Cook and Cooma under under Rosemary Macphail (conductor) with soloist Rohan Phemister (harp).

    13 November 2019

    Weddings, parties...

    A chamber group from the Maruki Orchestra played for the funeral service of Anne Bicknell at Albert Hall. It's not a normal gig but Anne was a foundational member of Maruki and had rehearsed the day before she suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed. Anne was always a helpful, supportive smiling face, welcoming and musical and no doubt a much-loved and worthy doctor as well (she was a GP in Ainslie and Director at BreastScan ACT). Her musical interests ranged widely, from AYO to the Australian and International Doctors' Orchestra. The musical tributes included her nephews Charles and Raphael Hudson singing Handel with Anthony Smith and our Maruki chamber-sized group playing Beethoven Violin concerto Dmaj op.61 mvt.2 Larghetto with John Gould as soloist. Anne will be missed.

    Maruki Orchestra, John Gould, Charles Hudson, Raphael Hudson and Anthony Smith performed at the funeral celebration of Anne Margaret Bicknell.