Friday, September 22, 2017

Fabulous ceilings #2

Paris Opera singers would have known these ceilings well in the twentieth century when the Palais Garnier was the home of the Paris Opera.  The building excels in fabulous everything. I posted photos from a mobile phone in June - these are a little better.

Fabulous ceiling #2 : Ceiling by Chagall in the concert hall of the Palais Garnier

Fabulous Ceiling #3:Golden ceiling with lizards: Palais Garnier reception hall.
Fabulous ceiling #4: Horses nymphs and furious activity: Palais Garnier Hall

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fabulous ceilings#1

Louvre: fabulous ceiling #1
Is it possible to trump this wonderful ceiling in the Louvre?  I wonder how often the inhabitants looked upwards when it was once a royal palace.

My ceiling is not so fabulous, but just in case you do look upwards you'll find some painted wooden birds floating above you. They were bought in Indonesia many years ago, from children selling them on the roadside.

Wooden birds suspended from the ceiling

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Kraggerud and the ACO

Kraggerud in Sydney
There is just something about seeing a musician playing music written by a composer from his/her own country and this week I saw/heard a Norwegian violinist, Henning Kraggerud, playing Grieg with the ACO. It was a fine concert and it made me wonder why nationality makes a difference. A complex question that probably has several answers.

Kraggerud took the opportunity to explain exactly what he and the orchestra were playing to the audience. He got a good reception.

Their last piece, Grieg's String Quartet No 1 in G Major is a piece I know well as I made a movie called Dancing Violins featuring this piece in 2010 at the National Art School in Sydney. When you make an animated movie like this you start from the soundtrack and listen to it, or bits of it, over and over and over again - much as  musician does when practicing a piece.

I used the soundtrack from the Engegård Quartet, a Norwegian Quartet I had just heard at the Maribor Music Festival and who graciously consented to me using their soundtrack.

Dancing Violins

Kraggerud and the ACO played Grieg much as the Engegård Quartet played Grieg, with that indefinable touch that makes you feel as if this is really how the composer heard this music in his own head. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Winter (etching)

It doesn't pay to put your woollies away too early. We are back to winter this week. It was 9C this morning but felt like 0C because of the wind chill factor.

This is an etching I did in Dunedin where the bath was my refuge in winter. I added the colouring more recently.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Imogen Cooper - a win win situation

Imogen Cooper plays
You have to be careful what sort of concert you hear after a five star Parsifal but I think I chose just the thing. I heard pianist Imogen Cooper playing Beethoven and Hayden at the Sydney City Recital Hall.

Cooper is as expert in her field as the Parsifal singers were in theirs and the program she chose was clever as well. Light-hearted Beethoven Bagatelles leading into a serious Hayden then a fun Beethoven Variations (yes, Beethoven can be surprisingly witty) before a sombre-piquant piece by Adès leading into Beethoven's Sonata 31, the final piece.
Cooper played the Bagatelles with impish charm. Actually charm sums up a lot of Cooper. She is humorous and enthusiastic and it shows in her music making. After the concert someone near me complemented her playing and she replied “ Well I enjoy playing for you so it's a win win situation."

After the fun pieces she jumped up off the piano stool to bow with a grin but the final Beethoven sonata was different. Captive to the music, she came back to us with much more difficulty. I find those exposed intimate moments so telling. The feeling was mirrored in her.listeners who clapped her back onto stage again and again - not so common in Sydney audiences.

Music played with aplomb and depth of feeling. Cooper and Parsifal have lots in common.

Two times Parsifal

If you look at blogs about recordings of Wagner's music you find connoisseurs discussing which singer is best on which recording. Each recording has one or two blemishes together with outstanding performers.  It is rather a pity that the Sydney Parsifal was not recorded (at least not to my knowledge) as there were no blemishes at all.

Music is so therapeutic. I was still energy-less after a nasty travel gastro when I booked the Tuesday performance (I had already booked Saturday). I thought the music would help recovery and I was right. The Adelaide Ring Cycle had helped me in similar circumstances, resulting in a book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Parsifal in Sydney

I was reading Wagner's letters to Mathilda Wesendonk (original version, online for free) on the way to Sydney to see Wagner's opera Parsifal and came across a letter (July 1859) telling Mathilda about Wolfram's book Parsifal. 'There are so many gaps in the story,' writes Wagner, 'if you wrote an opera you'd have to explain too much. It won't be me who writes it! Let someone else do it and Liszt can write the music!” 

He also recommends Mathilde read a book on Buddhism that he had recently discovered. At the time Wagner was immersed in Tristan and Isolde, but his letters show the beginnings of Parsifal even at this early stage.
I thought about Wagner's letter as I listened to bass Kwangchul Youn sing the role of Gurnemanz, the character who does most of the 'explaining' in this over five hour opera. Youl sang his very long part part with firmness and vocal ease setting the stage for a wonderful cast of characters of carry on the story. The wonderful reviews this performance is receiving are well deserved (five and a half stars out of five). 

Purple carpet in the Sydney Opera House
Dinner on the purple steps.
Parsifal is seldom performed in Australia so it was no surprise to find that Wagner fans had flown in from all over the country to hear this concert performance. I overheard guests remarking on the large number of people from Melbourne in the audience and I bumped into a friend from New Zealand who booked tickets to two of the three performances. His mate was going to all three. Well, it's Parsifal, so why wouldn't you if you could? Particularly with the singers Opera Australia lined up for the performance which include star German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, American mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung and Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe. Not many singers can sing these demanding roles but this cast was, without exception, excellent, even faced with the very ordinary concert hall acoustics.

The sooner Sydney gets an acoustically wonderful opera house the better but how could an opera house anywhere else compete with these views?
View from the Sydney Opera House

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sewing Sunday

Last time I made covers for the cushions of my old (1970s) cane chairs, I pinned the gaps instead of sewing them closed, something I realised only this weekend, when when I replaced them.  The pins were rusty and difficult to remove. Perhaps I never finished them because I was unconvinced about the cover material, or was it lack of time or just laziness?

Whatever the cause, those covers have now been discarded and replaced by a new set - this time with the back gap sewn shut.

Perhaps these ones are permanent.
Odd how much more prominent
the pattern looks in a photo. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hard landing

I have been back in Australia for two weeks, but it has been a hard landing. Jetlag always seems to be harder on the way back to Australia but I was just about in my right time zone and almost had the stomach bug defeated when I had to have a tooth extracted, a cracked tooth I had been trying to save but which had become re-infected. My choice was to have it extracted 'now' or wait a month and I chose 'now'.  The decision saved me from a month of dire imaginings, but it was a difficult extraction.

The upside of the story is that while I hibernated and recovered from all my woes I developed a strong urge to de-clutter and took the opportunity to act on the urge. Out went clothes, books, CDs and unused household items. Only art materials were spared and they are my main space invader, but you've gotta have what you've gotta have.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coffee in Oz

First coffee back in Australia after nearly two months.

I heard in London that there are several new cafés being started by Australians. I can see why they would be successful. The coffee shops I visited in London all felt a bit like conveyer belt establishments. Slick, perhaps, but lacking that personal touch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A movie marathon

I made it home safe and sound and the flight back did not seem as long as usual.
Partly that must be due to the three excellent German movies I watched:  Mr & Mrs Adelman, My blind date with life (Meine blinde Date mit dem Leben) and SMS for you (SMS für Dich). I recommend them all - charming, witty and insightful. 

Singapore Airlines knows how to pick them.  I watched Barbara on the way over and it was also excellent (about the difficult choices people had to make about living in East or West during the DDR days).

I listened to Jonas Kaufmann sing his way through Mahler's Lied von der Erde, a new recording from Vienna with Kaufmann singing both tenor and baritone parts. I enjoyed it so much (with noise cancelling headphones - best travel investment ever) I listened to the whole thing twice.  I think I'll have to buy the CD. There were still some hours until landing so I watched a New York production of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Blum playing Romeo.

No wonder the flights seemed shorter - and in fact they are, an hour and a half shorter than the other direction and you notice the difference.

Now I'm back in NSW. It must be winter as lots of people on the train had colds although the temperature is about the same as Hamburg in early June. The difference is that houses here are chronically underinsulated and underheated so it seems much much colder.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Neckar Valley

The Neckar river, a tributary of the Rhine, winds from Mannheim south east to Stuttgart.

The Neckar Valley, east of Heidelberg, is a very pretty place and ideal for convalescents who need to recover from stomach bugs and weddings.
Rainbow in the Neckar Valley
I have spent three water-and-boiled-rice days here and have been very grateful that I have been able to recover at the home of friends. Also very grateful for the lift here by a family member on the way to Frankfurt. My cloud has had many silver linings.

The view over the Neckar Valley changes constantly with the weather and apparently rainbows are common, though not rainbows as spectacular as this one.

The diet and rest has worked a treat and I feel very much better, which is just as well as I leave shortly. I write this in Frankfurt Airport, waiting for my flight.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Wedding in Alsace

My ultimate destination in France was a family wedding in the Alsace not far from Strasbourg. I had intended to spend two days in Strasbourg, but the EU Parliament was sitting for exactly the two days I would have been there and hotel prices tripled, so I chose Paris instead.

From Paris I took the TGV (fast train) east. The speed of the trains are posted on internal screens  so I know we traveled 317k/m but it didn't feel that. It was an easy trip.

In Strasbourg I joined other family members to drive south. Our destination was about an hour and a half from Strasbourg but we stopped at picturesque Obernai for lunch then headed for the tiny roads to wind our way over the hills to beat the heat (34C). The temperature guage dropped as we climbed through the forests.

The Alsace is as pretty as they say. Lots of forests, patches of wheat and hay, houses built to withstand snow, some villages with very  'French' architecture and others that reminded of Switzerland.
Bluets et Brimbelles. Definately recommended.
Our accommodation,  Bluets et Brimbelles  was an artfully renovated barn. The internal woodwork leading up the three storeys was beautiful and the place was big enough to accommodate a larger family party.  Family members arrived a couple of days early so there was time to adjust and to help. It also meant the wedding became a sort of family reunion as well.
Stairwell at Bluets et Brimbelles
Bluets et Brimbelles reminded me of those TV Building and Renovation programs.  This one was a very successful make over. 
 View from our accommodation
The wedding was held over three days. As international guests (there were many) arrived they joined the local family for lunch under the shade of hazelnut trees. Dinner was within walking distance at a community building down the road with lovely gardens and extensive lawns. Lunch the next day was at the same venue where locals made Flammekueche in an outdoor oven.
Making Flammekueche
After lunch guests walked over to the town hall for the wedding ceremony. The hall was already brimming with local townfolk.

The ceremony was about an hour long, most of it designed by the bridal party. It was casual, charming and moving.
Town hall wedding
Share rides were organised to get everyone to the venue of the celebration party in the evening (40 minutes away), and to he breakfast venue next day.
The three days were a masterpiece of good planning; very relaxed but effective. All credit to the young couple.

Party venue with dancers
The Alsatians are rightly proud of their food. On every side people were exclaiming at how delicious this or that was. Unfortunately I can't report myself as I got a stomach bug on day 1 and was on 3 days of water rations.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Louvre

The Louvre opens at 9am and the weather forecast said 'hot' so I arrived at 8:30. There was already quite a queue but once the museum opened the crowds moved in fairly quickly.
Queues at the Louvre at 8:30. 
The glass pyramid houses the entrance steps and once inside it was interesting to watch the crowds orientate in the large underground courtyard. Many people made straight for the Mona Lisa - including me. It was very well signposted so the crowds moved quickly up the stairs and around the corners ignoring artworks on the way.  I must have stopped to look more than others as there was a large crowd of people craning to take pictures when I arrived.
Crowds taking selfies with Mona Lisa

This is what they were looking at
The Mona Lisa is a sort of pilgrimage piece and when you see the crowds taking photos of this and all the other work you find yourself contemplating art and it's importance in society.

I moved on to the 'decorative arts' wing.  It was a good choice as the museum is too big to see in its entirety and the decorative arts section was fascinating. I had not yet been to the similarly adorned Palais Garnier, so the decorations on the walls and ceilings were the first of the type I saw.

Some walls were plain, others were entirely covered with every sort of decoration.
Decorative arts plus

The vitrines were full of remarkable objects like this, a bowl with head carved from.a single piece of marble
I would take some photos then put my camera back in my bag saying 'no more photos' then walk into another room, gasp and take out the camera again. The artisanship on display is extraordinary.

Creation of the world clock

Friday, July 07, 2017

La Sylphide in Paris

Hugo Marchand. It's a name I had to look up when I got home but all those sitting near me at the Paris Ballet knew him and whooped when he came on stage after his performance in La Sylphide.  I suspect some went to the ballet just to see him.
Taking their bows
He was the star of the evening although I think the ballerina who danced la Sylphide was actually the main role. She was excellent, he was unforgettable.

In the Palais Garnier
It is a long time since I have been to a ballet and I didn't realise it is rather like opera where the audience will clap an aria. The ballet was a story as an excuse for a series of set pieces each of which were applauded.
Hall in the Palais Garnier
I went because it was performed in the Palais Garnier which I had seen a model of in the Musee dOrsay. It is an elaborate building with a famous ceiling by Chagall.

Palais Garnier entrance hall

The building didn't disappoint and nor did the Chagall. You couldn't wish for anything more ornate - and the ceiling is beautiful.
In fact every time you look up you see another artful ceiling.
Chagall ceiling

Ceiling in adjoining hall

Thursday, July 06, 2017


Paris! What a pleasure to be in a city that looks as if it is loved. Flat footpaths that are easy to walk on and aesthetically designed buildings.
View from the steps of the Palais Garnier

Central Paris, like central London, is noisy and busy but I don't find the noise and crowds oppressive here. I am trying to figure out why I feel so much more comfortable in Paris than London despite lack of language here. I guess I am simply more European than British.
Bollards at the Louvre

I have landed in a part of Paris with many Africans and African shops.  I took a Metro to  look around and landed in an area with five Japanese restaurants and a Japanese food store in one block.

The Metro is so well signposted it could be a model for other cities (I'm looking at you Sydney).

Chunnel tunnel

Getting on the Eurostar train to Europe at St Pancras station in London, is a bit of a hassle with security and customs just like the airport,  but once you are on it is oh so easy. You speed across the English countryside (and several tunnels) then into another tunnel and suddenly you pop out in the middle of French wheat fields.

It makes you realise just how close these countries really are.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Salisbury and the Magna Carta

Salisbury is an hour and a half by train from London and near Stonehenge so it is a perfect place for a day trip. Southern Rail offers promo return fares.
It's a pretty little place but its main claim to fame is its wonderful Gothic cathedral and adjoining Chapter House which houses one of the four copies of the Magna Carta still in existence.

Seeing the Magna Carta was worth the trip by itself. It is written on cow skin parchment in such beautiful but tiny writing you wonder how the scribe managed it. He must have been young with a steady hand and excellent eyesight.

Photo of part of the Magna Carta
The Salisbury Cathedral is one of great beauty. It is very plain grey-brown stone, built in the 13th century, with high arching columns. How did the builders manage to get those columns so perfectly round I wonder. Wooden lathes and lots of elbow grease said the friendly guide, Steve Dunn. 
How did the stonemasons get these surfaces so perfect in 1220? 
Steve Dunn was a mine of information and said that the interior of the church would once have been painted (you could see traces on the walls and roof if you looked hard enough) but that this was all scrubbed off during the reformation as it was considered too Popery. It remains the oldest purely gothic church in exsistence.

The scrubbed version of the church, which lacks any of the fancy trimmings that came in the later gothic, is entrancing. 
Gothic cathedral at Salisbury.
(Photos don't do it justice)
There is a modern and stunning window in one wall dedicated to  'all prisoners of conscience'.

Window dedicated to all prisoners of conscience
One of the things the cathedral houses is the world's oldest working clock. I found out just how complicated clocks are when I was at Dunedin art school and make one. It was so complicated I gave up. This clock in Salisbury was constructed in 1368 and is still working.
World's oldest clock
There are lots of tombs in the church and a wonderful plaque to the 'vertuous (sic) and religious Elhonor Sadler'. I said to Steve Dunn that she looked like someone you wouldn't want to cross and he replied that she had had a reputation for timing the sermon with an hourglass and then complaining if it was a single minute less than an hour.
'vertuous and religious'
An interesting exhibition of figures by artist Ama Maria Pacheco called Dispersing the Night was set up through the cathedral. The figures included John the Baptist's head on a plate seems to have followed me from Leipzig where Salome cut it off.
Dispersing the night

There was also a floral tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire. (Steve Dunn's comment : 'We'd be remiss if we didn't have one.)
Floral tribute to Grenfell victims
at Salisbury Cathedral
As you can tell, I was captivated by this church and it's history. Definitely recommend a visit!