Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wagner's Music as Love Potion

Wagner's Music as Love Potion? Blue Tulips: A Love Story is a book that demonstrates how potent this love potion can be.

Blue Tulips: A Love Story is now available as paperback

Available as e-book at:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Murder, Redemption and King Roger

One would not normally compare a chamber orchestra with an opera company, but I happened to see the Australian Chamber Orchestra and an Opera Australia production within days of each other this month, so here is my take on them both.

In the nineties OA put on a wide variety of operas from a wide variety of composers with wonderful singers, mostly Australian. It was an exciting company. Then the management changed and every production seemed to be a reality TV show. Perhaps someone thought it was the way to win a younger audience but avid opera fans drifted away. I got a subscription to the Australia Chamber Orchestra instead and discovered a vibrant  band of passionate players who have so enriched my life that I can only thank OA for sending me in their direction.

I had chosen to see Opera Australia's production of King Roger because it was billed as 'something different' but I probably wouldn't have gone to the ACO Murder and Redemption concert if I had not had a series subscription because it included American folk songs and I couldn't imagine how they could be combined successfully with a classical offering. So I expected more from one concert than the other.

Unfortunately I found King Roger underwhelming. The music itself is worth hearing, but I found the production too similar to other over-sexualised or pop-culture OA offerings. The program notes described how the composer Szymanowski struggled with his homosexuality, so a reference to this would have been understandable, but the surfeit of writhing and thrusting male dancers that was presented made me feel as if I was watching an American sitcom where every facial gesture is overdone. My seat-neighbour was similarly under-impressed, telling me he had seen the Edinburgh version which interpreted the opera as the struggle of transformation. It sounded like the one I would have preferred to see. I have seen several concert performances of opera since I gave up my AO subscription and find them much more satisfying than overblown productions.  I read however that the current La Traviata is a winner, so perhaps I shall have to give OA another try. 

In comparison, Murder and Redemption with Finnish violin-wizard Pekko Kuusisto leading the ACO way overshot my expectations. Folk songster Sam Amidon sang his songs with becoming naturalness (in  the best American folk song tradition) but what surprised me was how they complemented the classical pieces by Janacek and John Adams.

I am not sure why exactly, but Amidon's songs gave the ACO's passionate version of Adam's Shaker Loops a special zing.

The ACO has exceptional curatorial skills and  this program was just another example.

I sat there wishing I had brought my 17 year old music friend with me.  If you want to induce that generation to go to a classical concert, this was the sort of music you would choose.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pears, nectarines and Frangipani.

Pears, Nectarines, Frangipani
Acrylic on Canvas 30 x 40cm
In summer at least two pictures of fruit and flowers seem to paint themselves. They happen in response to the abundance of fruit at this time of year.

This second one was more painterly than the first and the only bit that was difficult was deciding the colour of the wall. Cream looked washed out so I painted the wall blue.

I painted this in December and the pears are still sitting on the shelf. It is remarkable how long they last. I wonder what chemicals have been used to stop them rotting? Makes you wonder.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pears and Frangipani revisited

My pears and Frangipani picture has been undergoing a transformation. Five year old Sophia said the pears look as if they are made of plastic and I had to admit she had a point.

I painted them over, added a fancy bit of woodwork from the sideboard, changed the background, then changed it again. The picture transformed every time I passed it but still I didn't like it.
At one point I scrubbed it right back again with a big scrubbing brush and running water.

Then finally I removed the background altogether and added two more pears.

Pears and Frangipani ... current version

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Watching sunflowers grow

I planted some sunflowers in front of the garage as a 'Blickfang' (eye-catcher) this spring and they have grown beyond my expectations.  When I went to Hobart in November they were still a few inches tall. On my return after four days, they had doubled in size. It has been a pleasure to watch them grow tall then even taller. Then they flowered and their yellow disk flowers followed the sun as it passed overhead.
Setting seed
Now they grow bulbous, more bulbous every day. You can almost see the seeds growing inside them.   The flowers are too heavy to follow the sun now, looking east all day instead.

If you ever want to observe flowers through their stages, plant them in front of your breakfast window.

One week on (16 January) seeds are setting and the flowers bow their weighty heads.  Then the cockatoos discover them ...

Cockatoos discover sunflowers

The seeds are yet unripe but the cockies don't care and would just destroy the plants then leave.  So I chase them off and bag the heads.

to be continued ... 

Bagged sunflower heads

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Season's Greetings!

It has been a tumultuous year and we are confronted with a new world.  Reading online comments sections that follow political posts would make you despair of the human condition but I am hoping that the tumult will activate those who support an ethical environment. Let us hope that this time next year the tide has turned again.

Merry Christmas to everyone (of all faiths or none) and may you have a very successful 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pears and Frangipani

Pears and Frangipani
Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 40 cm
Warmth, summer fruit and flowers, a general relaxed feeling - they all conspire to make one want to paint, even when beset by a seasonal virus such as the one that caught up with me on my return from Tassie. 

The Frangipani tree is covered with flowers and when I bought these two inside, they were enough to perfume the studio.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mona: Museum of Old and New Art

Ferry with sheep
The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart is a Museum you don't easily forget. I was there two weeks ago but it remains very fresh in my memory.  It is like no other museum you have ever visited. I usually last about an hour in a museum, but I was at Mona for five hours and there was not one bored moment of the many I spent there.

Ferries and buses take visitors from Hobart. I took the half hour ferry ride and was pleased I had. I was also pleased I had not read much about it as the many surprises, including the building itself, made my visit memorable. I will not spoil the surprise for those reading this who have not visited, but I can talk about some of the exhibits, not all of which are permanent. 

Mona thumbs its nose at everything: the art establishment especially, but everything else as well, including the creator of this gallery. I didn't notice on my way there, but as the ferry arrived for the return journey to Hobart I could see the group of sheep on the back deck. They looked at us as we looked at them. These quirky, amusing and sometimes in-your-face moments are what Mona is all about.
Golden vase ...
and reflection of me listening to
information via Mona device

Each visitor is given a phone-like device which 
automatically calls up prerecorded information about the art works near that visitor. You can have the information about the works that interest you emailed to you.  (The battery of my device died, so I lost my information - thus few of the images here are captioned.)

Henry Moore head
Woven carpet
The bottom level of the gallery had been divided into four spaces, each comprising several rooms. Four curators had been asked to exhibit art that answers the question 'What is art?"  I found the question captivating as I had written an essay in my second year at art school with the title 'What is art anyway?'

Interestingly two of the curators answered the same way, although with different exhibits. I didn't agree with their premise though, that art is all about survival of the species.

Fat red car

As I sat waiting for the ferry, I realised there was an art video playing right in front of me:

My Mona Video

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hobart city

Hobart seems to be full of small businesses run by very friendly people. I just had a beer at a nearby corner pub. It's called The Duke and it is the type of pub that would encourage me to be a drinker if it was located near where I live. It was early (6pm) and a couple of kids (12 year olds?) played pool in one room, two women with wines and some delicious fish 'bar food' were in the next door room and I took my beer and sat in an adjoining area where the sun was streaming in through the window.  After a while the owner came to check if I was happy with just a beer (I had prevaricated over food) and as I left his wife (I assume?) gave me such a friendly smile and wished me goodbye.

I had decided on dinner at 'home' so I went over the road to the Soup Stop to get a takeaway soup. The Indian family there were equally friendly and the pumpkin soup I took home was delicious.

Beautiful old buildings, ugly new ones
The built environment however is not so inspiring. There are many fine old stone buildings in Hobart but my overriding impression of the city is of traffic. Most roads through the city are one way so they are four lanes. Four lanes of ever churning traffic. It seems that those on the east of Hobart have to change places with those on the west very regularly. I have seen a few buses, but not many, and none on these main thoroughfares.
Picturesque waterfront

There are some very picturesque spots on the wharf with stone houses and moored yachts, but mostly it is large tin sheds and bitumen roads.

I brought my painting kit with me to Hobart but in vain. There are some pretty spots but they are outnumbered and overshadowed by the ugly developments around them.

My view from a coffee shop towards the wharf this morning was depressingly drab so I painted a child at the next door table. He was looking out at some bikers preparing to ride. They were no doubt happy because the roads appear to be in good repair. Pedestrians and painters though are less well catered for, which is a real shame as Hobart has so much potential.
Some of the tin sheds have a charm of their own.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hobart, the ocean and Tempest

Who's looking at me then?
Tempest, the show on at the Hobart Museum and Art Gallery seems to encapsulate Tasmania, sitting as it does with its face towards the squally antarctic.

Bass Strait to the north of Tasmania is equally as treacherous and always spoken of in tones of awe by race commentators during the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Some boats don't make it. Some crews don't make it.

Tempest includes seafaring and shipwreck paintings, video installations and museum pieces to do with storms, pirates and parrots.

Outside in the courtyard is a large 'mobile' made of plastic detritus from the ocean. It is an effective comment on our plastic society.
Plastic Rubbish Mobile

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tristan und Isolde in Hobart.

The local paper on Friday
It is not so often that an audience rises as one to cheer and applaud at the end of a concert, but in Hobart this evening it was as if the crowd was a single organism. We had just heard a once-in-a-lifetime concert performance of Tristan und Isolde with the remarkable TSO under the baton of Maestro Marko Letonja. Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton came to Tasmania from New York where they have been singing Tristan and Isolde at the Met and were joined by Slovenian Monika Bohinec who is currently with the Vienna State Opera. I don't know the name of the horn player who played the extraordinary part for English horn but she was as remarkable as the singers. Letonja slipped into the back of the orchestra to give her the bottle of wine he had been presented with, by way of thanks.

Wagner fans knew this would be no ordinary concert and members of various Wagner societies flew in to Tasmania from all over the country to hear it. It was definitely worth their while.

Audience stands as one ...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Do I see the ring of steel?

Sunrise 3

Once the sun is up, if I look north over the ocean I might just see the Ring of Steel that our Government is promoting to stop those dastardly refugees..

Now that they are releasing the long suffering detainees from Manus and Nauru they are worried about their tough guy image and have begun beating their chests and chanting, deploying the navy to stop any boats who dare to come near.

Notable Australians have gone on record to say they would not be alive had they not been helped by 'people smugglers', but the government has its fingers in its ears.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mr Trump and a warming world

Sunrise in a warming world
We are going to have to get clever and coordinated to save our world, working together as never before to support initiatives that mitigate warming.

We have a formidable enemy, large and powerful and willing to sacrifice the world to make a profit for themselves.

But we are many and we too can be formidable, now we know their methods (thank you Naomi Klein) and realise they just don't care. We must do whatever it takes.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sunrise over the beach

What do you do when the world goes crazy? My twitter feed is full of reports of nasty racst incidents in the USA and of articles saying Liberal Party MPs want to repeal the Australian laws that protect people here from racial vilification.  I despair at the human race.

Nature continues to put on her best clothes and, as therapy, I have decided to take out my paintbrush and paint my beautiful area. This is the first, Sunrise over the beach. A metaphor for new beginnings.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary won the popular vote

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote! Al Gore won the popular vote but not the Presidency. Just think for a minute how different our world might be if Americans elected their President according to popular vote. (Southern Florida might have even avoided being lost beneath rising seas.)

I believe that those who voted for Clinton voted for decency and the rights of all Americans to proper representation, rather than voting for the establishment. My hope is that they will now join forces and hold their elected representatives accountable.  Trump has attracted people to his team who have past records of caring only for themselves and they now control the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the Presidency, so America needs a focused and active opposition like never before. Good luck Americans! There are a lot of anxious people watching you.

[Liberal America has been steamrolled by Trump]

Monday, November 07, 2016

Ayse Goknur Shanal and Evgeny Ukhanov: a most moving performance

"Artists are there when the world forgets what is important!"

These were the words of soprano Soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal following a most moving performance with pianist Evgeny Ukhanov at the Utzon room of the Sydney Opera House on Sunday.
Ayse sings

She had sung works in French, Spanish, Turkish, German and English, often love songs but also Stauss' Four Last Songs, songs which were his final compositions and sung at his funeral.
('But they are not sad songs,' insisted Shanal, 'he had lead a long, fruitful and happy life.' )

Despite the joy of the presentation and the mostly happy songs, I saw more tears shed at this concert than at any other I have attended. Was it the sublime voice that moved us so, or the sympathetic playing? Or was it the state of the world and the wish that Canberra's politicians could hear and be moved by these works? Probably all three. 

This concert by Australians of Turkish and Ukrainian heritage was a testament to Australia's successful multicultural experiment and I think the tears carried the fervent hope that this wonderful multicultural experiment not be sacrificed for short term political goals.

Bravo Ayse and Evgeny, and thank you, thank you!

Part of the program
(with my sketch of the view from the Utzon room)
Hear Ayse on soudcloud

Monday, October 31, 2016

Angel Place Concert Hall in Sydney

The pub opposite Angel Place Hall
Angel Place

Looking upwards

Photos of New York often seem to me rather magical, if somewhat alienating, with the tall buildings and rushing people, but then I realise that Sydney is not very different. We hurry to our destinations between the tall buildings without looking upward. The Angel Place Concert Hall is one of those destinations.

The hall is squeezed into an alley overshadowed by very tall buildings. It is a bit like those beautiful old churches you discover in back alleys in Paris and Rome which are sometimes built onto by newer buildings to the extent that they almost disappear. Rather than detracting from the buildings this squeeze somehow it makes them more interesting. In Angel Place you feel as if you are in a magic place for music lovers, a place connecting past with present.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pianists: Nelson Freire and Jayson Gillham in Sydney

Nelson Freire plays
You have to be pretty good to be touring internationally at 72 years old and pianist Nelson Freire is definitely pretty good. The program notes for his September concert in Sydney tells us he doesn't like to have a set program because he likes to play what he feels like playing at the time, as that is best for both the audience and himself. Happily he felt like playing Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin, deftly transporting his audience on a captivating journey. 

Both Freire and Elisabeth Leonskaya, who played in Sydney in August, demonstrate that age is no disadvantage for pianists, but rather the opposite.

Jayson Gillham plays
At the other end of the age scale for solo pianists is Jayson Gillham who played in Sydney last week.

Gillham is a young Australian pianist who grew up in central Queensland and reached the semi finals of the Sydney Piano competition at 17. He won the Montreal Piano competition in 2014 and now lives in London.

He played  Bach/Handel/Chopin to his appreciative home crowd. I am sure they will return to hear more of his meticulous playing whenever he decides to return.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Schubert's Trout: Australia Piano Quartet and Guests

Andrew Goodwin
Andrew Goodwin has a voice I would like to tune into every evening. On Saturday, accompanied by the Australia Piano Quartet, he sang Strauss' Morgen (swoon) at the Sydney Opera House Utzon room, then several works by Schubert including Die Forelle (The Trout). Muhamed Mehmedbasic joined the APQ to play the Trout Quintet (Piano Quintet in A major) after the interval.

Muhamed Mehmedbasic (double bass) plays with the APQ
I had been tired after a busy and stressful week but I knew this concert would sooth and revive, and I was right. I could have sat there happily for another three hours listening to this group and this tenor. Thank you APQ, Andrew Goodwin and Muhamed Mehmedbasic.