Friday, May 31, 2013

Letters: Wagner to the Wesendonks

I have just started reading Richard Wagner's letters to his muse Mathilda Wesendonk and her husband Otto, 1853-1856. There seems to be a general consensus that Wagner was not a very nice man, but although I have only read the first few letters, I think I am going to like him a lot.

Here is a note from Wagner to Otto Wesendonk on 16 March 1854:

Homer crept out of my library. 
I asked: where are you going? 
He said: to congratulate Otto Wesendonk on his birthday.
I answered: congratulate from me as well!
Richard W.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Glass and dancers

Glass square and dancers
This is another piece of glass I see when I draw the morning curtains. It was a recent gift from Napier, New Zealand. The dancing figures are from India and I have had them so long I no longer know exactly when I acquired them although I do remember the street stall I bought them from.  They have danced around with world with me, from shelf to box to window sill.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Coloured glass

Glass and leaves on an early winter windowsill.
What is it about coloured glass that makes it so appealing? A lot of people have collections of glass bottles, particularly blue bottles. My small collection is rather more eclectic but seeing the light refract through the glass as I open the curtains in the morning always makes me smile.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Very noisy parrots in the backyard

Parrots are eating the red fruit of a broad-leafed tree in my back yard and making an awful lot of noise.

They will sit and squwark until the fruit is gone, then they'll be off and I wont see them again until next year.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Arthur Rubenstein

Here's a wonderful video that records Arthur Rubinstein at the Steinway factory in Stellingen, a suburb of Hamburg 1966. He came to Hamburg to inspect his own favorite, personal Steinway D-274 piano which had been dropped from a crane somewhere while he was taking it on tour. It was sent back to the Hamburg Steinway factory for repairs.

There are surtitles to the spoken parts (see the info section.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Richard Wagner

Happy 200th Birthday Richard Wagner!  On this 22 May there are Wagner-comments all over the blogosphere, ranging from the less than enthusiastic book by his grandson Gottlieb (whom others say has been dining off the family name for years) to ecstatic congratulations of music lovers. 
Wagner: etching (2008)

We have all heard stories about his antisemitism but one of his most virulent accusers, Joachim Kohler, has had a change of heart. In 1997 he portrayed Hitler as Wagner's creation (Wagner's Hitler -- The Prophet and His Disciple)  but in his 2004 book Richard Wagner:The Last Of The Titans his  "reading of the letters, diaries, and other documents of the main protagonists... results in some breathtaking but convincing reappraisals".

Regardless, Wagner certainly changed the face of western music.

Wagner was the first conductor to face the orchestra so he had eye contact with the musicians; was the first to write music that reflected the emotional journeys of the characters in his operas; the first to build an opera house with wonderful acoustics but with the orchestra hidden from view so as not to distract from the performance taking place on stage; the first (and only?) composer who instructed the orchestra not to drown out the singers as the audience had to understand the story; one of the very few (are there others?) who wrote his own librettos (or musical poems as he called them), then set them to music.

When you read his autobiography My Life you marvel at how, with so little formal education, he could produce these works of wonder.  And when his music gets under your skin, you are forever changed.

Stefan Mickisch, a man with a gift
for explaining Wagner's music
( 2009)

Festspielhaus - the Opera House that Wagner built in Bayreuth
(painted in 2009)

Drawing large

If you study at the National Art School in Sydney (formerly East Sydney Tech - a name I think says more about the school) you spend a lot of time drawing on very large sheets of paper, a skill quite different from drawing small sketches. Perhaps it is training for the over sized portraits the Archibald curators like and for the large paintings that look good in the concrete skyscrapers we are so fond of building.

This drawing was done on a large sheet of brown paper at a life drawing class.
Our lovely model

Monday, May 20, 2013

What is of more value than trust?

People worry that computers will eventually control mankind but we should be worried about ourselves, not computers.  We have created systems that no one seems to be able to control and these systems give no value to the things that really matter, such as trust and community.

You used to be able to trust banks; now they need controls which we seem unable to enact. Will we survive them?   We used to trust research organisations. Now the CSIRO is mired in scandal and its money-minded managers will find out just how valuable trust actually was. Can they survive the damage? 

The Australian Government is withdrawing funding for art schools and opera Australia has taken to putting on musicals. Are we headed for another dark ages? Do we care?

It is time to start caring about things again, and fighting for the things we care about. Culture for example.The Australian Chamber Orchestra has a wonderful outreach program in schools ... but they are having to defend music from attacks by people who should know better). A small theater has opened in Newtown, putting on wonderful stuff but they are struggling.

Lets get on our hind legs and support them and other local organisations who care.Forget the Olympics, lets bring back sport and music programs to schools. Find ways to keep small and medium firms in family ownership to protect them from merger-manics who stop making the products we like because they don't make enough profit. Support our local farmers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rat lamb

I just heard that the Chinese have discovered that there is a big trade in China disguising rat meat as lamb.
Rat turned lamb
The Chinese seem unable improved their quality controls despite being worried themselves about what is in their food.  Perhaps we should help them by boycotting all Chinese made products until the quality issue is properly addressed. Check product labels!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Patonga to Pearl Beach

There is nothing like a bush walk to revive the spirits. Near where I live is a particularly pleasant one, the walk over the hill between Patonga and Pearl Beach. It is easy walking because it is mostly along fire trails (roads built for access in case of fire.)
Fire trail walkway
Bush turkeys crossing the path
You climb up and up and at the top of the hill are two small paths leading to the edge of the cliff where you look out over the mouth of the Hawkesbury River.
Path from fire trail to lookout
At the end of the path the ocean is reflected in the morning puddles.

South east - the mouth of the Hawkesbury River
Looking  west

The views are spectacular, my phone camera doesn't do them justice.  You feel as if you are a million miles from habitation but over that hill to the south is Sydney and that the peninsular you see stretching out into the sea to the west is Palm Beach. Very close to habitation after all.
Pearl Beach, Patonga and, across the water, Palm Beach, are top right.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Making tea

And in the interval .... here's How You Make a Cup of Tea (1941)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tchaikovsky meets Brahmns

 "Tchaikovsky and Brahms had never met before. It would be difficult to find two men more unlike. Tchaikovsky, a nobleman by birth, had something elegant and refined in his whole bearing and the greatest courtesy of manner. Brahms with his short, rather square figure and powerful head, was an image of strength and energy ... "

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
So begins the account by Anna Brodsky, the wife of violinist Adolph Brodsky,  on the first meeting between Tchaikovsky and Brahms. If, like me, you are fascinated by composers and their muses, you can read more here, on the Tchaikovsky research website.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pumpkin Music

Ceramic violin and pumpkin
A ceramic and a vegetable sitting together at the back porch.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kitchen revamp 2

The frog hangs from the fridge door and laughs. The fridge was moved a couple of weeks ago in preparation for the installation of a new IKEA kitchen, but the local installer went out of Ikea business the day before he was scheduled to remove the old kitchen. The new installer has not yet made a date to begin the job. So my kitchen remains empty and the many IKEA boxes continue to clog up my studio. The frog keeps laughing.

Thursday, May 09, 2013


Miriam Gordon-Stewart
In 2006 I spent some time in Hamburg drawing Miriam Gordon-Stewart during rehearsals of Figaro. I had intended to make a larger portrait from my initial watercolours but instead they were packed away because I moved to Dunedin.

In 2009 I made a larger study of Miriam in Hamburg, again as a precursor to a larger painting.

I am still unpacking boxes that have been in storage for years and the other day these paintings of Miriam re-surfaced. The larger painting is still germinating but in the meantime I have finally put my preparatory paintings online at

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Cake decorating pizazz

Real fruit ... the raspberry had a little silver no top

If you really care, you can make birthday cakes look pretty fabulous. This one was in La Renaissance at The Rocks (Sydney) where I had a birthday lunch with friends last week.

We didn't buy the cake. Maybe next year.

Celebrating with friends

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A beer and a candle

Berlin 2009: Glass of beer and a candle
Painted in a Berlin restaurant  one evening in 2009. I remember I was tired after visiting too many art shows in one day, among them the Emil Nolde Museum. Nolde's colour palette probably influenced this painting.

I also remember the view out the large glass window of the restaurant - a grey street with hurrying figures. I would have chatted to a neighbour if I had had any, but it was early evening and there were few patrons. However, on the plus side, the beer was good and the candle was a real one, not a battery run fake. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Sydney Swans and I

Surrounded by a sea of red.
I was accompanied by a whole team of Sydney Swans (AFL football) when I flew from Wellington to Sydney on 26th. I had watched a bit of the demonstration game on TV the previous evening (AFL is trying to win some NZ fans I think and judging by what I saw I think they have a fair chance of success)  and it was rather odd being surrounded by the same faces.
They seemed a pleasant bunch of people - I was rather surprised. All the adverse publicity Australian football teams are getting at the moment has obviously influenced me. One of the players had a baby strapped to his chest while another spent a long time showing his seat neighbour photos of a baby on his mobile phone. That's the side of them we don't hear so much of. (Or perhaps I don't read the right publications.)

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Backstage at an opera rehearsal

Here is an excellent look at what goes on in opera rehearsal rooms - in this case rehearsing Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Did you ever imagine that there are so many people needed at rehearsals?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Parsifal: wonderful singing/playing but otherwise disappointing

I had looked forward to the Met Opera Parsifal (the movie version) for months as Parsifal is my all time favorite opera, but to my surprise I was disappointed with the Met Opera version.

Jonas Kaufmann - Met Opera website photo
The singing was wonderful and hearing Jonas Kaufmann sing Parsifal was a treat. Kaufmann says his grandfather had all the Wagner scores and used to play and sing all the parts, so he loved it from the word go. Most of us come to Wagner's music after a long (or very long) journey via other composers and I am trying to imagine what it would be like knowing Wagner's music so young. In Kaufmann's case it has resulted in a tenor who sings all his roles with intelligence and his Parsifal was no exception.

What a pity with such an excellent cast (Gurnemanz-René Pape, Kundry - Katarina Dalayman, Amfortas -Peter Mattei,  Klingsor Evgeny Nikitin) that the production was pedestrian. The unrelenting Christian allusions were not alleviated by any alternative interpretation and it seemed all too facile to me. Perhaps I was unwittingly comparing the first Parsifal I saw, the Schlingensief version in Bayreuth in 2009, which I thought quite stunning.

At the time I saw the Schlingensief version I was one of the few who loved it. (I wrote about it for the Wagner Society of NSW at the time (since removed from their website I think, but you can still read it in Blue Tulips (see

Incidentally, there is a great sung version of Parsifal Act 1 from Radio Nederlands on YouTube.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

What makes a good tenor

Here is a great video about the tenor voice. The emphasis is on lyric tenors and dramatic tenors. It would be nice to see more counter tenors and Heldentenors. Maybe next time!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Napier Requiem

My computer died recently and I had to upgrade. When you upgrade there are always problems and my shareware for making picture galleries no longer works.  I just made a gallery for recent pictures which took ages. Before I do any more I will have to investigate new software. What a nuisance.

Never mind .... the paintings and sketches I made in Napier at the Requiem rehearsals are now online at

Lisa Harper-Brown sings

Anna Pierard and the choir sing: Jose Aparicio conducts

New Zealand publications

Why is it that New Zealand has interesting and informative newspapers and magazines while Australia does not? The NZ Listener is a case in point - full of informative articles that are easy to read and leave you better educated. I even became engrossed in the Dominion Post last week - reading a background article on Chechnya that explained the Boston bombing and another one about ways that progressive farmers are adapting their farming practices to help against global warming. I had a look to see if it is online as I would subscribe to a paper that had decent news coverage ... but the articles I read in the paper are not online. Perhaps it is syndicated? If I can't read the interesting stuff why would I subscribe?
Dominion Post on a Cafe table made from old treadle sewing machine
(at Soul Food Cafe in Taihape)