Thursday, May 28, 2015

Red canvases

Three canvases painted bright red with 'artists professional underground paint' are sitting out in the sun drying. Our autumn has turned from chilly to warm, good weather for canvas preparation.  The large canvas is for a portrait but the others were painted just because I couldn't resist the red.

Rothko’s “Untitled (Yellow and Blue)”
  2.4m (8') high, created in 1954
I read that a blue and yellow canvas by the American artist Rothko sold for a record $46.4 million last Tuesday so perhaps I should just leave my canvases plain red.

People are reduced to tears when confronted with Rothko's work; the colour/vibrations of the painting have an extraordinary emotional effect.  I doubt a small canvas with one layer of red paint (Rothko's are many layered)  would have the same effect so I will continue with my plan of using them for portraits.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Old wood and music

My father loved wood and eventually became a wood turner. At the bottom of each piece he wrote the species of wood he had used. You could often guess the species as the colour of the wood was similar to the fruit, for example apricot wood has an orange hue.

I thought of that on Friday as I watched Maxime Bibeau play his new honey-coloured double bass. I think must have been made by bees. Bibeau says it was made in the late sixteen century but that some of the wood in the instrument can be traced back to 1266. My Dad would have loved that idea as a lot of people brought him wood for turning and he had a large selection, some of it very aged (though not 750 years). 

Bottesini (above)
Bibeau sketch (below)
Bibeau's new 'old' double bass is not only beautiful, it has the vocal range of a whole orchestra. We are used to hearing the double bass as bass, baritone or sometimes perhaps as tenor. On Friday we heard her soprano range and it is quite extraordinary.

The ACO Mostly Mendelssohn concert included the Grand Duo Concertante for Double Bass and Violin by Bottesini (1821-1889). You could tell Bottesini must have been a bass virtuoso himself as only an accomplished bass player would know how to produce the high notes required in this piece. Stefan Jackiw played violin and at times it was difficult to tell which instrument was playing which part. Watching these two virtuosic musicians play extraordinary music, accompanied by the always-able ACO was a real pleasure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peter Serkin: an elegant banker-look-alike gives us new ears

A wave from
tier 3.
We have got so used to loud and virtuosic piano high-jinks that when a concert is quiet and meditative, it takes time to adapt. The SSO piano concert last night at Angel Place in Sydney was one of those.

The audience filed into the Angel Place concert hall and sat looking at the grand piano, shining in black splendor. Bathed in violet with yellow backdrop, the setting was a visual treat even without a performance.

The lights dimmed and onto the stage walked a gentleman in a perfect grey, striped, three piece suit. He bowed to the audience, looking for all the world like a banker from a by-gone era, one of those elegant if slightly stiff gentlemen common in the days when bankers were people you could trust.  This was Peter Serkin, distinguished American pianist and son/grandson of distinguished musicians. Perhaps you need a persona and lineage like this to present a concert such as he presents, music that no one has heard before and which defies the 'normal' concert experience.

Serkin has a reputation for championing contemporary music but the pieces he chose to play last night looked to the past. The concert started with pre-baroque adaptations and music from an Elizabethan song-book. They seemed so simple but it look me some time to change tempo. I am sure the pieces and Serkin's slow, quiet and contemplative presentation was a very deliberate choice, designed to help us move from an over-busy and intellectualised world into a space where we could 'really hear' the works he presented.

I found myself wondering as the concert started whether I would have come had I known what was on offer and it was only during the second half of the concert, listening to pieces by Max Reger, Mozart and Beethoven  that I realised Serkin's skill had given me a whole new ear. I had not previously heard the chosen Mozart and Beethoven pieces and as I listened I could feel my view of both composers changing. I felt as if I had previously only seen the surface view and that now I was suddenly able to delve much deeper. Mozart's Rondo in A minor was a revelation. The program notes say it is regarded as his most personal work and I can believe that. It is introspective, thoughtful and contemplative, but emotional at the same time. Beethoven's Sonata No 30 is similar.

I am so grateful to Peter Serkin for taking me to a place where I could really hear music I didn't know existed.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Clay for Nepal

Ceramic artists in Australia and across the world have donated pieces for the Nepal relief effort. Many of the pieces by the more well known artists are up for auction until tomorrow evening, Sunday 17 May. If you want to start or augment your ceramic collection, this would be a great place to start.
Water set by Kris Coad
(from the auction website)

Wool for warmth

Woolly layers
Thank heavens for wool. The first snows have fallen on the ranges to the south of Sydney and we can feel it in the air, even here on the Central Coast. I am grateful for my winter woollies, mostly from the wool shop in Taihape, New Zealand.  

NZ Met Service website
In New Zealand they measure the cold by telling you the number of layers you will need to feel warm. The Met Service website shows the temperature is currently 11C in Wellington but feels like 8C. They recommend three layers plus a windproof layer..
Three layers for 8C! That might be adequate for those hardy Wellingtonians, but what about we folk whose blood has run thin after a long hot summer?  Our forecast temperature is 17C for tomorrow, but I am needing three layers even today when it has been warmer. I wonder what the NZ met service would recommend for the thin blooded?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


A young woman visiting Sydney from Vancouver had a musical experience last Sunday I suspect she will never forget. The Australian Piano Quartet gave a concert in the Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House, a small intimate space with a nice acoustic and big windows looking out over the Sydney Harbour towards the Botanic Gardens.  I was sitting next to the Vancouver visitor who said she had arrived in Australia four hours ago on a job-reconnaissance trip and had wanted to go to a concert while she was here.  She had never been to a classical concert before but this was the only music event she could find. (The opera house was very quiet and I wondered if people don't go to concerts on Mother's Day?)

Program with sketch of
Rebecca Chan
The string members of the Quartet (Rebecca Chan-Violin, James Wannan-Viola, Thomas Rann-Cello) played Beethoven's String Trio in G major then pianist Daniel de Borah joined them to play Jack Symonds Respondorium.
UTS Frank Gehry Building
Jack Symonds is a young Australian composer who happened to be sitting on my other side. He jumped up to tell us that his piece was written in response to the new Frank Gehry Building at University of Technology Sydney and explained how it sought to reproduce the crumpled facade and brick curves. The players started this intense piece in different corners of the room and moved to the middle as the piece progressed, giving an ethereal spacial quality that would be difficult to reproduce in any other way.

I turned to the woman from Vancouver at interval to see how she was enjoying the concert to find that her eyes were shining.
"Oh this is amazing," she said. "I never knew music could make you feel this way."

The audience had clapped at every pause in the Beethoven piece and I liked the response of the APQ. They smiled but didn't look diverted and then in introducing the next half their spokesman said "There are many people here who don't often come to classical concerts. We are delighted to see you here and  we hope you will come again."(Their next Utzon Room concerts are in August, October and December.)

I didn't look at my Vancouver neighbour during the wonderfully played and hauntingly beautiful Schumann Piano Quartet in E-flat-major Op 47 but I could imagine how touched she must be feeling.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Vale Maya Plisetskaya

Maya Plisetskaya, her husband composer Rodion
and Daniel Smith. (Photo from a few
weeks ago
shared on Facebook by Daniel Smith)
The legendary Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya has died (2 May) aged 89. She was an extraordinary dancer, dancing an exquisite 'Dying Swan' when she was 61 years old (in the video below) .

She was by all accounts a lovely person as well as a fabulous dancer.  This photo of her was taken a few weeks ago and shared by the Australian conductor Daniel Smith who is making a name for himself after winning several international conducting competitions.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Microsoft's "How Old am I?"

Microsoft has developed a tool that estimates how old you are by analysing your photo. The result is posted with an apology if they got your age or gender wrong. 

I wondered what the program thought about the age of some of the people in my paintings. The results are amusing (or not so amusing!)
A 31 year old in fairy wings!
Will the children still act like this
when the younger is 22?
Well, I knew I had made her look
older than she is, but does she
look this old?
Sweet 14, plus a few years

Seems as if the longer I fiddle,
the younger my subjects get.
About right I would think