Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016

' ... hear a little song'
'One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture and, if it were possible, speak a few reasonable words.'
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprentice. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pene Pati - wonderful voice to cheer you

If, like me, you have overdosed on American jazzed up Christmas Carols, here is something to set the world to rights.

Pene Pati sings Donizetti's  'Una furtiva lagrima' in the 2015 Neue Stimmen competition. (He came second - Bravo Herr Tenor!)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Summer paintings

I am getting work ready for a January exhibition at the Gnostic Manor in Woy Woy, part of the Gnostic Corner, shops known for alternative style and products. The Gnostic Manor is a cafe with good coffee and four long walls which host exhibitions that change monthly. Since it is summer I am framing up sailboats and water views, but also a series of new works,  beach paintings that are partly watercolour and partly sewn.

It seems to be my month for exhibitions as I also have a set of smaller works up in the Yoga Center in Umina. They tell me they find them very peaceful and have asked to keep them up another month. Below is a card I made of one of them, a small sketch of sailboats on Sydney Harbour, paiinted from a harbour ferry. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Three inspiring gentlemen

Today I went to a discussion hosted by the Anglican activist pastor, Father Rod Bower. If you follow Australian politics you might have seen one of his church signs questioning the wisdom of our elected politicians as they are regularly shared on social media.  With him were Julian Burnside QC, well known as a human rights advocate and thorn-in-the-side of successive asylum-seeker-mistreating Australian governments and Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist and mental health advocate and the grandfather of Australia's wonderful 'headspace' program which helps teenagers with mental health issues.
Salar Hs (left) performs with Gosford musicians

The afternoon also included cross cultural music (Iranian/Australian) written for the event by Iranian violinist Salar Hs and Caitlin Yeo. (They got a standing ovation.)

The discussion was billed as being about the impact of past, present and future border protection policies on the well being of asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia. Australia has an abysmal record in dealing with asylum seekers and I would have thought it obvious that ill treatment would have a very negative effect on them but I went because I have wondered at the strength and tenacity of Julian Burnside for some time and was interested to see him in the flesh. 

The church was overflowing. More chairs were brought in and still more, but there were still people standing. Despite it's activist pastor, Gosford as an area is not known for being particularly progressive and seeing the church so full of people wanting to hear about this difficult subject was heart warming. If there are so many concerned people here in the boonies, then there is perhaps hope yet for Australia.

Patrick McGorry
McGorry spoke about mental health and told us about a woman he treated and continues to treat who was a refugee from past horrors in South America. She still needs periodic treatment 20 years later. 

How the young men (and women and children) on Nauru and Manus are going to fare is hard to imagine. The worst of it is that the Government is torturing these people deliberately, as a sign to others  not to try to get to Australia.  McGorry said he had been in the UK recently for the world cup between NZ and Australia and was startled to discover that every one of the neutral observers he met were backing New Zealand. Such is international distaste for Australia nowadays. As several people said, our reputation is being trashed for a great deal of money and at the cost of people we should be protecting.

Julian Burnside, a man who has agitated for asylum seekers for years is an inspiring and passionate speaker. When people asked afterwards what one should do, he said "don't vote for either of the major parties".  (The Greens Party is the only major party with a humane asylum seeker policy.)

Julian Burnside
There was some discussion about whether Australia's unresolved issues with aboriginal people might be part of the problem. I am inclined to think it is a significant factor because if someone already has a scale for humans and ostracises one group it would surely be easier be easier to persuade them that another group is similarly unworthy.

I had thought that the discussion might have been an exercise in preaching to the converted but afterwards my seat neighbour turned to me and said with a horrified look on her face, "My eyes have been opened. I can hardly believe what I have heard."

It seems that this issue is one that will have to be won person by person because what it needs is a change of heart from that mythical silent majority we all hear about. The media is caught between a rock and a hard place as our government refuses to answer questions about asylum seekers, but perhaps a tipping point is being reached. (Burnside said he will be delighted to represent any doctor who breaks the most recent law past by the government which makes it illegal for doctors (or anyone else) to disclose abuse to children they may observe on Manus or Nauru.)

The discussion was filmed, I understand for the ABC TV Compass program, so hopefully many more Australians will hear the arguments of these inspiring people.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Christmas Lights

My neighbours across the road take their Christmas display seriously, touring America to see what is available and spending lots of time in planning. On 1st November they cover their fish pond, move some plants and start installing the lights then on 1 December comes the big 'turn on' celebration. Every evening thereafter they bring out the deck chairs and sit admiring their handiwork and chatting with the people who come to see the show. 
I used to be rather dismissive of such displays but I have seen all the people who bring their children for a look and now I view it as an example of a 'public good'. (See the Christmas trees sing in the video below)

Just lucky for me though that Christmas comes only once a year.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Pinchgut Opera - why the critics rave

Program cover
Pinchgut Opera is an unlikely sort of name for a company that performs Baroque and early Classical operas but it sticks in your mind, especially when it keeps reappearing with rave reviews.  Yesterday was the first time I have seen them perform and now I know what all the fuss is about. They are just so refreshing!

As I watched them perform Grétry's L'amant Jaloux I couldn't help thinking that their performance must have been very similar to those in the Baroque period. It is a fascinating glimpse into that world, as well as begin a comical and ravishingly sung romp.

The opera is part spoken, but unusually (for me at least) that didn't detract at all from the performance. Perhaps it was because the parts were spoken so beautifully and so theatrically? Perhaps people who sing gloriously (and they all did) bring a special resonance to spoken parts?  I am not sure, but they were all so captivating that the spoken and sung parts melded seamlessly into a whole in the most wonderful way.

Pinchgut was established in 2002 and performed an opera a year until 2014 when they put on two operas. I  heard one of those two (Iphigenia) on the radio and had been so captivated that I decided I must find an opportunity to see them this year. Now I have seen them once, I shall definitely have to go again.
Final bows

Friday, December 04, 2015

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Six year olds in conversation

I am in Sydney on an impromptu babysitting mission.  Six year old Sophia and her friend Elisabetta have dressed up in their party clothes and are  having a picnic in the back yard. 

Elisabetta lives in the house behind and they visit each other by slipping through the fence. They keep each other entertained which makes it very easy for the babysitter. Sophia's brother is hiding in his mums room playing computer and her much older sister has disappeared upstairs to dry her hair which she has just dyed black.
Sophia and Elisabetta have their umbrella up
"I felt a raindrop" I hear one of them say.
Then they rush inside to the bathroom. One is inside the bathroom and one outside. It is a seldom pleasure listening to the conversation of two six year olds.

Sophia (in the bathroom) has instructed Elisabetta to get paper and textas so they can communicate with each other by passing notes under the door. Both of them are in kindy and just learning to write. 
"They're in the living room, you know, in that small drawer," comes the voice from the bathroom.
"Yes, I know!"
 There is the sound of running back and forth along the passage as Elisabetta searches for textas that work.
(The babysitter thinks, this is better than the movies)
" Don't forget yellow" comes a voice from the bathroom.
"Oh I didn't hear. I'll go and get yellow."
Bang bang bang, the feet run down the passage again.
"I have the yellow!"
"Are you nearly finished writing? "
Elisabetta hums to herself.
"Are you done?"
"Very very very nearly."
"Are you done???"
"Very almost!"
"Very very almost?"
"Yes, very very almost!"
"Are you done?"
"Very very very very very very very very very almost"
"Hmmmm. "
 "I'm waiting!"
" The last number, umm no, ... the second last number in the universe almost!"
" I bet you are having some very hard work!"
" Now I'm the last number in the universe almost done!"
Then there is the noise of paper being shoved under door.
" Oh! That's what it looks like. Orange black and yellow!? "
" Its the cat!"
"We're marching, marching, marching with the flag up!" sings Elisabetta. "It's the cat!"

Then the bathroom door opens and there is a clattter of feet as they run outside again.
I sneak a look at the paper they left behind.
Yes, its the cat. Orange black and yellow.  And pink.
I pick it up and attach it to the fridge.

six year olds

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sol Gabetta - Basel Chamber Orchestra - Sydney Opera House

Sol Gabetto - once you see her you wont forget her. She is not only a startlingly good cellist, but she has a wonderful stage presence. Today she payed in the Sydney Opera House with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, whisking onto the stage in a stunning red dress then wowing us all with her playing.

Taking a bow
The orchestra obviously enjoys playing with her and when she turned to thank them at the end of her first piece we saw that her dress was backless and had a wonderful sparkly waistband. It also had a wide billowy skirt, perfect for playing the cello. Clothes for stage performances must be something of a nightmare for musicians I would think, but the designer and wearer both did themselves proud on this occasion.

Gabetta played Bartok today but also Peteris Vasks' Cello Concerto Nr 2 'Presence' which was the concert standout for me. It is an extraordinary piece, modern yet lyrical and Sol Gabetta's playing of it got a standing ovation.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Voting on a new NZ Flag

Today I got to vote on the new New Zealand flag. I love the fact that my birth country includes me in these decisions even though I don't live there.  I do visit regularly though and that counts. 

My favourite flags of this lot are the Koru design in the middle and the triangles flag which was included only after the public had complained about the selection made by the committee. All the others look like marketing icons to me.

Addendum on 11/12/15: the first results are out and the first flag on the left got the most votes. The Koru got the least but I still like it best. I am glad the flag far right didn't get the Guernsey as I like it the least. The next vote is in March 2016 and we will choose between the preferred flag of this lot and the current NZ flag which is very similar to it but has a union jack instead of fern leaf.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Adele Horin

There are not many journalists who blog from their hospital bed after a major brain operation but Adele Horin was one of them. She blogged about how wonderful the staff were in public hospitals and how we must make sure they get the support they deserve.
Adele Horin (Sydney Morning Herald photo)

I had been captured by Adele when she was a staff writer for the Sydney morning Herald in the eighties and had always looked forward to her articles as they were compassionate, full of good sense and they 'spoke truth to power'. Such a combination is hard to find.

Adele continued writing after she left her newspaper job, but this time as a blog. After that post from the hospital room we readers held our breaths for her and hoped that the lengthy silence that followed was not an auger of worsening health.

Then came another post about a week ago and it was true Adele. She wrote that she was loosing the battle but then she listed all the ways she felt she had been lucky in life. What a woman. A few days later we heard of her untimely death. She was sixty four years old.

I only knew Adele Horin through her writing but she enriched my life and I will miss her. I am one of many many thousands who are mourning her passing. Vale Adele Horin.

(You can find her blog post on my blog list below.)
(Adele - an obit)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Kayaking with paintings

Patonga Inlet
A bloke from Patonga rang me recently to tell me he had seen a painting of mine in a local cafe and had decided to buy it but it had "disappeared" before he had had the chance. We arranged to meet on Sunday and I took over three paintings as I wasn't sure which one he had liked.

My prospective buyer turned up in a wet suit, dripping water across the pavement.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised as some houses in Patonga are across a creek and only accessible by boat but when I saw the size of his craft I was surprised. It was tiny. He had paddled his one man kayak down the creek and along the waterfront to the shop and proposed to take his painting back the same way.

The kayaker decided to buy two paintings instead of one. He  put them in a plastic garbage bag together with his thick weekend newspaper and set off on his wobbly way. He balanced his paintings on a two-liter bottle of milk he'd bought at the cafe but still they made it difficult to paddle.

As I left I crossed my fingers that his paintings (watercolour and ink) would arrive dry at their destination.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Richard Gill, music educator

"It's a paradox. Music has this incredible power to evoke, but we don't know what it evokes. You can't talk about it as being 'very emotional' or 'very passionate' because that's bullshit.  So I only ever talk about it in its own terms - technical aspects of the music and the way the orchestra works and the way the keys work." 
Richard Gill (photo Limelight magazine)

That is typical Richard Gill, in an excerpt from the Discovery Series program.

Gill is a passionate and internationally acclaimed educator who has captured the hearts of the many Australians who have either been given a chance as young musicians or educated into classical music through his efforts. 

I attended the last of his concerts yesterday and his audience gave him such a wild clapping and stamping ovation as I have ever heard in the Angel Place concert hall, all the more remarkable because most of  the audience at this 6:30 performance were well over retirement age, not usually a foot stamping age.

Yesterday was the last of the Discovery Series concerts and also the very last concert by the Sinfonia, which is the SSO mentoring orchestra established by Gill in 1996.  Gill expressed some surprise that both are finishing. Let's hope they are replaced by equally vibrant alternatives.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sol3Mio in Sydney: a lesson in opera promotion

"I didn't think I liked opera!" said the young man from Colorado. 
I was sitting next to his wife and she told me they had bought tickets to the concert because her parents were visiting Sydney from the States and they wanted to go to a concert while they were here.
Sol3Mio (their Facebook photo)
"I thought these guys looked good," she said "but I had no idea we would be getting two for one, voices and comedy!" 

Sol3Mio are brothers Pene Pati and Amitai Pati and their cousin Moses Mackay, three New Zealanders of Samoan descent. They are classically trained musicians but they love just about anything that can be sung and on Saturday night they sang everything from their trademark Yellow Bird to a piece by Coldplay and Puccini's Nessun Dorma. 
Sydney audience dancing in the aisles with
Sol3Mio (photo from their facebook page)
The audience loved them.  Not only are they handsome fellows with lovely voices, they are funny. Very funny!  There is a strong Kiwi flavour to Sol3Mio's humour but that didn't stop the Americans enjoying it. In fact it would be hard for anyone not to enjoy the three members of Sol3Mio, they are just such genuine and unassuming people as well as having wonderful voices.

They all love opera and are wonderful opera ambassadors. 

Pene Patti has just won second place in the Neue Stimen (new voices) competition in Germany which is a major accomplishment (see him sing here) and Amitai Pati has just won the New Zealand Aria competition. These are only the latest of the many awards this group have garnered.

You don't realise they are so tall until you have
your photo taken with them (and I'm not short!)
My name was one of three drawn out of a hat for a chance to meet them before the concert and I can report that they are as delightful in the flesh as they appear to be in all their youtube videos.

I hope they scale operatic heights and I am sure that on their way there they will create many new opera fans. 
Go Sol3Mio!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Colour and psychology

Why is it that colours have a different effect on different people? My predecessor in this house had a pretty two-tone blue bedroom and although I knew it didn't work for me I was surprised at the effect when I repainted it white. It was as if a physical burden had been lifted from me.  She had obviously not felt it that way so the effect of colours can't be universal.

Yellow 'patchwork' curtains
(with Stuart Skelton singing on the wall)
This experience resulted in me taking my colour instincts more seriously. Recently I bought dark brown cotton curtains to replace the 1970s yellow patchwork curtains in the east facing guest bedroom which gets very bright morning light.  But I found them very gloomy and today I have replaced them with some new bright yellow patchwork-type curtains.

I don't know exactly why, but I feel uplifted now when I pass the room and see the yellow light shining there again. Maybe the brown curtains will make a classy brown jacket?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Collages of fruit and flowers

Azaleas, an apple and grapes
I am framing up some small works to exhibit at the local yoga center including some collage works. They said they'd  like 'colourful' work.

Roses in a vase
Collages are fun.  I am making these ones out of previous ink and watercolour paintings and the more I make, the more I want to make.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sydney Opera House: oh the acoustics

I saw the Sydney Symphony, with choir and soloists perform Beethoven's Missa Solemnis last night. The choir was at least 100 strong and the orchestra a similar number, but the sound they made seemed to disappear into the walls of the building.  The ethereal quality of music disappears  - you can see the many musicians, but not hear them properly From my very back seat at Munich Opera House recently I heard more than from my seventh row seat in the Sydney opera house last night.   Very frustrating.

I couldn't help thinking as I listened last night how disheartening it must be for the musicians to play/sing in a hall with such inferior acoustics. It is high time we had another national lotto to collect funds to rectify the opera house interior and make it worthy of its stunning exterior.

Crowds still there at 10pm
The acoustics outside seem to be better than inside. Once there were only a few tables along the walkway and two food shops but both shops and tables have been steadily increasing and nowadays the convivial crowds can be heard from afar as you approach. It is a convenient place to meet your friends - and oh what a view. No wonder it is popular.

As night falls a band and singer entertain the gathered throng, so after your show in the opera house you could, if you were so inclined, listen to another one outside.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dessert with the lutenist

Dessert with the lutenist
I looked through the photos the photographer Dejan Bulut took at the Maribor festival and found one with expert lutenist Axel Wolf. We were at the post-concert reception held on about the third night of the festival, sitting on a period sofa eating dessert. We're looking very relaxed - thank you Dejan.

I am wearing my bright pink backpack with art materials that I seldom take off in Maribor. It was such a fun time and looking through Dejan's photos reminded me of what a pleasure it had been to be there.

Below is another photo by Dejan, one of the building where the reception was held. Also a  sketch I made of Axel playing with the orchestra (center right).
Photo: Dejan Bulut
Rehearsal at Maribor

Monday, October 12, 2015

Petals on paper

As I painted this picture in a cafe (a cafe that makes the BEST coffee ever), the woman behind the bar learnt over and said "It looks as if the petals of the flowers have blown off and landed on your paper."

The Cafe was the Mazagran Espresso Bar in Dunedin, and the year 2008. Sorting through my boxes of pictures today I came across this painting with her comment written on the back. You can watch the woman who made the comment make a cup of coffee here.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Awash with Purple Native Irises

Bush (purple flower
at bottom)
You would never notice the little purple flowers in the picture of the bush to the left if you didn't know they were there (they are, right down the bottom) but the camera doesn't always catch what stands out for the eye.

Many Australian native flowers are small and go unnoticed by people used to European flowers but these native Irises stand out even if you don't have an eye for flowers. They are a Patersonia sp. and I have never seen so many flowering at once in the bush near where I live. Maybe our recent 4 day extreme heat brought them all on at once?
Patersonia sp. on the bush path

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Water fairies

This long weekend Sydney's weather suddenly turned from winter to high summer (35C) and it was too hot to go to the beach. Instead the adults snaffled the colouring book bought for the children and spent therapeutic hours in the underwater world of the water fairies.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

ACO celebrates with Mozart

Richard Tognetti is celebrating 25 years
as artistic director of the ACO*
If you want to hear an inspired Mozart played by an inspired orchestra, go and hear the Australian Chamber Orchestra celebrate their 40th birthday. They are touring Mozart's Last Symphonies.

I went to the concert yesterday and it's a winner.  Three symphonies in one concert (two you have certainly heard before and one I wish we heard more often) and all of them foot-stompingly good!

* the photo is from the ACO program (slightly altered - I added a little colour to the sparkler ... )


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paintings of Maribor Music Festival 2015

My watercolour sketches/paintings of the musicians at the Maribor Music Festival are now online at I added a bit of a commentary to the paintings this year, for my own benefit as well as for that of viewers.  
Maribor Musicians 2015 online

Monday, September 28, 2015

The absent gardener

A couple of months ago I planted small eight native bushes in my front garden. The soil is sandy and in shadeless places the lawn dies off in summer, so I thought I might as well go native instead.

But then I was away for five weeks. I know from experience that if I plant vegetable seeds then leave the garden to the elements I can't expect to find anything much growing when I come back. Every time I have been to the Maribor Music Festival in September I have come back to bare ground where I had hoped for vegetables.

Kale, silver beet and nasturtiums
(growing up the fence)

This year has been different. There must have been rain at all the right times because masses of kale and silver beet are thriving in the vegetable garden and all the little native trees I planted in the front garden are flowering and looking very happy.