Thursday, April 28, 2016

Omega Ensemble in Sydney

When I saw that the Omega Ensemble had put Wagner's Tristan and Isolde Vorspiel and Lebenstod at the beginning of their concert program last week I wondered if the programmer had had a mental lapse. How do you follow such music? Abrahmsen has a rich creamy voice and as she sang the Liebestod I wished it had been at the end of the evening instead of the beginning. (She sang Strauss's Four Last Songs as a finale.)

Maria Rospopova plays
Fortunately the composer of the second piece, Andrew Ford of the ABC music show, was on hand to introduce his own piece Contradance which followed the Liebestod.

The first thing he said was 'Well, how do you follow that? Perhaps by me keeping talking so there is a sufficient gap."
That is exactly what he did and by the time we heard Contradance we were in the right mood. Contradance was so different to what went before that there was no clash, but still I was pleased he had taken the time to create a gap.

Thirteen musicians performed on the evening but I was fascinated by the pianist Maria Raspopova. She is tall and sits very straight at the piano with her long legs tucked underneath. She added wonderfully to the sound of the group and was a pleasure to watch.

It was a successful evening, even if I would have wished for Isolde at the end instead of the beginning!

Friday, April 22, 2016

It you stand on a pedestal ...

Captain Cook .  St Kilda Park, Melbourne.
If you stand on a pedestal, sooner or later this is what will happen to you.
You'd look cranky too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Melbourne Airport to the city

There are two ways to get to Melbourne airport from the city. You can take the speedy private Skybus for $18 or you can take public transport which is half the price: the #901 bus from the airport to Broadmeadows, then the train to the city.

Before I went to Melbourne I had read on Tripadvisor that Broadmeadows is a bit dangerous and taking the Skybus the the city is preferable so on my way there that is what I did. By the time I left however, I had a valid public transport myki card and getting to the airport would be included in my seven day pass.

I asked my AirBandB hostess about Broadmeadows being a bit dicey and she laughed aloud.

" Oh that's advice for country Nanas coming to town!" she chortled. " And besides, you have been staying on Gray Street St Kilda which is the ice capital of Melbourne!"

So I decided on the cheaper alternative and set off with bag, purse and small backpack via Broadmeadows.

The small backpack (purchased in Melbourne) was one item more than I normally carry and I left it behind me when I changed seats on the train.  Luckily for me one of the good citizens of Broadmeadow noticed me leave it behind and called to me not to forget it. 

So much for travel advice about dangerous suburbs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jessica Pratt sings Lucia in Melbourne

Before the show
Level 1 stairwell
Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne is worth visiting even if you are not going  to a show. It's a lovely old (1886) building which has retained it's charm, with original high backed chairs for waiting guests and fresh flowers in front of segmented mirrors.

It was a wonderful venue to see the Victorian Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor by  Gaetano Donizetti with Jessica Pratt performing the lead role.

As I waited for the curtain to rise I wondered if I had chosen a seat too far forward as my fifth row seat seemed very near the stage. My seat neighbour assured me that front seats were good seats as sound didn't carry particularly well in this hall.

She was right and it was a real treat to see Jessica Pratt, sing her signature role Lucia from such a good vantage point.

(Dame Nellie Melba, another famous Lucia, refused to sing in this venue which she declared 'dead', until it was modified in 1911.)
Jessica Pratt as Lucia
(Victorian Opera website)
Jessica has a very beautiful voice that is perfectly pitched. In addition she is an excellent actor and looked every bit the happy nineteen year old when she first pranced onto the stage.

The score includes a glass harmonica in the mad scene which is  usually left out nowadays as it is considered 'too quiet',  but in Melbourne it was included (played by Philippa Safely) and added enormously to the opera. Lucia sang and was echoed and answered by this ethereal sounding harmonica. It made it easy to put yourself in Lucia's shoes and feel what she felt.

It was a wonderful performance played brilliantly.  Congratulations Jessica Pratt.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Melbourne: concrete and gardens

Melbourne- you feel as if you are in concrete jungle, but cross the road and suddenly you are in an oasis winding along the Yarra river.
View from Hamer Hall

Gardens across the road from Hamer Hall

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chamber Music in Melbourne

Rebecca Chan  is a remarkable musician whom I had heard as part of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) which she was a member of for five years and then as the violin part of the Australia Piano Quartet which I think is one of the best young classical groups in Australia.

When I knew I would be in Melbourne last weekend I looked to see what classical concerts were on and discovered that Chan would be playing as part of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra virtuosi series in Moonie Ponds which is on a direct train line not far from inner Melbourne.

Moonie Ponds was Dame Edna Everidge's home town and on Friday it did her proud. The music was fabulous, but I found it hard to concentrate in the first half because my neighbour shared her hand cream with her mother just before the lights dimmed and the coconut scent became very overpowering as the cream warmed on their hands. After interval I took a seat towards the back, unfortunately too near a couple of women who didn't realise their comments could be heard over the music.

The only thing to do after frustration like that is to hear some more music as soon as possible and luckily for me the ACO was performing a program called 'Cinemusica' on Sunday afternoon. The ACO always seems to be able to stretch our imaginations and yesterday they were performing with Synergy Percussion, a group billed as being Australia's oldest and foremost contemporary music ensembles. It was a well curated program played with panache .... and no one near me applied hand cream or talked during the performance. I knew to appreciate it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Paragliders in the sunset

St Kilda Beach Park
There was a cold wind blowing on the St Kilda Beach this evening, a wind that is obviously a fixture as the trees in the park all lean towards the east, away from the beach.
The beach was lovely despite the wind, with paragliders making the most of the conditions, skimming along the water in the setting sun.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Big little purse in Melbourne

Melbourne is more relaxed than Sydney and it has a network of interesting inner city laneways  lined with shops who take the art of window display seriously so it is a nicer place to shop. 

Queue at tearooms in Melbourne laneway

Melbourians also seem to be more conservative that Sydneysider. I was surprised to see well dressed 14 year old girls waited patiently in the long queue to 'that' tea shop, the one with the green flock wallpaper and cakes with real European flair. I'm not sure where 14 year old girls would queue in Sydney?
European? Yes, Melbourne definately feels more European. More solid, less stressed, more, well, cultured.

Big little purse in Bourke Street

Saturday, April 09, 2016

St Kilda interior

Red finger-sofa with cushions and cat.

St Kilda, Melbourne's seaside suburb, is an eclectic mix of people and styles typified I think by the bright red finger sofa in my abode here. The sofa owner tells me that while it looks like fun it is  really very uncomfortable.
A local art gallery has said they will pick it up ....but as yet, here it sits.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Aix in Melbourne

I have been very surprised to find that many Melbourne baristas don't know what coffee beans they are using. I am one of that percentage of the population who cannot digest robusta coffee, so I always ask whether the Cafe uses 100% arabica beans or a mixture of arabica and robusta.

Arabica beans are generally higher quality but they are also more expensive so cheaper c
coffee is often padded out with robusta beans. In St Kilda yesterday many of those making coffee looked at me as if I was talking double Dutch.
Aix in Melbourne

Aix menu

In the city this morning two Cafes  said they used 'a blend' but had no information about the beans but then I found one that immediately said "100% arabica - I can show you the packet!" - so that was where I stopped. It was a tiny place called Aix in a Melbourne laneway and it specialised in bagettes and crepes. Although the cafe was only a couple of meters wide with seating for 10-12 people at most, there were 5 staff and they did a brisk trade. They were a friendly crew. I think I have found 'my' Melbourne Cafe.

Il piccolo posto

Addendum on 9 April: I found an excellent coffee in St Kilda today. There is a cafe tucked away behind the St Kilda tram stop called Il Piccolo Posto which has tables out in the sun, friendly hosts and 100% arabica coffee.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Ai Wei Wei and Andy Warhol Exhibition

A good guide at an art exhibition can make the difference between an ordinary experience and a wonderful tour of discovery. I was lucky enough to strike a wonderful guide today at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) who conducted a large group around the Ai Wei Wei /Andy Warhol exhibition. The tour was meant to last an hour but ended up lasting almost two hours and was fascinating from start to finish.

Many of Ai Wei Wei's works comment on the surveillance state while others are simply works of a compassionate man:

 A triptych in Lego shows Ai Wei Wei clasping an ancient vase, then dropping it. It shatters. The work is a comment on the culture that oppresses its people.

Triptych in Lego explained by our wonderful guide

Chairman Mao

Two larger portraits of Chairman Mao are painted as if seen through Venetian blinds signifying a State that watches, even in personal spaces.

 A surveillance camera made from marble is made from marble from the same quarry as the marble for Mao's mausoleum.

Surveillance camera in marble

Andy Warhol also produced many multicoloured Mao images, but Warhol was living in America not China and his work comes across as somewhat vacuous when compared with that produced by Ai Wei Wei.

Ai Wei Wei's compassion for others shows in his work. The artwork 'Blossom' is a huge field of porcelain (a clay used for the Emporers utensils) flowers which remembers the many people who cannot flower under repressive regimes and an assemblage work showing himself and his guards during his last period in prison was made because he thought his guards were as much prisoners as he was. The rules they had to follow stipulated that they had to stand at all times while they observed him in silence.

'Blossom' 2015

Sunday, April 03, 2016

An eleven year old with a lion's mane

Eleven year old Kurtis is the subject of a portrait I have been working on for the last month or so. It is a large canvas, 700 x 1000cm, and one of only two that I stretched myself while I was at art school in Dunedin (NZ) and had access to a workshop.

As usual the painting has gone through many iterations as I fight to create the image I see in my mind's eye. It is not finished yet but it is slowly emerging.  I have to hide it away it in the laundry whenever I need to do other work as I can't resist changing it ... and changing it ... each time I walk past the easel.
charcoal sketch
painting drying in the sun
as at end of March