Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lights, carols and then peace to all

Sunset with clouds
Season's Greetings dear blog-readers and I wish you a pleasant passage into 2018.

I will certainly have one as 31st is the last day of the American Carols that have been echoing from the much-decorated house across the street since the 1st of December, attracting hordes of kids to party until late in the night. Only eight more nights to go!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Buebeard's Castle in Sydney

SSO harpists
Bluebeard's Castle is a one act opera by Béla Bartók and this Sydney Symphony production was the first time I had heard it. I was taken by surprise at how very moving it is. Bartók manages to convey  how scary intimate relationships can be and the singers, particularly soprano Michelle DeYoung, added a human dimension that underscored the music.  

If you are reading this and have the opportunity to see this production it is well worth the effort.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thoughts on #metoo

In 2005 I attended a life drawing course in northern NSW.  'Life drawing', for those not familiar with art lingo, is the practice of drawing the naked human figure.  Drawing nudes helps you draw clothed figures with more certainty and art students spend a lot of time in life drawing classes.

This particular 4-day course had two models as subjects, and they modeled together. It is the only time I have had this luxury. They were a couple and stood, sat or lay in loving and gentle poses.  I have seldom seen models with such an admirable ability to be still without apparent stress for long periods. They said they did a lot of yoga to prepare for the course.

The class was for more advanced students and they arrived at the teaching room each day much earlier than the 9am advertised starting time. The teacher of this committed class of about 30 mainly female students was an older English artist who introduced the day by reading us snatches of poetry. We all worked like demons until about 4:30 in the afternoon when everyone was completely exhausted, then we did a show and tell about our work before heading to the local pub. It was a wonderful, creative and inspiring course.

My room was in a local hotel, one of those old style buildings with surrounding veranda. My room opened out onto this veranda and early each morning I went out to the veranda to read relax before the start of class. Our tutor's room lead out onto this veranda as well and he too was an early riser. We would share bits of poetry or discuss politics on the veranda before it was time to leave for class.

One day he asked me it I had noticed anything in particular about the work the class was producing. No, I said, not really. I was probably too involved with my own work. Well look about you, he said, and you will find that only you and one other student are producing work in which the couple looks loving. I did look about me that day and realised that what he said was true. One student was drawing lots of kicking legs, another was painting doll like figures with big eyes. Many were drawing or painting thrashing figures. One woman had announced to the class in general that her figures always looked as if they were in a rape scene. Before the tutor's quiet comment I had not taken much notice but now I realised she was not alone.

The couple hang on my wall. This painting
was produced on the last day of class
in a state of exhaustion. 
56 x 76 cm

Here is one of the many stories appearing that help explain.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Alexander Gavrylyuk in Sydney

Alexander Gavrylyuk plays
The Ukrainian born Australian virtuoso pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk played in Sydney last night. The audience held their breaths as he wrung emotion from Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and wildly applauded whenever there was an opportunity. As the man in front of me nodded in time to Rachmaninoff's Preludes I wondered when he had last heard them played so convincingly. 

The little sketch above was made early in the evening and captured Gavrylyuk in one of his seldom upright moments. He danced with, pounded and caressed the piano, often bent so low that he looked as if he might hit his head on the music stand. Whatever his posture, his playing was extraordinary.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pipe problems

The plumber's mate had to scrabble around in my back garden for some time before he was able to locate the end of the sewer pipe last week. The plumber had been in the day before and jetted away the blockage and now his mate was attempting to find the end of the pipe to feed in an exploratory camera.  When he eventually located the pipe his camera soon found the blockage culprit.

Even a tiny hole is probably enough to encourage a tree to grow into a pipe and my backyard trees have probably been tapping this rich water source for some time judging by the size of the roots in the pipe. The offending pipe is two meters deep so they are going to have to take down the back fence and bring in a big digger. The fence has needed replacement for some time and now the tree-root-problem has forced my hand.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Magazines - fruitless search

Part of the newsagent shop in Frankfurt Railway Station
Another part of the same shop
Every so often I land in a newsagents looking for something to read, something lightish but not silly. I invariably leave empty handed. All the women's magazine fall into the 'silly' category, the computing/gaming magazines are mainly for beginners or only of interest to people with a particular computer model, ditto cars/caravans etc., home renovation magazines and similar are full of glossy photos of interiors that look like upmarket motels, naked ladies and sports are not in my field of interest, business/economics/newsweek etc. still spruik the tired old neo-liberal mindset, health/wellness mags are full fake news and in Australia there is little from foreign countries on the  shelves.

If only there was a magazine shop in the Sydney Railway station like the one in the Frankfurt rail station. (The pictures above show only half the shop.) My wallet would certainly be lighter each time I visited. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ceramic dancers

Dancers: framed ceramic
The honey-glaze on the ceramic dancers is an old recipe. It runs off a piece if not contained (which is why the figures were created as depressions) and it is too toxic to use on anything you want to eat off (which is why this is not a plate).

The piece was made in New Zealand with clay that fires to a light honey-colour. I didn't realise what a nice clay it is until I started making ceramics in Sydney where the art-school clay fires to a dull concrete-like gray.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Cockatoos on the roof. They want to be included in my series of  'fabulous ceilings'.
Sulphur crested cockatoos on the garage roof

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Textile art: knitting a fox cub in winter (2)

When the eight year old (previous post) announced she wanted a fox cub and her mother on the front of the partly knitted jumper I was making, I searched for some quad ruled paper to draw the foxes on and bought skeins of dark blue and dark green wool since the foxes had to be 'just like in the book' .

The picture of fax and cub chosen as motive

Mother fox on Quad ruled paper

Today I sewed the finished jumper together.

As the foxes emerged I showed them to the eight year old - she thinks they are wonderful. Phew...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Textile art: Knitting a fox-cub in winter

I am knitting a jumper for an eight year old with colours she said she liked ... mainly blues and pinks.  

I get a bit bored with plain knitting (thus the ad-lib colours) so when I was a good way up the back, I asked her if she would like an animal picture on the front, perhaps a dinosaur?

She thought a while then said 'I know!' and hurried off to find the book with the picture she was thinking of.  It took a while to find, but she knew exactly what she was looking for and eventually emerged triumphant from her overloaded bookshelves.

'There!' she announced showing the picture. 'I'd like the mother and the cub please. And the snowflakes!'

'Hmmm,' I said, thinking of the half-completed back. 'Can I change the colours a bit?'

'No,' she said, 'it should be exactly these colours!'

Picture from Cub's First Winter by Rebecca Elliott
Children are as absorbent as sponges and very impressionable. I thought it fascinating that this picture book has had such an influence on a child (who is now reading the hobbit) that she wants the mother and cub motive on her jumper.

To be continued ....

Friday, October 13, 2017

Emmanuel Pahud and the ACO

The hall was dimmed ... just a pinkish light at the back - and then a flutist started playing CPE Bach's Flute Sonata in A minor. It was a lovely way to start a concert.

What was even better was the next piece,  JS Bachs Ricercar a 6 from The Musical Offering played by flute and orchestra.

I have just looked up ricercar:

noun: ricercar; plural noun: ricercars; noun: ricercare; plural noun: ricercari
  1. an elaborate contrapuntal instrumental composition in fugal or canonic style, typically of the 16th to 18th centuries.
It was a fun and fabulous piece of music and hearing it for the first time I wondered why it is not played more often. Bravo Richard Tognetti for putting it in the program and to the ACO playing it with such verve.  Yes, it was an ACO concert and the flutist was the brilliant Emmanuel Pahud.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Songs for Refugees at the Sydney Opera House

Such a moving concert last night at the Utzon Room in the Sydney Opera House.  Three wonderful musicians with passion and insight led us through an emotional repertoire in response to the plight of refugees, particularly those still incarcerated by the Australian Government on Manus and Nauru.

Soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal led the trio with her extraordinary lush and expressive voice, accompanied by cellist Kenichi Mizushima and pianist Harry Collins. The three of them together were riveting and the instrumentalists together (two numbers) equally so.
Cellist Kenichi Mizushima
Hearing artists perform with such passion is an unforgettable experience and these three received a well deserved standing ovation at the end of this generously long concert.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Furruccio Furlanetto sings Schubert in Sydney

Ferruccio Furlanetto sings
Schubert's Winterreise sung by a bass?  Usually this moving song cycle is sung by tenor or baritone and the only bass version I had previously heard had not appealed to me. This evening I heard Furruccio Furlanetto sing Winterreise and realised that it is not the voice type but the ability of the singer to transmit its message to the audience that matters.

Furlanetto is a wonderful sniger and I was captivated by his rendition of this lovely work. It was so expressive and heartfelt while not being forced or over acted. 

Just a delightful concert.

A very late train home

I heard a delightful concert last night, but  my trip home was not so delightful.  The electronic train signage said the train went north but instead it went west and I landed in Blacktown. It didn't help that I was playing patience on my phone and missed announcements for the first few stations.

By the time I realised what had happened it was almost too late ... luckily I registered the Blacktown announcement or I would have landed in Penrith and it would have been too late to get home.

I had a long wait until I could get a train back to Strathfield to catch the train I needed, but oh well, at least I did get home eventually - if very late. This happened to me once before several years ago at Strathfield, but that time a lot of other people were with me. Perhaps last night other misled passengers got off earlier, while I was immersed in my card game.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fabulous ceilings #2

Paris Opera singers would have known these ceilings well in the twentieth century when the Palais Garnier was the home of the Paris Opera.  The building excels in fabulous everything. I posted photos from a mobile phone in June - these are a little better.

Fabulous ceiling #2 : Ceiling by Chagall in the concert hall of the Palais Garnier

Fabulous Ceiling #3:Golden ceiling with lizards: Palais Garnier reception hall.
Fabulous ceiling #4: Horses nymphs and furious activity: Palais Garnier Hall

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fabulous ceilings#1

Louvre: fabulous ceiling #1
Is it possible to trump this wonderful ceiling in the Louvre?  I wonder how often the inhabitants looked upwards when it was once a royal palace.

My ceiling is not so fabulous, but just in case you do look upwards you'll find some painted wooden birds floating above you. They were bought in Indonesia many years ago, from children selling them on the roadside.

Wooden birds suspended from the ceiling

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Kraggerud and the ACO

Kraggerud in Sydney
There is just something about seeing a musician playing music written by a composer from his/her own country and this week I saw/heard a Norwegian violinist, Henning Kraggerud, playing Grieg with the ACO. It was a fine concert and it made me wonder why nationality makes a difference. A complex question that probably has several answers.

Kraggerud took the opportunity to explain exactly what he and the orchestra were playing to the audience. He got a good reception.

Their last piece, Grieg's String Quartet No 1 in G Major is a piece I know well as I made a movie called Dancing Violins featuring this piece in 2010 at the National Art School in Sydney. When you make an animated movie like this you start from the soundtrack and listen to it, or bits of it, over and over and over again - much as  musician does when practicing a piece.

I used the soundtrack from the Engegård Quartet, a Norwegian Quartet I had just heard at the Maribor Music Festival and who graciously consented to me using their soundtrack.

Dancing Violins

Kraggerud and the ACO played Grieg much as the Engegård Quartet played Grieg, with that indefinable touch that makes you feel as if this is really how the composer heard this music in his own head. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Winter (etching)

It doesn't pay to put your woollies away too early. We are back to winter this week. It was 9C this morning but felt like 0C because of the wind chill factor.

This is an etching I did in Dunedin where the bath was my refuge in winter. I added the colouring more recently.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Imogen Cooper - a win win situation

Imogen Cooper plays
You have to be careful what sort of concert you hear after a five star Parsifal but I think I chose just the thing. I heard pianist Imogen Cooper playing Beethoven and Hayden at the Sydney City Recital Hall.

Cooper is as expert in her field as the Parsifal singers were in theirs and the program she chose was clever as well. Light-hearted Beethoven Bagatelles leading into a serious Hayden then a fun Beethoven Variations (yes, Beethoven can be surprisingly witty) before a sombre-piquant piece by Adès leading into Beethoven's Sonata 31, the final piece.
Cooper played the Bagatelles with impish charm. Actually charm sums up a lot of Cooper. She is humorous and enthusiastic and it shows in her music making. After the concert someone near me complemented her playing and she replied “ Well I enjoy playing for you so it's a win win situation."

After the fun pieces she jumped up off the piano stool to bow with a grin but the final Beethoven sonata was different. Captive to the music, she came back to us with much more difficulty. I find those exposed intimate moments so telling. The feeling was mirrored in her.listeners who clapped her back onto stage again and again - not so common in Sydney audiences.

Music played with aplomb and depth of feeling. Cooper and Parsifal have lots in common.

Two times Parsifal

If you look at blogs about recordings of Wagner's music you find connoisseurs discussing which singer is best on which recording. Each recording has one or two blemishes together with outstanding performers.  It is rather a pity that the Sydney Parsifal was not recorded (at least not to my knowledge) as there were no blemishes at all.

Music is so therapeutic. I was still energy-less after a nasty travel gastro when I booked the Tuesday performance (I had already booked Saturday). I thought the music would help recovery and I was right. The Adelaide Ring Cycle had helped me in similar circumstances, resulting in a book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Parsifal in Sydney

I was reading Wagner's letters to Mathilda Wesendonk (original version, online for free) on the way to Sydney to see Wagner's opera Parsifal and came across a letter (July 1859) telling Mathilda about Wolfram's book Parsifal. 'There are so many gaps in the story,' writes Wagner, 'if you wrote an opera you'd have to explain too much. It won't be me who writes it! Let someone else do it and Liszt can write the music!” 

He also recommends Mathilde read a book on Buddhism that he had recently discovered. At the time Wagner was immersed in Tristan and Isolde, but his letters show the beginnings of Parsifal even at this early stage.
I thought about Wagner's letter as I listened to bass Kwangchul Youn sing the role of Gurnemanz, the character who does most of the 'explaining' in this over five hour opera. Youl sang his very long part part with firmness and vocal ease setting the stage for a wonderful cast of characters of carry on the story. The wonderful reviews this performance is receiving are well deserved (five and a half stars out of five). 

Purple carpet in the Sydney Opera House
Dinner on the purple steps.
Parsifal is seldom performed in Australia so it was no surprise to find that Wagner fans had flown in from all over the country to hear this concert performance. I overheard guests remarking on the large number of people from Melbourne in the audience and I bumped into a friend from New Zealand who booked tickets to two of the three performances. His mate was going to all three. Well, it's Parsifal, so why wouldn't you if you could? Particularly with the singers Opera Australia lined up for the performance which include star German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, American mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung and Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe. Not many singers can sing these demanding roles but this cast was, without exception, excellent, even faced with the very ordinary concert hall acoustics.

The sooner Sydney gets an acoustically wonderful opera house the better but how could an opera house anywhere else compete with these views?
View from the Sydney Opera House

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sewing Sunday

Last time I made covers for the cushions of my old (1970s) cane chairs, I pinned the gaps instead of sewing them closed, something I realised only this weekend, when when I replaced them.  The pins were rusty and difficult to remove. Perhaps I never finished them because I was unconvinced about the cover material, or was it lack of time or just laziness?

Whatever the cause, those covers have now been discarded and replaced by a new set - this time with the back gap sewn shut.

Perhaps these ones are permanent.
Odd how much more prominent
the pattern looks in a photo. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hard landing

I have been back in Australia for two weeks, but it has been a hard landing. Jetlag always seems to be harder on the way back to Australia but I was just about in my right time zone and almost had the stomach bug defeated when I had to have a tooth extracted, a cracked tooth I had been trying to save but which had become re-infected. My choice was to have it extracted 'now' or wait a month and I chose 'now'.  The decision saved me from a month of dire imaginings, but it was a difficult extraction.

The upside of the story is that while I hibernated and recovered from all my woes I developed a strong urge to de-clutter and took the opportunity to act on the urge. Out went clothes, books, CDs and unused household items. Only art materials were spared and they are my main space invader, but you've gotta have what you've gotta have.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coffee in Oz

First coffee back in Australia after nearly two months.

I heard in London that there are several new cafés being started by Australians. I can see why they would be successful. The coffee shops I visited in London all felt a bit like conveyer belt establishments. Slick, perhaps, but lacking that personal touch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A movie marathon

I made it home safe and sound and the flight back did not seem as long as usual.
Partly that must be due to the three excellent German movies I watched:  Mr & Mrs Adelman, My blind date with life (Meine blinde Date mit dem Leben) and SMS for you (SMS für Dich). I recommend them all - charming, witty and insightful. 

Singapore Airlines knows how to pick them.  I watched Barbara on the way over and it was also excellent (about the difficult choices people had to make about living in East or West during the DDR days).

I listened to Jonas Kaufmann sing his way through Mahler's Lied von der Erde, a new recording from Vienna with Kaufmann singing both tenor and baritone parts. I enjoyed it so much (with noise cancelling headphones - best travel investment ever) I listened to the whole thing twice.  I think I'll have to buy the CD. There were still some hours until landing so I watched a New York production of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Blum playing Romeo.

No wonder the flights seemed shorter - and in fact they are, an hour and a half shorter than the other direction and you notice the difference.

Now I'm back in NSW. It must be winter as lots of people on the train had colds although the temperature is about the same as Hamburg in early June. The difference is that houses here are chronically underinsulated and underheated so it seems much much colder.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Neckar Valley

The Neckar river, a tributary of the Rhine, winds from Mannheim south east to Stuttgart.

The Neckar Valley, east of Heidelberg, is a very pretty place and ideal for convalescents who need to recover from stomach bugs and weddings.
Rainbow in the Neckar Valley
I have spent three water-and-boiled-rice days here and have been very grateful that I have been able to recover at the home of friends. Also very grateful for the lift here by a family member on the way to Frankfurt. My cloud has had many silver linings.

The view over the Neckar Valley changes constantly with the weather and apparently rainbows are common, though not rainbows as spectacular as this one.

The diet and rest has worked a treat and I feel very much better, which is just as well as I leave shortly. I write this in Frankfurt Airport, waiting for my flight.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Wedding in Alsace

My ultimate destination in France was a family wedding in the Alsace not far from Strasbourg. I had intended to spend two days in Strasbourg, but the EU Parliament was sitting for exactly the two days I would have been there and hotel prices tripled, so I chose Paris instead.

From Paris I took the TGV (fast train) east. The speed of the trains are posted on internal screens  so I know we traveled 317k/m but it didn't feel that. It was an easy trip.

In Strasbourg I joined other family members to drive south. Our destination was about an hour and a half from Strasbourg but we stopped at picturesque Obernai for lunch then headed for the tiny roads to wind our way over the hills to beat the heat (34C). The temperature guage dropped as we climbed through the forests.

The Alsace is as pretty as they say. Lots of forests, patches of wheat and hay, houses built to withstand snow, some villages with very  'French' architecture and others that reminded of Switzerland.
Bluets et Brimbelles. Definately recommended.
Our accommodation,  Bluets et Brimbelles  was an artfully renovated barn. The internal woodwork leading up the three storeys was beautiful and the place was big enough to accommodate a larger family party.  Family members arrived a couple of days early so there was time to adjust and to help. It also meant the wedding became a sort of family reunion as well.
Stairwell at Bluets et Brimbelles
Bluets et Brimbelles reminded me of those TV Building and Renovation programs.  This one was a very successful make over. 
 View from our accommodation
The wedding was held over three days. As international guests (there were many) arrived they joined the local family for lunch under the shade of hazelnut trees. Dinner was within walking distance at a community building down the road with lovely gardens and extensive lawns. Lunch the next day was at the same venue where locals made Flammekueche in an outdoor oven.
Making Flammekueche
After lunch guests walked over to the town hall for the wedding ceremony. The hall was already brimming with local townfolk.

The ceremony was about an hour long, most of it designed by the bridal party. It was casual, charming and moving.
Town hall wedding
Share rides were organised to get everyone to the venue of the celebration party in the evening (40 minutes away), and to he breakfast venue next day.
The three days were a masterpiece of good planning; very relaxed but effective. All credit to the young couple.

Party venue with dancers
The Alsatians are rightly proud of their food. On every side people were exclaiming at how delicious this or that was. Unfortunately I can't report myself as I got a stomach bug on day 1 and was on 3 days of water rations.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Louvre

The Louvre opens at 9am and the weather forecast said 'hot' so I arrived at 8:30. There was already quite a queue but once the museum opened the crowds moved in fairly quickly.
Queues at the Louvre at 8:30. 
The glass pyramid houses the entrance steps and once inside it was interesting to watch the crowds orientate in the large underground courtyard. Many people made straight for the Mona Lisa - including me. It was very well signposted so the crowds moved quickly up the stairs and around the corners ignoring artworks on the way.  I must have stopped to look more than others as there was a large crowd of people craning to take pictures when I arrived.
Crowds taking selfies with Mona Lisa

This is what they were looking at
The Mona Lisa is a sort of pilgrimage piece and when you see the crowds taking photos of this and all the other work you find yourself contemplating art and it's importance in society.

I moved on to the 'decorative arts' wing.  It was a good choice as the museum is too big to see in its entirety and the decorative arts section was fascinating. I had not yet been to the similarly adorned Palais Garnier, so the decorations on the walls and ceilings were the first of the type I saw.

Some walls were plain, others were entirely covered with every sort of decoration.
Decorative arts plus

The vitrines were full of remarkable objects like this, a bowl with head carved from.a single piece of marble
I would take some photos then put my camera back in my bag saying 'no more photos' then walk into another room, gasp and take out the camera again. The artisanship on display is extraordinary.

Creation of the world clock