New York Arts in Australia

Gluck, Hummel and Haydn Concertos with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Keyed Trumpeter Gabriele Cassone

The first three programs of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra this year have made a nice historical progression from the late Baroque of Vivaldi, to that of central Europe and England with Bach, Zelenka and Handel, now to the late classical period. The fortepiano has come out to replace the harpsichord and the orchestra grown with thicker string sections and clarinets to bring us Haydn and the Italian trumpet virtuoso Gabriele Cassone. For the Haydn G major Symphony, the so-called “Surprise,” Paul Dyer conducts from behind the fortepiano bench, and lays chords oftentimes too while using his body and shoulders to conduct. Though we can catch at times some of the period reproduction fortepiano’s beautiful sonorities, it is too large a hall really to do it justice and often it gets swallowed in the orchestra, but no matter, that is not its purpose here, though it does make a slight difference in color. What is important is that with the larger (late) classical orchestra, the conductor is necessary and conductorly music-making is readily audible here. With more dynamic possibilities from the backed-up strings, and timpani, and opportunities to use them thanks to Haydn (not to mention Gluck!) — and Maestro Dyer (though he never gives himself the label “conductor”) does know how to use it — the orchestra adapts naturally and readily to the new-sounding late 18th century palate. The strings have more solidity, they are still clear, very precise, with guest concertmaster Madeleine Easton leading them with her beautiful playing, but with more structure, polished but with a fine texture by virtue of the gut strings and the varied shapes and sizes of the violins. The orchestra is set up with cellos on the left next to the first violins, and basses, violas and second violins on the right, horns on the back left, trumpets (natural baroque ones) on the back right with the woodwinds in between.

The Famous Five Play Brahms: The Tinalley String Quartet Plays with Kristian Chong

The Tinalley String Quartet.

In this the last performance of this program, the Tinalley String Quartet with their usual polish and serious, concentrated approach dipped into distant points in, without any futile attempt to span, romantic chamber music. The all minor key pieces each stood out distinctly by virtue of the composers’ individual emotional and intellectual language, while comfortably yoked together under the Tinalley’s distinctive voice. The subtler sense of humor, perhaps broader range of experience held in Brahms’ music made a very satisfying conclusion to the evening fitting so well the group’s very human tone — warm, but well-rounded and very clear, though at the same time they have a certain relaxed attitude, coloring the group tone as fits the music and their idea of the whole, rather than scrabbling for fleeting spectacle, which makes the performance very memorable. Kristian Chong, the invited pianist, got along very well with the group. Managing to get a remarkably sultry tone out of his Steinway, he seemed to expand the existing coloring of the group for that grand Brahms’ quintet, contributing as much oscuro as chiaro. No multiple-source fluorescent globes here. In the more individualistic writing which brings out each five of the players at some point, each showed an unforced and personal expression yet were always aware of the quintet as an expressive instrument in which their individual thoughts would fly on, the larger group picking up and carrying on the curve of their solo line.

The Bangarra Dance Theatre Dances ‘Terrain’

Nature doesn’t really impose physical restrictions on our free will, but rather demonstrates the movements best suited to us; these too are the most beautiful. They are not an imposed law but very much individual. There is an ingenuity to discovering them and in so doing one pushes against them, but the effortful courage of pushing them can be a misplaced nobility, and while there is a certain inherent dramatic tension there, it can become awkward. There is a certain quality in today’s contemporary dance style, though there are many original variations and exceptions, which is hardly naturalistic in the way it pushes the extremes of human ability. The Bangarra Dance Theatre is in a unique position in urban Sydney, close to the Contemporary Dance World (sometimes called a “Mafia,” but let’s try to be positive), but also with close ancestral ties which give them access to the preserved ancient Australian arts which developed in unique ways in their isolation.

Developers’ Rule: A New Plan for Planning in New South Wales

Ku-ring-gai. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

A true story: one day at the New South Wales Department of Planning two planners are talking about different theories of urban planning. ‘Neoliberal planning,’ the first says, “that’s what we do.” “No kidding,” the other replies.

“No kidding” might be replaced by “yer darn tootin” after the release of the NSW Government’s A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper. If the title doesn’t quite grab you, a new planning system, however boring, will have a far greater impact on people’s lives than more juicy topics like a new Museum of Contemporary Art or a new pavilion for the Venice Biennale. Planning is the most visible juncture at which architecture meets politics, and what the Government is proposing is interesting for the way that it reveals urban planning as the point where conservatism begins to conflict with itself, where a libertarian sensibility runs counter to pro-business economic rationalist conservatism. The development industry is not quite a friend of the invisible hand; it does best when certain freedoms are curtailed. This was shown most clearly in the US by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the Constitution’s “Takings Clause” (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) to allow governments to claim eminent domain for purposes of private redevelopment.

Chamber Sextets and Octet by Spohr, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky With The Sydney Omega Ensemble

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1890. From the Tchaikovsky House Museum, Klin.

Stepping down a semitone at a time starting from Spohr’s E Major, seeming to gravitate to the famous Tchaikovsky sextet in D Minor, this group of young musicians brings quite an ambitious program. Despite some uneven playing of the first piece, they became stronger and stronger to give a very satisfying take on the last.

Altogether Now: the 18th Biennale of Sydney

Jon Pylypchuk, spend the rest of your life mining this death and it will only bring you despair, 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

A good biennale dances a tricky pas de deux with its theme. Too little constraint lands us in Charles Foster Kane’s warehouse, too heavy a curatorial hand stifles the unruliness which is contemporary art’s great charm. The curators of this year’s Biennale of Sydney, Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, have taken an inquisitive approach to their theme. If all our relations sets itself up against a modernist heroism which must by now be as rickety as a leaky curtain wall, its pluralism does not mean anything and everything and isn’t it so groovy we’re all connected all the time? In their curatorial statement Zegher and McMaster place their biennale within “a renewed attention to how things connect” which is already at large in the world. Bad connections spark and sputter all over the place, while good ones, we hope, form in the shadows or underground, always in resistance to the dark force of an individualism of consumers instead of individuals. all our relations is not the same as “let’s get together and feel alright” and it is not, as some feared when the theme was first announced, a rejection of the visionary in favor of a dull but worthy collectivism. Both extremes are too easy, as is most territory in between.

The Takács Quartet Visits Sydney

I’ve written many times about musicians’ giving spiels before they play and how intrusive this can be on the music by denying that important transition from the audience’s excited chatter as they find their seats, to the musicians’ walking on, to the silence before the first note. These spiels are very different from the pre-concert talks which are common now and elective, take place well before the actual concert, and can be informative. Here was a more egregious example — first violin Edward Dusinberre gave an entire short lecture before the Janáček and Britten quartets, complete with short musical excerpts just before they hoed into the actual piece. Then Gordon Kerry himself was brought on to talk about his piece just before they played it. I think even a “modern audience” can take its music straight and have a fighting chance of understanding it. The lecturing seemed to throw them off, the words over-specifying and materializing the music, being too heavily prosaic for the music to bear, though perhaps jet-lag and fatigue from touring, or just a bad day contributed, but it was disappointing that the music of this usually very fine group sounded so flat.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Opens a New Wing (and an Old Debate…)

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

Circular Quay is Sydney’s great public space, but it is no Piazza San Marco. The presence of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge at opposite ends of the magnet is powerful enough to allow the eye to glide around the curve past the decent, mediocre and bad architecture in between. In such an enchanted context even the Cahill Expressway, an elevated freeway which runs along the southern foreshore, is somehow not as egregious as Boston’s Central Artery was before it was chopped down. Instead of ancient stones, there is water, the one inlet out of the harbor’s dozens chosen for European settlement, now teeming with ferries and tourist boats promising  varying doses of adrenaline. However unrepresentative of the unruly metropolis which spreads from here in all directions, Circular Quay hints at the dream of its city, the city’s best version of itself, the city Sydney could one day be.