Whether you first became aware of the composer Leoš Janáček while seeing or hearing one of his unusual operas, operas with animal characters, moon people, or 400-year-old women, or, like me, you encountered his well-known Sinfonietta in a traditional orchestra concert, you probably instantly realized that this is a composer with his own distinctive sound and musical sensibility, neither Germanic, like Richard Strauss, Finnish, like Sibelius, or Russian, like Scriabin, to compare him with three of his immediate contemporaries. Though there are occasional echoes of Smetana and Dvořák, the nineteenth century’s two great Czech nationalists, Janáček’s music most often sounds sharply different from theirs nor does he remotely resemble his contemporaries in nearby lands. This relatively short book — about 136 page of easily readable prose — is an exploration of that sound.
The buddy system. Last night’s Prom was as close to an all-smiles evening as one could hope for with rain pouring down all day. David Robertson, although known as a champion of contemporary music, programmed two easy pieces, the Barber Violin Concerto, which is about as challenging as a box of caramels (very delicious caramels) and the Sibelius Second Symphony, a sure-fire hit in Nordic-friendly Britain. There are so many stories of promising American conductors who falter in middle age (Robertson turned 52 last month) that I was eager to hear him a second time. The first was with the Boston Symphony some years ago. Before I register my impressions, however, there’s a spic-and-span back story to his career — apparently this man has left behind him a trail of good will wherever he goes. He looks fit and friendly, with flat gray hair and the long face of a Yankee banker sitting for a Copley portrait. Born and raised in Malibu — not an arduous beginning, one assumes — Robertson was educated at the Royal Academy of Music. This tie to London glided into becoming the chief guest conductor of the BBC Symphony, which he presided over last night with happy faces all around. Robertson even entered the thorny patch that is the Ensemble Intercomtemporain in Paris and was cheered on despite having no ties to its founder, the formidable Pierre Boulez. Robertson preferred to conduct John Adams instead, and he got away with it.
Three weeks after deposing Kevin Rudd, as though ticking off another item on her to-do list, Julia Gillard called a federal election (one of only three winter federal elections in Australian history). I can’t summon the heart to give much of an account of the five week campaign which followed, especially since the twist in the story only came once the votes began to be counted. You really had to be here. The campaign was truly godawful, a complete extinguishing of the hope which had seen Kevin07 elected three years before. Both major parties pandered to the same focus groups in the same few marginal electorates. They peddled small bore middle class welfare and indulged trumped-up fear; they blandly appealed to the most disgracefully narrow-minded tendencies in the darkest marginal corners of the Australian electorate, the people who fear their leaf blowers will not be powerful enough to defend their McMansions against Taliban invasion. It was easy to to believe that the entire country had become, as one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, a Boganocracy.