May 2011

Music

Mahler’s Ninth. Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Richard Strauss once wondered about Mahler, to his face I believe, 'Why don't you write an opera? You could write such a good opera since you've put on so many at the Wiener Staatsoper.' He didn't understand and Mahler got pretty angry. In a way Mahler's symphonies are operas without singers, a sort of total art, in a subjective sense — if that term doesn't require total sensory stimulation — with vivid use of color and articulate deep expression. The level of abstraction attained by giving up words and human voices enabled him to express more faithfully what really gripped him. The Ninth, like all good symphonies, even more so for Mahler's but especially in his Ninth, it is a multitude of contents, often all at the same time — ambiguity and paradox seem easily expressed, even refined in Mahler. Vladimir Ashkenazy's and each of the instrumentalists' attention and care for each melody, theme, chord and layer in the music make this so clear even as the complexity of the music seems to nourish them; they generously create something fascinating and consoling to listen to — in fact partly because of its complexity it sticks with the listener long afterward.

Architecture | Urban Design

Barangaroo: Not so Fast?

The saga of Sydney’s Barangaroo has finally reached the point where its twists and turns are no longer predictable. The developer Lend Lease and its resolutely faux design, once paced to a seemingly unassailable lead by a compliant government and a shameless PR operation, has punctured a tire. Without a spare tube or pump, they wait by the side of the road for a team car which itself has been totaled. Meanwhile “sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” are gaining fast. No one knows how many kilometres there are to go. Consider recent events:
Dance

British Liaisons: The Australian Ballet Flowers From Its British Roots

Australia and Britain have particularly close artistic ties, cooperatively sharing artists, as is well documented in the British Liaisons program, along with fascinating pictures. For example, the Irish Briton Ninette de Valois, who helped found the Royal Ballet, sent expertise to many countries in the form of dancers and teachers from her company, Peggy van Praagh in Australia's case, and she also traveled much herself, for example to Turkey and the Yugoslav nations to help set up their national ballet companies. De Valois also gave Robert Helpmann opportunities to use his acting and dancing talent after he came to England from Australia as a young man. Not mentioned in the program, de Valois in 1928 commissioned a score from the avant garde Australian composer Elsie Hamilton for her ballet The Scorpions of Ysit, though the original failed at the time, it would be interesting to restore it. A good 21st Century example is Peter Wright and John MacFarlane's (an Englishman and Scot respectively) Nutcracker, which is also now in the Australian Ballet's repetoire. In any case, the three ballets in this program, all from British choreographers, give a much more articulate description of modern artistic collaboration with Britain and show off its diversity. In addition, this program offers an opportunity to hear well played 20th century music that is not often heard.

New York Arts in Australia

Protest the University of Sydney’s Book Cull: Mass Book Borrowing Bonanza and “Read-In,” 18 May

In order to protest the University of Sydney's planned culling of half a million books from its library, a "book borrowing bonanza and read-in is planned for 18 May at 1pm in the Fisher Library Foyer. The university announced this week that it would be getting rid of the books in order to make room for a coffee cart and other indispensable paraphernalia of 21st century university life.
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