Monday, July 31, 2017

THE STRADDIE TRILOGY Part 3

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Day three, and the second part of the Festival has decamped, traditionally, from Lookout Point to the Memorial Hall at Dunwich, 25 kilometres away. Piano had made the journey in the night. The artists had been installing themselves since dawn, and we arrived at 10am for a somewhat different kind of concert to the gourmet slices of great works which the last two days had delivered to us.


 Today we had an Entertainment, devised by Rachel Smith, aptly titled Minjerribah Miniatures. Minjerribah is the place where Dunwich is situated and the miniatures were a series of short musical pieces, plucked from all round the world – Australia, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia – illustrating various aspects of the natural world, and linked by readings of a set of brief aboriginal tales, the creation myths of the local trees.

We had beautiful morceaux of Debussy (Smith, Hankinson) and of Dvorak (de Wit, Breen), alongside pieces by Jacob Druckman and Maria Grenfell featuring the water-shining marimba (Vanessa Tomlinson), a little Sculthorpe (Emmerson), Karin Schaupp’s light-fingered guitar both solo in atmospheric pieces by Paul Stanhope, Richard Charlton, and teamed with the strings of the festival in Paul Hoghton’s In Amber, and we had a little bundle of ‘firsts’ from Paul Hankinson: a new arrangement of the Elgar ‘Sea Slumber Song’ for string quartet, plus two items from his new Schubert-inspired collection: a solo Fantaisie for piano based on the very duo we had heard the previous day, and a freewheeling ‘Spinnrad’ (Smith, de Wit, Hankinson) which brought the hour and a bit of Entertainment to another standing ovation end.


It was a joyous morning only made tricky for me by the fact in this accoustically loud (and just how loud we were soon to find out) hall the young reader failed to project her voice beyond row four. Insert here my standard rant about ‘what do they teach in drama schools these days’.

Lunch. Lunch is always an event in Dunwich. I shot up the road to the local grocery-cum-cafĂ©, the Fruit Barn, because I knew very well that (bypassing a number of other eateries) everyone ‘in the know’ would be doing the same, and the queue gets enormous. So I sat in the sun, in my new hat, and devoured an excellent spinach roll and a large plate of three-salads (no lettuce) with a grand milkshake in a good old-style metal container. It seems milkshakes, REAL milkshakes are making a comeback, in Queensland, at least. Hurrah, say I.

Back to the hall for a cold chardonnay before the afternoon’s final session. Just in time! The hall, in which both bar and toilets are situated, was closing for final rehearsals. So all we oldies, with failing legs and weak bladders, not to mention a thirst, had to stand around outside for 45 minutes before, a bare eight minutes before curtain time, we surged in, sprinting for seats and the loo and grabbing a hurried glass … something organisational is perhaps to be reviewed before 2018.


And so, to the final concert.
Well, now I know what an oud is! And isn’t it a magnificent instrument? Like an overgrown lute crossed with a melon. Since Joseph the oudist is a master of his machine I was able to appreciate its intricacies as I dreamed myself back again in a smoky Tangiers bar of the 1960s… Well, almost. In Tangier the music was not amplified. I wish it hadn’t been here. The electrics made all the music sound rather unsubtly the same, and the volume, in the small hall, was somewhat overwhelming. However, when Jacob the oud was joined by the solo strings in a composition of his own (Eye of the Beholder), and tempered his instrument to blend with others, the result was truly lovely.

This weekend, this tale, has been pretty much one of undiluted enthusiasm. I suppose it needed one disaster, one full-scale failure, to bring me back into the real and too often unlovely world. We got it.

Commissioning an original work for a Festival is fraught with perils. Especially if you don’t play it safe. And this year Straddie didn’t play it safe. And they missed the target.
The four programme columns describing Yitzhak Yedid’s Chad Gadya for clarinet, violin, cello and piano spoke of a ‘playful children’s song’ which was quoted in full. The composer also spoke at length before the playing started. He refused the microphone, so I didn’t hear what he said. But it seems to have been mostly the same stuff. Why don’t composers simply let their music speak for itself? Admittedly Australia isn’t half as bad as Germany in this connection, but it’s a pernicious habit.
And then the piece. Well, I’d rather be trampled on by the unrecognisable goats than have to suffer it again. It goes down in my book on the page ‘great fiascos of my musical life’. The violinist (Smith) and the cellist (King) might as well have been miming. They were almost entirely obliterated by the young lady with the frightened hair who took the piano part. I couldn’t see from the back row seat that I had (forewarned) taken, but I’m pretty sure she was playing with her fists rather than her fingers. And, oh my heart went out to the clarinettist, who had played so gloriously and warmly in Schumann and Brahms: here he was reduced to imitating a train whistle, an eviscerated cat, a raped peacock, and other prosaic vulgarities.
Yes, undoubtedly one of the maxi-nadir moments of my 60 years of all-sorts of concert-going.

Fortunately, there was a second part to the concert. No amplification, no fisting, no factory whistles or crucified penguins, just fine music finely played. Dvorak’s piano quintet in A Major (Rowell, Smith, Henbest, King, Emmerson). Here the audience really leapt into its enthusiasms to such an extent that folk exploded into applause at the end of the first movement and I found myself following suit! And Dvorak gave us a sophisticated, musical sforzando, just to show how it can be done. It was a fine and fitting ending to a first-rate Festival, a hugely enjoyable extended weekend of music, on a sweet and sunny island amongst the most amiable of people …

Just say, I have already got my name in for a season ticket for 2108.

Oh!: The Kurt Award for my favourite musical moment of the weekend? You guessed it. The Poulenc. Run very close by a dead-heat between the Schubert duo and the opening Haydn …


Footnote: there must be thousands of Memorial Halls in Australia and New Zealand. Most, I suppose, just generally in memoriam of all the folk who died in this war or that. The population of Stradbroke Island being what it was, the walls of the Dunwich Hall seemingly hold just two plaques. The one above my seat was dedicated to infantryman Albert Joseph (‘Bert’) Tripcony (1893-1917). Bert was a Moreton Bay man. He died in action in Picardy, France, at the age of 24, one hundred years ago this year, in one of the most useless wars of last century. Requiescat in pace, Bert. Oh, although the plaque happily doesn’t mention the fact, folk of these racist days have seen fit to point out emphatically that Bert was of the aboriginal genre. Does his race matter? Never mind, Bert, to me you are just one more brave young Australian man who gave his life for … what?


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