Imagine a peacock at the Paris Opéra. Having taken the Métro eastwards from his digs in the heavenly Parc de Bagatelle, he passes the intermission munching an eight euro canapé. As we stare at the cultured bird, we find his feathers blurring into the architecture. Does the peacock, we wonder, prove that ornament is hard-wired into nature? This is not a “modernist” bird, a bird with clean lines and sharp edges like an Australian King Parrot. Like the Garnier, the patterns of the peacock’s plumage are subtle and layered, they seem to curl in on themselves until, through modern eyes, it is difficult to read in the ornament anything but beauty itself. This is a particular kind of beauty, one which provokes émerveillement rather than analysis.
Imaginez un paon à l’Opéra de Paris. Après avoir emprunté le Métro de son nid au parc Bagatelle, il passe l’entr’acte en mangeant un canapé de huit euros. Lorsque nous regardons cet oiseau cultivé, ses plumes commencent à se mêler avec l’architecture de Charles Garnier. Le paon est-il la preuve que l’ornement vient de la nature? Certes, il n’est pas un oiseau “moderniste,” ses couleurs ne sont pas aussi nettes, aussi précises que, par exemple, le perroquet roi d’Australie. Son plumage est comme le Palais Garnier, subtil, dépendant des effets de la lumière et son grain, autant que de la couleur. Pour nous dans le monde contemporain, les bâtiments si ornés sont quelquefois difficile à lire. Cette architecture d’autrefois excite les sentiments flous, l’émerveillement plutôt que l’analyse.
Having already played the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto three times with Vladimir Ashkenazy last week, Behzod Abduraimov played this one-off recital, and a grueling one it was. It is a very nice idea, though, for the Sydney Symphony to arrange these solo recitals of some of their visiting pianists (there will be three more recitals this year) as we get a chance to hear more of their personal character than is expressed in the big symphonic concert hall with the orchestra. As the Symphony’s artistic director and chief conductor, and moreover as a great pianist himself, Ashkenazy has invited or at least agreed to play with, some wonderful and characterful pianists, especially Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Stephen Hough last year. Behzod Abduraimov who only made his first tour a few years ago (with Ashkenazy and the SSO, as it happens), has a very definite style which he expresses always without reserve, his interpretations always having clarity. Even if it is different from your own thoughts or interpretation of a piece or from your favorite pianists (he is very different from Horowitz, though I believe the comparison has been made in the past) his style is strongly magnetic and his interpretations convincing enough to draw one into his musical world, and it is of course healthy and fun to hear new and varied interpretations of old favorites.
With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s opera of the Orpheus myth L’anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called “The Shepherd and the Mermaid” of some of their finds (which I haven’t yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner’s version of von Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the ‘net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.
Launched in 1998, shortly after its sister site, Drawing Materials and Techniques, The Drawing Site, originally the Web presence of Michael Miller Lucy Vivante Fine Arts, Inc., also received About.com’s “Best of the Net” Award for September 1999. The site has been altered little since then and looks its age. It will retire, perhaps to reemerge in some new form, but its original purpose as a center for knowledge on master drawings of all periods and as a source for collectors will pass on to Michael Miller Old Master Drawings [http://oldmasterdrawings.net], which is still under construction.
Knowing the Salon du Dessin at first hand, and contemplating its 2012 iteration, I find myself thinking back on on the world of master drawings as it was when I first entered it in 1980 and how it has changed over the years. Attended by over 13,000 people in 2010, the Salon is a large, public event which spans five days. It brings together the larger part of the world’s curators, scholars, collectors, and dealers in the field in a busy, but rarely overcrowded public space, the Palais de la Bourse. One can survey the available stock at the dealers’ stands, attend conferences, lectures, and guided tours, visit exhibitions at the Bourse and at Paris museums, as well as satellite enterprises around the Hôtel Drouot, where drawings can be had at auction, and further afield. There is a wealth of opportunities to learn about drawings, as well as to collect them. In 1980, no one thought that a fair of this size might ever exist in the field, and in its early years, during the 1990s, no one ever thought it would grow to these dimensions.
This fascinating and varied program, each piece using equally colorful but very different orchestras and very different forms and structures, shows us some of the breadth of the Sydney Symphony. Their style is nimble enough to express itself in multifarious ways and Ashkenazy’s style and approach to symphonic music is well suited to the three pieces. To mark the occasion of the orchestra’s 80th anniversary, they have done something special in commissioning themselves a new piece by way of an open competition. Elliott Gyger’s entry was chosen, and though only alloted a short amount of time to fit into this larger program of more familiar pieces, it does rather expand under the intensity of its short broken up motifs and its varied colors, sounds and textures, qualities Ashkenazy, at least as a conductor, seems to relish. The piece’s title refers to the SSO’s origin as a radio orchestra formed along with the Australian Broadcast Corporation in 1932. Gyger says he used an ensemble of 17 instruments, the same in the original 1932 radio orchestra, which for his “dialogue” are spread through the larger orchestra: three violins, viola, cello, bass, two each of trombones, trumpets and clarinets, a horn, sousaphone, piccolo, piano and percussion.
Bonachela’s new creation begins with calm, silent (without even music) gesturing from the whole company gathered on stage. The gestures seem as organized and complex as a sign language but are not really comprehensible except for a gist, at least not until later, a bit like when a (wild) parrot lands on your balcony railing and starts chattering to you, very slightly reproachful when you don’t give the proper response in the same language. For the first half, the dancers wear plain gray body stockings of varying length with vivid lime green zippers up the back (see photo), almost as if they were wind up toys or soft animals with music boxes. The scene gives way to a more frenetic one with unsettled, fraught music, more electronic sounds, sometimes recalling a jackhammer, or thunder, or like some science fictional machine. Even where the music sounds a bit video gamish and repetitive, the choreography manages to retain its humanity, though the movements can be combative — the high sudden kicks give a little jolt of comic bookishness and though this movement is used too often so its effect is diluted, the dancing manages to veer away from falling into any such mundane tendency. In fact, the piece has much more to it generally than these stylized fights, as alarming and sensational as they are. The movements are rarely naturalistic, only in brief lingering gestures or flashes — a reach towards the other partner, a quarter roll prostrate on the floor, a weightier dropping movement of despair or just release or what have you, or letting the other partner, both man and woman at different times, provide all of the support. The photos here give a very good feel of the work, though it is not so posed as they might lead one to think; theses “poses” are fleeting. Where there is a clichéd gesture — an unsubtle one-shoulder shrug, a splayed crouch, one of those exaggerated martial arts-style high kicks — it is very brief and there is so much going on at once in the multiple groups of dancers so often on the stage, each has their own steps and movements in the detailed and intricate choreography.