Saturday, October 15, 2011


imageI was sitting at work on Friday, struggling to find the gist of a paper I was reading, when I realised that a big factor in my failure to comprehend it was down to Pat Benatar.  Someone had a radio on, and the 80’s pop process was belting out Love is a Battlefield*.

I could have shut my office door to preserve the silence, but that runs contrary to the oft-quoted need for an open-door policy with staff, so I didn’t.  I should have been able to shut it out, just like you do when working in a noisy office environment, but I couldn’t.  Why not?  I think it’s because there’s a sense of grim anticipation – the sure knowledge that another excruciating lyric is on its way, and once it’s gone, you know that the same line will be back time and time again, or another one equally worthless.

I eventually found the miscreant and got them to turn the radio off, but it got me wondering why people think it’s OK to foist their musical preferences on others.  Consequently it was something of a coincidence when I discovered, via some tweet or other, the Pipedown website.  This group, which numbers such luminaries as Stephen Fry, is committed to the abolition of piped music in public places such as department stores and restaurants.  I’d advocate adding offices to their list as well.

* note to Pat – it’s nothing like a battlefield.  Totally different things.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lost Art of Music Composition

imageI’m a big fan of our symphony orchestras including works by contemporary composers in their programs, in particular works by contemporary Australian composers.  We’ve heard plenty of good modern material as a result, such as Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III a few weeks ago, Edwards’ Veni, Creator Spiritus and Vine’s Microsymphony, to name a few.

However, one thing all these pieces have in common has been their brevity. Ten or twelve minutes generally sees them out, which seems to work for most people.

Brett Dean, whose four movement violin concerto “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” was played by the ASO at its French Beauty concert on 7 and 8 October, took us on a somewhat different tack.  A mere 38 minutes worth, and I have to admit I was struggling a bit after about 3 minutes.  The thing raised a few issues in my mind:

  1. Dean wrote the piece in 2006, but (aside from the ACO*) none of the major symphony orchestras played it until this year, when three (count ‘em, three! - ASO, MSO, SSO) have scheduled it.  I assume this was because the piece won a  major prize for composition in 2009, at which point everyone decided they ought to schedule it.
  2. The soloist (Sophie Rowell) did an excellent job with the piece.  In some ways the nature of the music made it easy to really appreciate her efforts, in other ways it made it difficult to keep concentrating on what she was doing.
  3. I would have thought that with any solo violinist the program really ought to have a few lines on the violin he or she is playing.  In this case I assume Rowell was playing the Guadagnini which was purchased (with considerable foresight) in 1955 for 1750 pounds by the SA Guadagnini Trust.
  4. I wonder what the reason was for the long pregnant pause between the orchestra tuning up and Rowell and Volmer walking on stage to start the Dean piece.  I have a mental picture of Rowell being dragged kicking and screaming onto the stage…and who could blame her!


“Anonymous” has questioned the premise that the ACO has played this piece at all, falling in to the trap of supposing that the ACO refers to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as opposed to the Ardrossan Community Orchestra, which premiered this piece years ago.  Actually that’s a lie (although it remains a possibility!) and I’m not quite sure why I thought the ACO has played this – probably because it’s just the sort of piece they ought to play, or the sort of piece they would play.  See the comments for further observations about the timing of the multiple instances of this piece now appearing in various programs.