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autumnal thoughts

April 26, 2011

I’ve been sick as a dog, or a parrot. Or perhaps it was man-flu, as various amusing females have originally suggested. Whatever it is, it was grungy and full of yechh. If you were within ten feet of me, you’d have gotten it too, so you were smart to stay away! When I began this post it seemed like a good day to lie on the lounge room floor with the laptop with the new guts and wiped short-term memory and write a rambling but witty entry about the past fortnight’s music making. Instead you get this, finished off with a glass of elderflower liqueur on ice and The Cat Returns on the telly…

Last Monday was the final Eggner Trio performance of my trio Tales of Old Russia, and it was just a tiny bit sad to hear the coda rush to its end. These boys are quite amazing. When I heard their brave and unusual interpretation of Beethoven’s op.11, usually played as a clarinet trio, I knew that there were surprises in store. And so it was. During the delightful mini tour with the Flinders Quartet, Zoe Knighton introduced each concert with a few much appreciated remarks, including the observation that it is a privilege to be able to have the living composer on hand, and of course I agree. But just on occasion, it can be a relief not to have them there. As a player, I sometimes need to remind myself as composer to say what needs to be said, succinctly, and then leave it to colleagues to mediate the music in their own way. Otherwise, micro-managing can sap the life out of someone else’s fantasy, and if you’re lucky enough to be working with people like the Eggners, who have fantasy in abundance, then the best thing you can do is to check the notes, make sure everything works and is generally understood, and get out of the way. Or, I daresay you could just call it trust and leave it at that.

Here is the performance from Adelaide.

What I most enjoyed about meeting the boys again and being a part of their tour was that they express joy and playfulness, and don’t seem to give much of a damn for carefulness. Which is not to say that they are messy — far from it! But I do remember back to my earliest experiences of chamber music, and have vague recollections of men in dark suits, taking forever to start playing and going about their business like funeral directors. This is not the Eggner way. After each concert, we were probed by the delightful Katherine Kemp and questioned by the audiences, and much interest was expressed in the boys’ choice of shirts and cameraderie on long tours, all questions fielded with grace and wit. Many in the audience who stayed back to attend these post-concert conversations asked very thoughtful questions and it was a pleasure to ponder them and respond. But I have to say, it was the Australian Music Day in Canberra, when I spoke to a lovely gathering of school children, that I enjoyed most. Mostly, as you’d expect, the older students sat up the back (although a few were towards the front and yawned, the way teenagers do), and the younger ones were in the front row. When I asked who knew about Russian folk tales, all hands went up, and one girl straight away told a version of the maiden and the baba yaga. But the single most striking comment came from one of the youngest. I explained that, right near the beginning of the first movement, which is all about Vassilisa, who is sent into the forest to seek out the witch Baba Yaga, there is a tiny little musical figure that appears and disappears but grows more and more involved as the story goes on. I said that I wasn’t even quite sure what it meant myself and asked what they thought. Immediately, a little girl put up her hand and said, “Danger.” And she was not only dead right but she put it in a word — the absolutely correct word. I actually learned something about my own piece from a ten year-old.

Overwhelmingly, though, it was just the pleasure and privilege of hearing my piece brought to life with such fantasy and skill, by colleagues who found detail in it that I can honestly say I didn’t know was there. They really enjoyed it too. Bonus! And if I had a dollar for each time someone said to me, “I don’t normally like Modern Music but I thought your piece was [insert adverb] good”, well, I’d have a pocket full of dollars.

Roll on May.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wilma Smith permalink
    May 13, 2011 8:31 pm


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