CRITICISM - ONLY CONNECT
100 Classical favourites promoted by ABC-FM and 24
Hours offer an abundance of fine listening but the list would need
rearranging to establish any appreciation of Western Musical traditions.
Most of the time, we encounter works of art in no particular order, not
even that of a popularity poll.
enjoyment from any of the arts is enriched through a quest for covert
designs. Our discernment of what the novelist Henry James called
“the figure in the carpet” comes from both flashes and hard
looking. If many lifelong pleasures are sparked by chance encounters, we
need help from programmers to structure our perceptions.
We cannot have it all, certainly not all at
once, despite what the credit card commercials claim. To concentrate
one’s listening on Chopin and Bruckner to the exclusion of Liszt and
Mahler is a loss, but not so great a one as to achieve no more than a
nodding-off acquaintance with all four.
Rodin exhibition that started its Australian tour in Perth provided some
context for the Rodins that are held in nearly every State Gallery. Yet
none of our institutions collect sculpture in order to track the
pathways of European sculpture, as they do for painting. Indeed,
sculptures are deposited as decorative touches in rooms devoted to the
two-dimensional. To appreciate Rodin’s achievement we need the
patterns of his predecessors, contemporaries and successors.
The Buddhas recently shown at the Art Gallery
of New South Wales traced a comparable line of development, making sense
visually even to someone holding the slenderest acquaintance with Asian
imagery or beliefs. The transitions from the Middle East across to the
Japanese were clear. The display could tell its own story, supplying a
pattern of how the image-making had altered across time and place.
By contrast, the Treasures from the World’s
Great Libraries at the National Library in Canberra were a random
selection that went nowhere. The viewers had to insert each item into a
pattern external to the display. Hence, the open score of Mozart’s Requiem
could slip between memories of performances, scenes from Amadeus and biographical snippets. Instead of assembling a cabinet
of curiosities, our National Library should have relied on the coherence
provided at the Guttenberg Museum of the history of writing and printing
in Mainz. Adopting its approach, the Mozart page would have concluded
the development of musical notation.
During the past twelve years, Bell
Shakespeare has offered us the chance to see how Shakespeare learnt his
stagecraft. Similarly, our understanding of Hamlet
has been deepened by recent productions of revenger tragedies, The
White Devil and The Duchess of
Opera companies must juggle box-office
favourites (The Pearl Fishers, Gawdelpus) with the less familiar. Festivals are
a chance to introduce work that will become accepted, as Janacek has
been into the Opera Australia repertoire where his name no longer alarms
subscribers. Yet Janacek’s achievements will remain less well
understood than they deserve for as long as most Central European operas
are hardly even names.
An easier task is to bring forward
neglected works from the periods with which subscribers feel
comfortable. Why mount a new production of Cav
& Pag in Melbourne in
March rather than introduce Charpentier’s Louise
to follow Giordarno’s Andrea
Chenier last year. That latter pair would provide a context for
those who wish to argue that Puccini should have topped the ABC poll.
Pattern-making by audiences would be helped
by co-ordination between the programmers for the musical series. On 31st
August, Weber’s Der Freischutz
premieres in Sydney, four weeks after Sabine Meyer’s clarinet concert
with the Sydney Symphony, where she is to perform the “Number One”
on the 24 Hours list, the
Mozart clarinet concerto. An airing of Weber’s inventive writing for
that instrument would have deepened appreciation of its use in
establishing the sinister colouring that, as he explained, “gives this
opera its principal character”. ABC-FM could help out by broadcasting
recordings and discussions of works in time to encourage listeners to
subscribe, not weeks later.
contrast, the Sydney Symphony’s Shostakovich Project on 5-7 April
offers three concerts and a lecture by Andrew Ford. This weekend will
consolidate the programming of Shostakovich during the last decade. The
Opera House audience will not be as shocked as Stalin by the pornophony
from flatulent trombones when The
Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District opens on 11 June.
Freischutz is not only
a pleasure in its own right, but is a bridge, musically and
dramatically, between Mozart’s German operas and Wagner’s. Since
1998, Australian audiences have had the chance to make better sense of
Wagner with a new production of Tannhauser
and a complete The Ring cycle;
2001 revived Tristan and Lohengrin, and brought our first ever Parsifal. Not only do we hear better from this consolidation but
performers also improve, as is evident with the Adelaide orchestra and
Local and visiting contemporary movement
ensembles have taken dance audiences a long way since the first visit of
Pina Bausch twenty years ago. Yet the pattern of expectation did not
prevent Melbourne mothers who chaperoned their aspiring cygnets to the
Frankfurt Ballet last October from surprise at glimpsing genitals where
they had expected tutus.
Art-lovers rarely advance lockstep through the Great Traditions. We hear,
read and see in no particular order. As teenagers we revel in
Tchaikovsky and Dali before we have heard of Josquin or van der Weyden.
We spend our lives sorting those encounters into patterns which deepen
our delight through a broader understanding. Meeting E. M. Forster’s
injunction “Only connect” demands more weaving than implied by
“only”. We need to work at perceiving figures into the magic carpet