Mar 6, 2012

Australia/New Zealand Tour - Mar 6, 2012

Christopher Verrette (violin)

From Perth, we have moved on to Melbourne, which seems much larger and faster paced, more metropolitan and "monumental" with its many parks, museums, arts centres and such. We are also arriving at about 5PM on a Friday, which further accentuates the intensity of first traffic and then nightlife. Stepping off the elevator en route to my hotel room, I am greeted by a group of people carrying open bottles of beer – clearly not their first – who enquire as to where I am playing and, hearing that I have come from Canada, if I know Neil Young. I answer (honestly) that while I don't know him personally, I am pretty sure I know someone who does. This seems to be enough to get me an invitation for a drink up at the swimming pool, but I must decline for a variety of reasons, most pressing of which is a dinner engagement with members of the orchestra. (And I'm certainly glad I didn't miss this dinner, even to cavort in a swimming pool with over-refreshed fans of Canadian music.)

The name "Dainty Sichuan Restaurant" is only two-thirds accurate; there is nothing dainty about this food, except perhaps the small plates we eat it from. The words that come to mind instead are ones like "powerful" and "awesome," in the classic sense of the word. With this one, Elly Winer adds yet another jewel to the crown of his brilliant career of sniffing out the ultimate culinary experience to be had wherever we travel. Thanks for all the food, Elly!

We are staying in the Southbank area, a self-explanatory name, which offers a great view of the skyline. The beautiful old central train station is right across the river from us and can be reached by a pedestrian bridge. It is quite rainy while we are here, but I manage to explore some on foot. The guy in "Midnight in Paris" kept saying all cities look better in the rain, but as the day wears on I begin to hope it will clear up anyway. There is also a Heavy Metal festival going on at this time, and the wet weather doesn't seem to discourage buskers from playing electric guitars on the street. One of them wears a bunny suit, making me imagine what a Metal version of "You gotta have a gimmick" might sound like.

Melbourne Train Station
Melbourne's Central Train Station

The Melbourne Recital Hall is a magnificent venue with beautiful acoustics. We look forward to being able to play here a second time later in the week when, the mechanics of staging having been worked out the first time, we can enjoy the possibilities the acoustics offer all the more.

Melbourne Recital Hall
Melbourne Recital Hall

Poster of Tafelmusik, Melbourne
Lucas Harris, Jeanne Lamon, Alison Mackay, Shaun Smyth.

On Sunday, which is a rest day for most of the orchestra, a small group of us travel to Sydney a day early in order to play a private concert for Musica Viva supporters. The landing in Sydney is lovely, and I am happy that I negotiated a window seat from the lady next to me. Approaching the city, the plane turns south and flies over what I assume is national park land toward the ocean, then makes a dramatic turn over the water. The view only becomes industrial in the last minute before touching down.

Royal Botanical Gardens and Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens

Tegan Redinbaugh of Musica Viva directs us to what is essentially a modern-day House of Dreams. Our host, Ray Wilson, opens his home to many events of this type each year. He has a fine collection of art, both Aboriginal and modern, displayed in a home with lots of natural light. At the gathering we also meet Ray Norris, one of the astronomers we are collaborating with. He is an expert on Aboriginal astronomy, whose book is quoted in the Australian version of The Galileo Project, and presents us with a morning star pole, which is used in the ceremony for the rising of Venus as described in the concert.

Rehearsal for Donor Reception
Reception at the home of Ray Wilson - a modern-day House of Dreams

Astronomer Ray Norris
Alison Mackay (holding the morning star pole) and Jeanne Lamon with astronomer Ray Norris

We also meet the architect of the concert hall we will be playing in here in Sydney, which is, by the way, growing into a venue for baroque opera, among other things. It is also acoustically good, but poses some challenges for getting out among the audience to play. It is a long walk to the back of the hall. One solution is for people to leave the stage earlier than usual, with the happy result that they see parts of the show from the audience point of view for the first time. After the show, I meet many enthusiastic concertgoers, as well as members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and receive the good news that they will be coming to Toronto later this season [with Dawn Upshaw at the RCM April 22 - see - Ed]. I look forward to playing here a second time, too, and hope the weather is just as nice then. On my way back to our hotel I pass a restaurant named "Galileo".

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