Quokkas, Chloe, and whips - Australia/NZ Tour, 2015

Feb 27, 2015

Quokkas, Chloe, and whips - Australia/NZ Tour, 2015

Christopher Verrette, violin
Christopher VerretteWe are now in Canberra, capital of Australia, and at the exact middle of the tour. We have just given the fifth of nine performances, this to an enthusiastic crowd at the Australian National University. The audience spontaneously clapped along with the encore, something we have not experienced since the last time we were in Japan, where they were encouraged by an enthusiastic, tambourine-wielding narrator to do so. Along with the happy task of blogging the next bit of the tour comes the sacred burden of bearing Herr Bobblehead Bach, with whom I enjoyed an excursion outside of the city yesterday, along the Great Ocean Road. But let us first backtrack a week, as Pat promised in his initial post, to when I communed with the quokkas on Rottnest Island off the West coast, near Perth.
This European name for the island the Noongar people called "Wadjemup" is a bit of a misnomer, stemming from the fact that the Dutch explorers that landed here in 1695 (around the time of the Dutch/Purcell segment in House of Dreams) thought it was inhabited by giant rats (Rodents of Unusual Size?). The quokkas are, of course, not rodents, but marsupials. They are confined to this island, nearby Bald Island, and a few isolated spots on the mainland. They have been a protected species for about a century; they were hunted extensively when the island housed an Aboriginal prison, both by the prisoners, who were allowed to hunt on Sundays, and their captors.
Quokkas at Rottnest Island
Timid Quokkas - and fortunately no snakes.

I spotted a pair of the beasts on my own before taking the official quokka walking tour. Harold, one of many volunteers that provide various types of tours to visitors, led us to some prime viewing spots, but warned us in advance that quokkas are nocturnal, so they might not appear in mid-afternoon. We were also warned not to touch them, as they carry salmonella. We saw about a dozen of the estimated 12,000 on the island. (We woke one up!) Good places to look are near fig trees. Figs are their primary food, though they do eat some other plants, and can extract water from some of the plants that grow along the island's small salt lakes. Visitors that don't spot an actual quokka will almost certainly encounter tangible evidence of their presence on the ground and should watch where they step. Speaking of which, a resident of the island I was glad not to meet was a 2 metre-long dugite, the only type of poisonous snake there, spotted on the tour recently.
The former prison buildings now house accommodations for vacationers and overnight guests on the island. Harold mentioned that there are new five-star accommodations planned for an area near where we were looking for quokkas, and that the old buildings are being turned over to the Aboriginal people. What this will mean for the Quokkas is uncertain, but it will undoubtedly become more expensive to stay on Rottnest in the near future. There are two lighthouses, one near the ferry docks, and another near the centre of the island. This second one appears in David Mitchell's recent novel, The Bone Clocks, and I had hoped to hike to it along a trail that turned out to be mostly sandy beach; beautiful, but slow going, and time was an issue, as I had to be sure to catch the last ferry. I walked to the closer lighthouse, which stands above a spectacular stretch of beach, saw a salt lake up close, and briefly visited the museum that documents the history and ecology of the place, and of course saw the quokkas. I left wishing I had arranged to stay over.
I was delighted to bring the House of Dreams programme to Melbourne because of Batman. You see, many places in the city are named for its founder, one John Batman, and when I was first memorising the music I used the slight resemblance of a certain musical figure to the theme music from the campy 60's TV show as a mnemonic aid. It is also a city of many museums, which resonates with the visual artistic aspect of the production. Art can be found outside of the museums, though. There are many sculptures in the city's parks, for example, and I was trying to take full advantage of this respite from Canadian winter by staying outside as much as possible. A more unusual example of fine art outside the museum, however, is that of "Chloe."
There is a growing movement to get classical music into venues other than the traditional concert hall, such as "Classical Revolution" and Tafelmusik's own "Beer and Baroque" events. Fascinating, then, to consider that this 1875 painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre of the classical nymph has been hanging for more than a century in a bar. Originally unveiled at the Paris Salon Exhibition to critical acclaim, she eventually found her way to the National Gallery of Victoria, where families were scandalized to see a painting of a nude young woman on, say, a Sunday after church. She was withdrawn after only three weeks. Since 1909, she has been hanging in a bar at what was the Princes Bridge Hotel, right across the street from St. Paul's Cathedral.  Hmm...
Chloe by Jules Joseph Lefebvre
Scandalous, Mr. Bach!  Painting of Chloe

The theme of Chloe has strong musical associations, due to both Ravel's magnificent ballet score, Daphnis and Chloe, and Spike Jones' hilarious sendup of the 20's song. No doubt this painting has fascinated many a viewer over the years, and I cannot help but think of the poor guy in the movie "Laura", whose obsession with a dead woman in a painting leads to his own demise. Laura was another song that received the Spike Jones treatment, by the way. Unusual in a different way is a painting to be found in the church across the street. There are many memorials to the veterans of the world wars here in Australia, such as the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne that houses a very thorough museum of the nation's global military involvement up to the present day. In St. Paul's hangs "Anzac Christmas" by Violet Teague, a painting of the Nativity in which two soldiers in Lighthorsemen's uniforms of the WWI era pay homage to the baby Jesus.
The Great Ocean Road, too, is a both memorial to those who died in World War I, as well as the fruit of the labours of those that returned; it was built, largely by veterans, between 1919 and 1932. Originally intended to connect isolated towns with Melbourne and to provide a land route to transport people and materials, it is now mainly used for tourism and to get people back and forth from vacation homes. The views are spectacular and undisturbed by high-rise condos or heavy industry. Bach and I were able to enjoy beach, rainforest and view massive rock formations. Bach met his first koala!
Rainforest - Great Ocean Road
Perfect sized forest home
50 Shades of Grainger
The one actual museum I visited in Melbourne was the Percy Grainger Museum on the campus of Melbourne University. I had only heard a little music by this Australian-born composer; mostly military band stuff, and folk song settings like his popular "Country Gardens" and gorgeous orchestration of "Danny Boy." It was interesting for me to learn that there was much more to this musician. The museum resembles other composer museums in its collection of memorabilia, but this one is special in that Grainger himself conceived of and funded it during his own lifetime, with the intent that his own myriad interests would inspire Australians to embrace the idea of music as a universal language. He not only borrow folk melodies for his own compositions, but recorded them on to wax cylinders and transcribed them. He made editions of early music, especially English, while also experimenting with "free music", and experimental instruments. There are also exhibits about other pioneering Australian musicians, especially from the Melbourne area.
Another interest of his, which could only become part of the museum after his death, was sadomasochism. A chest of materials labelled "Private matters. To be opened 10 years after my death" contained photographs documenting his and his wife's activities, as well as art work, literature, comic books, advertising, and an impressive collection of whips. It might have been more discreet to keep these matters private, but his correspondence seemed to indicate the he saw his creative and sexual impulses as closely aligned. (Thanks to Allen Whear for the 50 Shades quip!)
Whip it good
Whips at Grainger museum

I think Herr Bach and I can speak for all of Tafelmusik in saying we look forward to returning to this city where there is so much to see, do and eat, a wonderful recital hall and a welcoming audience.
Great Ocean Road Beach
Great Ocean Road Beach


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