October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Concert Music 2012

By Peter McCallum
Composer Brett Dean © Pawel Kopczynski

Even leaving aside the riches of visitors from foreign lands, it has been a strong 12 months for concert music in Australia.

The Sydney Symphony brought to completion its two-year Mahler cycle last November with the Second Symphony, a work with which it has a special relationship. When they gave the first Australian performance in 1950, the conductor was Otto Klemperer, who had learnt the work as Mahler’s assistant.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra has been working its way through all the Beethoven symphonies, using gut strings and period wind instruments. Its final instalment, a performance of the Ninth Symphony in August with a visiting choir from Clare College, Cambridge, was meticulous and thrilling, although the period brass instruments were unreliable in the important horn solos that articulate key structural moments in the third movement. Their performance of the Sixth Symphony last November was equally fresh and a highlight of the cycle.

For its enduring contribution to our national concert music, however, the work of the year must be the first Australian performance of Brett Dean’s violin concerto, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, by the Sydney Symphony under Jonathan Nott, with violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman. The four letters that form the basis for its musical rumination are by Johannes Brahms, Vincent van Gogh, Hugo Wolf and Ned Kelly. The Kelly letter from Jerilderie seems, initially, outside the prevailing theme of artists’ inner narratives, but serves well the progression of mood and musical tone from idealised tenderness, to isolation, delicate fantasy and disquieting menace.

Peter McCallum
Peter McCallum is the Sydney Morning Herald’s classical music critic and is Chair of the Academic Board at the University of Sydney.

From the front page

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Image of fans taking a selfie with a photo of tennis star Novak Djokovic ahead of first round matches at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Image © Hamish Blair / AP Photo

‘Health and good order’

If Novak Djokovic is “a talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”, what does that make George Christensen?

Image of coal for export, Newcastle, NSW

The fossil-fuel industry’s grip on Australian hearts and minds

Is there hope that public misconceptions of the importance of coal and gas can be overcome?

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Echidna poo has changed our understanding of human evolution

Citizen science is not only helping echidna conservation, but changing how we think about evolution

In This Issue

'Lore' by Cate Shortland (director)

'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

'Questions of Travel', Michelle de Kretser,
Allen and Unwin; $39.99

'Questions of Travel' by Michelle de Kretser

'Montebello', Robert Drewe, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Montebello' by Robert Drewe


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Abbotsford I

New poetry, after lockdowns

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors


More in The Best of Australian Art 2012

The Best of Australian Arts 2012

RMIT Swanston Academic Building, Lyons Architects, 2012. Image supplied.

The Best of Australian Architecture 2012

'One to One', Callum Morton, 2011. © John Brash

The Best of Australian Contemporary Art 2012

'Persona', Fraught Outfit, 2012. © Pia Johnson

The Best of Australian Theatre 2012


Online exclusives

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Still from ‘The Worst Person in the World’, showing Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy Everett Collection.

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Renate Reinsve is exceptional in Joachim Trier’s satisfying Nordic rom-com

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan earlier this week announcing the state will reopen its border to the rest of the country on February 5, after almost two years of border closures. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Family’s grief compounded by WA’s hard border

The awful predicament of a Melbourne family unable to bring home their son’s body shows the callousness of WA’s border policy

Image of Liliane Amuat and Henriette Confurius in Ramon and Sylvan Zürcher’s film The Girl and the Spider. Image supplied

The best of 2021 on screen

This year may have been difficult to live through, but it produced an extraordinary crop of films