Never has the Waltz of the Flowers sounded so mournful.
This afternoon in Sydney Richard Tognetti rounded off the ACO’s “Euphoric” program with the loveliest of the Nutcracker pieces, ostensibly in a major key, but in fact always a little tinged with sadness, even when the stage is filled with garlands and children. (Graeme Murphy sets it in an Imperial Russian ballroom, which gives it the nostalgic, glittering grandeur it deserves.)
Why mournful? Not merely the absence of a surely essential harp, but the symbolic linking to the death knell of the Australian National Academy of Music, recently sounded by the Federal Government. On stage augmenting the musicians of the ACO were a dozen ANAM students, whose prospects of continued study at the Academy next year have been dashed. The doomed Imperial grandeur of Tchaikovsky was matched to a doomed legacy of Keating’s Creative Nation.
The second part of this encore was even more touching. It was a number from Sibelius’s incidental music for the play Kuolema (Death). And before you anticipate (as I did) another waltz, Valse triste, it was in fact the much less frequently played Kurkikotaus, or “Scene with Cranes” – floating strings with a hint of clarinet. The musical gesture of playing Sibelius was all the more pointed for Finland’s own music education system being so, well, enviable. At all levels.
And there’s the rub. Tognetti was drawing attention – if, as he said, we hadn’t heard already – to the imminent demise of an elite institution, the musical equivalent of an institute of sport (I believe Australia has one of those). But if we care about music in Australia then we need to care about music education from the ground up. All those talented ANAM students start somewhere.
I’m not in a position to comment on the Academy’s strengths and weaknesses, or even if it was in fact the most “efficient” way of “delivering” elite training for musicians. [Boy, do I hate weasel words, but never do I hate them more than when used in connection with creativity and the arts.] I’m not going to pronounce on whether ANAM itself deserves to continue or not, or whether the model it represents is the very best one.
What is obvious, though, is that advanced training is an important part of Australia’s musical life and essential within any comprehensive plan for music education. And shutting ANAM down at such short notice within the cycle of the academic year, and without a plausible alternative in place, is positively short-sighted. Richard Tognetti knows that and he’s using his art form in an imaginative way to communicate a forthright and impassioned message. Having some of the students join him was a stroke of genius. He protested that he wasn’t being “political” but of course he was, and rightly so. Orchestras like the ACO, and their audiences, count among the ultimate beneficiaries of programs such as the Academy’s.
Ironic lexicographical aside: the usage example for “euphoria” in the New Oxford American Dictionary is “the euphoria of success will fuel your desire to continue training”.
Link: Alex Millier of the WASO has been maintaining a list of media items relating to ANAM here.