President's Report May 2009

Dear Members

Welcome to our Autumn Newsletter for 2009.

Our December 2008 Newsletter came to you in February 2009, and in craving your indulgence for the delay I quoted the title of part three of Clive James' thoroughly unreliable memoir 'May Week was in June.' Now you're receiving the March Newsletter in early May, not as a result of naughtiness but because we wanted to make sure that we had all the details right before lurching into print.

Past Functions

Our first meeting of 2009 was held on Sunday 15 February, when Peter Bassett gave a fascinating talk with many examples on 'Beethoven and Wagner', describing the stylistic and thematic legacy which Wagner inherited, and including the way in which Wagner sought to position himself as Beethoven's musical heir.

Peter had stopped over in Sydney on his way back to Queensland from a meeting in Melbourne, where (according to the press) he was 'exploring the options' for a Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, as reported in our last issue. Peter may remember his Sydney stopover for the surreal adventure he had on his way to dinner with some members of the Society after his talk. Dennis Mather and John Studdert (recently returned from a holiday in South Africa) collected Peter from his hotel in William Street, to drive him to a restaurant in Potts Point. Not long after they'd left the hotel, the car's front passenger door was wrenched open and Peter was grabbed on the arm by someone who tried to pull him out of the car. His seat belt, and perhaps a lack of real determination by his assailants, saved him. Peter must have been shaken and stirred by the experience, but he laughed it off over dinner. His would-be assailants were two drunken English back-packers, who wanted a lift up the hill to the Cross and had good-naturedly decided that their transport needs were greater than Peter's.

On Sunday 15 March Warwick Fyfe gave a talk on his 'coming to Wagner'. Assisted by his wife, Ruth Frances, who had prepared the accompanying audio-visual presentation, Warwick blasted through an illustrated and often-hilarious history of his family, his childhood in Canberra, his first musical adventures on the amateur stage, and so forth. It's impossible to do justice to such an engaging autobiographical tour-de-force, at the end of which we were all rendered a little speechless.

On Monday 23 March at 7pm, Professor Health Lees gave a talk entitled 'Wagner, the Dutchman, and the Sea', which has been prepared as an introduction to the Adelaide production of Der fliegende Hollander in November. Illustrated from the piano and with recorded musical selections, Professor Lees first delighted the audience with compositions by the young Wagner, the overture to Guido Theodor Apel's historical drama Columbus (WWV37) which, perhaps like the voyage itself, seemed to have trouble getting started, and the Rule Britannia overture (WWV42, 1837) which had an even greater difficulty coming to an end. He then examined the music of the Hollander as it depicts the rolling of the seas and storms, comparing it to the treatment of the same material by other composers.

This meeting was our first evening function at the Goethe-Institut. Professor Lees was making a lightening visit from his half-year home in Auckland to Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and was only available on that night to deliver his talk in Sydney during his few days in Australia.

Afterwards, we took Professor Lees to dinner at the same restaurant as Peter Bassett, but without any of the drama which attended Peter's journey. Professor Lees is writing a book about Beethoven. From the glimpses Heath provided us during the meal, the book will take much of the accepted folk-lore and romantic imagery which has built up around Beethoven, including aspects of his deafness, and bring it back to reality.

Katharina Wagner's 'Meistersinger' on DVD

Prior to our first three meetings this year, we have shown material relating to Katharina Wagner's current production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Bayreuth.

On Sunday 15 February, prior to Peter Basset's talk, we showed a documentary by Dagmar Krauss entitled 'Katharina Wagners Feuertaufe (Baptism of Fire), The Road to her Debut as Director in Bayreuth', which was kindly loaned by Barbara Brady. The film documents the genesis of Ms Wagner's new production of the Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2007, and gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the Bayreuth festival. The showing of this film generated so much interest in its depiction of the workings behind the performances that it will be screened again, probably prior to the July meeting.

Reaction to the performance of the work itself has been very different. On Sunday 15 March, prior to Warwick Fyfe's talk, we showed Act 1 of the full production, and on Monday 23 March, prior to the talk by Professor Heath Lees, we showed Act 2. Act 3 will be shown before the Annual General Meeting (see details below). The DVD was made in 2008 during a performance at that year's Bayreuth Festival and broadcast live over the internet to subscribers. In keeping with Bayreuth's current practice, there are no sub-titles, which has caused some annoyance to our audience.

Annual General Meeting

On Sunday 24 May at 11:45am, we will show Act 3 of the Meistersinger, starting at the early time of 11:45am (as the DVD tracks total 128m 55s, including credits.) Then at 2pm we will hold our Annual General Meeting, followed at around 2.40pm by a recital by young singers, organised for us by Sharolyn Kimmorley, and then at around 3.10pm an afternoon tea to celebrate Richard Wagner's Birthday (which this year falls on Friday 22 May).

At our 2008 Annual General Meeting, the committee was asked to recommend an increase in membership fees, which have remained unchanged for more than 10 years. There is never a good time to raise fees, and the current slump is certainly not a good time, but the committee has decided to recommend the following changes to the current fees to members at the 2009 AGM.

From 1 January 2010, we recommend that the annual fees be:

Single members $60 (currently $50), single pensioner member $35 (currently $30)

Shared members $90 (currently $75), shared pensioner members $55 (currently $50)

Student members $25 (currently $20)

Amendment to Constitution

Our Society has deductible gift recipient status, and is listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations maintained by the (federal) Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. The Department has recently contacted participants in the Register regarding legal and tax-related requirements for organisations to retain their eligibility for tax deductible donations, and this requires us to amend our constitution.

The Department has provided 'model clauses' (printed below) for a public fund such as ours which meet these requirements, and we will recommend to the AGM that our current constitution (which is based on the 'model rules' issued for associations incorporated in New South Wales) be amended to include these 'model clauses' as published by the Department (tailored to our Society, where required).

Model clauses

Clauses relating to a public fund

  • The Association will establish and maintain a public fund.
  • Donations will be deposited into the public fund listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations. These monies will be kept separate from other funds of the Association and will only be used to further the principal purpose of the Association. Investment of monies in this fund will be made in accordance with guidelines for public funds as specified by the Australian Taxation Office.
  • The fund will be administered by a management committee or a subcommittee of the management committee, the majority of whom, because of their tenure of some public office or their professional standing, have an underlying community responsibility, as distinct from obligations solely in regard to the cultural objectives of [name of organisation].
  • No monies/assets in this fund will be distributed to members or office bearers of the Association, except as reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of the fund or proper remuneration for administrative services.
  • The Department responsible for the administration of the Register of Cultural Organisations will be notified of any proposed amendments or alterations to provisions for the public fund, to assess the effect of any amendments on the public fund's continuing Deductible Gift Recipient status.
  • Receipts for gifts to the public fund must state:
    • the name of the public fund and that the receipt is for a gift made to the public fund;
    • the Australian Business Number of the company;
    • the fact that the receipt is for a gift; and
    • any other matter required to be included on the receipt pursuant to the requirements of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

Winding-up clause

  • If upon the winding-up or dissolution of the public fund listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations, there remains after satisfaction of all its debts and liabilities, any property or funds, the property or funds shall not be paid to or distributed among its members, but shall be given or transferred to some other fund, authority or institution having objects similar to the objects of this public fund, and whose rules shall prohibit the distribution of its or their income among its or their members, such fund, authority or institution to be eligible for tax deductibility of donations under Subdivision 30-B, section 30-100, of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations maintained under the Act.

Newsletter delivery

We've had a number of requests from members who would prefer to receive the Newsletter electronically, and Terence Watson (our Editor) and John Studdert (our Webmaster) are discussing technical issues with the publisher of our 'paper' Newsletter, BEE Printmail. Once a delivery option has been agreed and tested, we'll start a pilot during which you can receive both, after which you will be able to choose to receive your Newsletter electronically or by post.

Membership renewals

Thank you to those members who have renewed your membership for 2009, and a special thank you to those who have made donations. Individual letters acknowledging your renewal, and receipts for tax-deductible donations, will be mailed over the next few weeks, and all members will receive a letter before the Annual General Meeting. We don't issue formal receipts or membership cards, so this acknowledgement letter is your renewal record. Recently, Dennis Mather and John Studdert have been following up members by email and phone, and this has resulted in a very high level of member renewals.

Last year we introduced the option of renewing your membership by transferring money directly from your bank account to the Society, and this year more than 30 members have renewed this way. Posting a cheque remains the more popular renewal method, as we don't have the facilities to accept credit card payments.

One of the teething troubles with the direct transfer method is that your bank doesn't provide us with your name. Unless you type your name or membership number into a field in your bank's internet banking software, we have no idea who has sent us a payment.

Email addresses

Email is for many members the communication method of choice, and it's vital for us to have your current email address if you want to receive reminders about Society functions, or in the future to receive the Newsletter electronically. See the separate box for more information on email addresses and electronic newsletters.

Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012

There has been no more hard news about the Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, which has been made possible through the generosity of 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler.

During his visit to Sydney in February, Peter Bassett remained diplomatically tight-lipped on planning so far, despite the botched kidnap attempt. Without any facts on which to base a good story, rumours abound, and here are some of them. It is suggested that the production will be 'in the round', in a venue not previously noted for its operatic or classical concerts, relying on video projections rather than fixed (and expensive) sets. What is encouraging is that the rumours are all about 'when' the production takes place, rather than 'if'.

If Melbourne can stage a successful festival cycle, is it just a matter of time before an entrepreneur or benefactor of the arts in Sydney makes a similarly spectacular and generous gift, and creates what many think is impossible, the opportunity for a complete Sydney Ring?

Opera Australia

Corrie Perkin, the Australian newspaper's national arts writer, reported on 5 March 2009 that Opera Australia's search for a successor as music director to Richard Hickox, who died suddenly in November 2008, 'starts in earnest tomorrow'. In an article headlined 'OA conducts search for director to succeed Richard Hickox', Perkin listed a number of rumoured contenders. These included Oleg Caetani, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's chief conductor; Asher Fisch, former music director of the Israeli Opera, who conducted the Adelaide Ring in 2004; Richard Armstrong, who at the time was conducting Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Sydney; Houston Grand Opera's Patrick Summers; Frenchman Emmanuel Joel-Hornak; Paul Daniel, former music director of English National Opera and now principal conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra; and the Halle Orchestra's Mark Elder, who has had a long association with the Opera Australia. Australians mentioned for the role included Antony Walker, currently music director of Pittsburg Opera; and Alexander Briger, a regular in European concert halls, who is the nephew of Sir Charles Mackerras, our Society's patron.

Death of Margreta Elkins

And on sad note, a number of glowing tributes in local and European papers marked the passing of Margreta Elkins, who died in Brisbane on 1 April 2009, aged 78. After an extraordinary career spanning two decades in Europe, she returned to Australia in 1976 so that her daughter could be educated here. Her story, and those of two other Queenslanders Marilyn Richardson and Lisa Gasteen, is told in Joan Priest's book 'Flight of Divas'. Despite describing herself as a 'Wagner freak' - she is said to have described Sieglinde as her favourite role - she turned down an offer to sing at Bayreuth, and offers from the New Your Met and Glyndebourne.

Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November 2009

Although the State Opera of South Australia's website says otherwise, normally unreliable sources tell me that performances of the Flying Dutchman in November (not to be confused with that Company's forthcoming production of Jake Heggie's new opera, Moby-Dick) will have a single interval, and not in one of the usual places.

We are used to having no interval in the Dutchman, or having 3 Acts with 2 intervals, which gives the non-alco-pop generation the chance to mini-binge and finger the merchandise, but one interval bunged somewhere different sounds more perverse than is entirely necessary.

I assume that pointless rumours like this are started by marketing departments which understand Oscar Wilde's dictum, that it is better to be talked about than not to be talked about, and I'm happy to oblige.

Walter Turnbull, Auditors

For the second year, the firm of Walter Turnbull is completing an audit of our accounts pro bono. I'd like to thank its Executive Director Mr Mark Driessen, and Mr Christopher Ritchie, for their support of the Society and for the extremely high level of professionalism they bring to this task.

An advertisement for Walter Turnbull's services appears in this Newsletter, and I commend them to you all. The quid pro quo for pro bono work is brand awareness, and the possibility that we may help introduce some business to them.

Roger Cruickshank 27 April 2009