Open Page with Andrew Ford

March 2020, no. 419

Open Page with Andrew Ford

March 2020, no. 419

Where are you happiest?

At home. I’ve never much liked going out. I think better at home and can find the peace to compose. I have to go up to Sydney for two days each week to do The Music Show. While I enjoy the program, it’s a pleasure to return to the Southern Highlands.


What is your idea of hell?

Camping. I like a view, but I don’t want to be in it.


What do you consider the most specious virtue?

Temperance. Not everything is better in moderation.


What is your favourite film?

Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) is a gorgeous piece of work.


And your favourite book?

Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862).


Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.

Johannes Brahms, W.H. Auden, and Helen Garner, though possibly not all at the same time.


Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

Fulsome, used to mean full. I’d like to see the return of fulsome in its true sense – there’s no single-word alternative.


Who is your favourite author?

Elizabeth Bishop. I’m not a great re-reader, except of poetry, and I reread Bishop’s poetry all the time.


And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

Alfred Prufrock.


Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

Keen antennae. The best poets are all great noticers. Bishop makes you feel you’ve never seen a dog or a moose or a dentist’s waiting room before. But Garner does it in prose. Also Alan Bennett.


Which book influenced you most in your youth?

George Orwell’s essays. There was a four-volume Penguin set. I learnt a lot about the use of language and how to structure a piece of writing.


Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

Dylan Thomas. I find his work consciously poetic.


What, if anything, impedes your writing?

Other people. Inertia.


What do you think of the state of criticism?

The idea that reviewing books, concerts, theatre, and the visual arts was part of the function of a journal of record has practically gone. Now if you’re reviewed at all, you’re lucky to get a paragraph. The flip side is the blogger, with no constraints on length, who writes thousands of ill-disciplined words. Obviously, magazines such as ABR have taken up some of the slack, but there’s only so much they can do. When it comes to charting and evaluating daily arts practice, our newspapers have abnegated their duty.


And writers’ festivals?

Love ’em – on and off the stage.


Do you read reviews of your own books?

Yes, and of my music. I’ve seldom had stuff panned, but increasingly I find things are liked for the wrong reasons. I’ve read reviews of my work that glow with praise, yet seem not to have comprehended the first thing about the book or piece of music.


Are artists valued in our society?

By ordinary readers and listeners, yes – more than ever, I think. But not by politicians, who regard us as their enemies. Artists are good at spotting lies.


What are you working on now?

A seventh string quartet with an ad-lib part for didgeridoo. It’s called Eden Ablaze and is for the Brodsky Quartet, which will give the first performance in Bristol in April with the great William Barton.

Andrew Ford is a composer and writer. He also presents The Music Show on ABC Radio National. Opera Australia presents a new production of his opera Rembrandt’s Wife (libretto by Sue Smith), in Sydney and Melbourne seasons this September and October.

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