Peter Tregear

Blood on the Floor 

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
by
14 April 2021

The writer and academic Malcolm Bradbury once argued that we can find traces of the chaos, contingency, and plurality that typify the modern urban environment embedded in the structure of the modern novel or in the design and form of modernist painting. But in music? I think it is fair to say that classical composers have struggled to find similes as obvious, potent, or effective for the experience of living in a modern city as artists working in other media, or indeed as musicians working in other genres. It’s not for nothing that we commonly speak of urban rap, but not, say of urban symphonic music.

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International education, we are told, is Australia’s third-largest export industry; in 2019 it was valued at more than $32 billion annually. But it is now also one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The publication of Gwilym Croucher and James Waghorne’s history of Australia’s universities, one of the principal institutional drivers and beneficiaries of that industry, is thus timely, even if it went to press before Covid-19 was detected. Government policymakers and higher-education institutions alike will need to respond to the present crisis not only with fresh thinking but also with a clear understanding of how the university sector got itself into such a vulnerable position in the first place.

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Australian universities are doing it tough – hit hard by the pandemic, compelled to find new ways of teaching during lockdown, and confronted by a federal government ostensibly unsympathetic to much of their work, especially in the humanities. International education – formerly one of Australia’s most lucrative export industries – is haemorrhaging. In today's episode, Peter Tregear – academic, author, critic – reads his review of Australian Universities: A history of common cause by Gwilym Croucher and James Waghorne, published by UNSW Press. 

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Those of us who work in classical music will be familiar with the accusation that our chosen art form lacks contemporary social relevance. It is one with a long pedigree. ‘Sonata, what do you want of me?’ asked an exasperated Fontenelle in 1751, according to Rousseau. But you will find no widespread or heightened disdain for worldly affairs among classical musicians on the whole. Rather, any apparent reticence they may have describing how their art connects with the world at large stems from the fact that it is notoriously difficult to do. As the well-known quip goes, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ This is not a love that dare not speak its name so much as one that struggles to be put into words at all.

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The Sound of History: Beethoven, Napoleon and Revolution 

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
by
10 March 2020

Towards the end of last year, in advance of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, a US-based musicologist caused a stir by suggesting that we should mark the occasion by following Chuck Berry’s advice and let Beethoven roll over, at least for a year. The declining social capital afforded to such ‘classical’ music across the West has not, it seems, stopped some music academics from continuing to be embarrassed by the prominence we give to this particular dead white guy. If nothing else, however, the ‘excuse’ of an anniversary gives an artistic planner an opportunity to promote canonical composers and works without controversy and indeed, as was the case for this concert at the Adelaide Festival, to explore why such music might still hold significance for us. 

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The Selfish Giant 

Victorian Opera
by
21 October 2019

‘Victorian’ may have become for us a byword for hypocrisy and repression, but it’s not hard to find literature of the day that plays against this grain. The Victorian fairy tale is certainly one place where authors did find ways covertly to explore challenging social themes, albeit under the cover of the prescription ‘for children’.

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When the German social commentator Oscar A.H. Schmitz described England as ‘Das Land ohne Musik’ [The Country without Music], the insult stuck. Its veracity arose not because the English lacked a vibrant musical culture, or a lively intellectual class prepared to engage with what they were hearing. Rather, it was because Schmitz ...

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Some sixty-two years after its Broadway première, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’s musical and geographical updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet continues to pack a powerful dramatic punch. While not without its weaknesses, such as the reliance on now-dated street slang and ethnic stereotypes ...

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The corpulent form of Henry VIII understandably dominates our own historical imagining of the turbulent first half of the sixteenth century. From the perspective of continental Europe, however, other figures loom just as large. Indeed, even the English Reformation has the actions of another monarch at its epicentre ...

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Just as we are unlikely today to think of South Wales when in New South Wales, nor does the existence of the Sydney Opera House does not of itself draw our collective attention towards opera. It is a structure more to be seen than heard; its professed reason for ...

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