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Sitsky’s 75th

That’s 75th birthday, not symphony (or vodkas)!

The National Library with ANU celebrated Larry Sitsky’s 75 birthday last Friday (20090911) with a public presentation for about 300 people of The Musical Journey of Larry Sitsky. This twilight event, programmed by Robyn Holmes, the Curator of Music at the NLA, consisted of a series of works interspersed with conversation authoritatively lead by her. The music in the programme was:

  • Roy Agnew. c. 1939. Sonata Ballade: Sonata No. 3. Performed by Larry Sitsky (LS)
  • LS. 1959. ‘Mystic Interlude’ from Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin Opus 1. Performed by Christopher Latham.
  • Valdimir Deshevov c. 1926. Rails, Op 16. Performed by Adam Cook.
  • LS. 1987. ‘The Eternal Set’ and ‘The Celestial Waters’: 11th and 12th movements from The Secret Gates of the House of Osiris. Performed by Vernon Hill (flute), Tor Fromyhr (viola), Susan Powell (piano) and James Larsen (cello).
  • LS. 1984. Vartarun for solo clarinet. Performed by Alan Vivian.
  • Hooper Brewster-Jones. 1923-24. Selection from Twelve Preludes. Performed by Kate Bowan.
  • LS. 2007. ‘Abbot Zhan’s Cell’ and ‘Listening to the Harp’ from The Jade Harp: Seven songs for voice and fortepiano. Words by SuShih and Li-Bai. Performed by Angela Giblin (voice) and Geoffrey Lancaster (piano).
  • LS. 2008. ‘The Chant of Gatha Ushtavaiti’, 1st movement from Dimensions of Night. Performed by Michael Kieran Harvey.
  • Anton Dvorak. Humeresque, Op 101, No. 7. Performed by LS. Unscheduled encore.

In addition to the performances, the NLA displayed a new LS website, donated by Dr Marcia Ruff Hewitt, a former student, that also includes some new photographs of him, including this one, by Heide Smith.

Here are some random thoughts/highlights (i.e. not a comprehensive review):

Three-score years and fifteen. I worked with LS at the School of Music for some 15 years, so it was a pleasure celebrate his entrance into a fourth quartile.

As the lead author (with Patricia Shaw, and Peter Campbell) of Larry Sitsky : a bio-bibliography, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997, and an undisputed authority on Australian music, Robyn Holmes clearly knows her subject and his contribution to Australian music. She masterfully managed to craft the evening into much more than one of anecdotes and reminiscences, and in doing so made it an edifying as well as entertaining experience.

One of Sitsky’s legacies is the education of a generation of musicianswho combine musicological research with stylistically authentic performance. Kate Bowan’s lyrical performance of the Brewster-Jones selection from Twelve Preludes was a suitable complement to an intelligent rendering of what is obviously a masterful and under-rated composer. Her edition of Brewster-Jones’ piano music is avaliable from The Keys Press in W.A..

Michael Kieran Harvey’s performance was spellbinding. This mature work is the finest I think I have heard from the pen of LS. I can’t wait to hear the complete work, which Michael has recently recorded for Move. His performance evolked so many different thoughts. Perhaps, despite his own masterful pianism, LS now has a superior interpreter of his piano music. In any event, listening to this work through MKH, who was not under LS’s direct tutorship as a student, the work takes on another dimension; one that I have long been listening out for in his music. I have always sensed that LS inherited, not just Busoni’s brilliant editing and performance practice (especially of JSB), but his compositional struggle to breakthrough the materiality, the notes, especially the notes; to transcend. If the rest of the work lives up to its opening, my own sense is that, not only is Dimensions of Night a major work, but a significant contribution to piano music.

In his performance of the Dvorak, a work he learnt as a youth, LS demonstrated, in a direct and lucid way, the importance of a vital (lit. living) tradition; that tradition is something that one works within not studies from some supposedly more objective ‘outside’. I was not alone in being captivated by every phrase. In every fermata, when time didn’t ’stand still’, it intensifyingly raced back-and-forth in concurrent recall and expectation. A live demonstration of the dimensional difference between any one recording, no matter how masterful, and a living performance. Such is nature of corporeal embodied intelligence c.f. studio-collaged objects and naive performer emoting. Indeed even Brentano’s and Husserl’s descriptions of musical phenomena don’t even approximate it by several dimensions. If only this was the norm for live performances, one might be tempted to attend more concerts.

Happy 75th, LS. May there be many more!

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