Conversation with Peter Sculthorpe, and Others
City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, 1:30pm, Jan. 20, 2002G1
H = Helene Williams
L = Leonard Lehrman
P = Peter Sculthorpe
J = Jane de Couvreur
G = Gordon Brisker
[L: Have you often been on the same program with George Dreyfus?]
P: O yes, a few times.
L: A few times?
H: All right, we're up and running, Children.
J: It's very interesting. I said to Peter, "I don't like his music, but I love his character."
L: George Dreyfus's?
P: His attitude.
J: And I love his attitude.
P: He is so special.
J: He's like Mohammed Ali - "I'm the greatest!"
L: Mohammed Ali. That's a good analogy.
J: Yeah, I think so.
L: Well, I had never heard of him, until we went to the Melbourne Museum.
L: The Melbourne Jewish Museum.
L: And there was Isaac Nathan,
L: whom I recognized, as I'd set some of Byron's "Hebrew Melodies" to music.
J: Did he do "Home, Sweet Home"?
P: No, that was Bishop, I think.
J: O yes.
L: I think Nathan wrote the melodies for Byron, which inspired his poetry, and vice versa.
P: That's right.
L: So right next to Isaac Nathan, there's a picture of George Dreyfus.
P: O right!
L: So I said, "Who's George Dreyfus?" And it turned out, this was the day after we gave our concert at Chapel Off Chapel, and Mrs. Dreyfus had been at the concert. In fact I had said to her, "Are you related to the famous Dreyfus?" And said, "Well, I don't know. Which one do you mean?"
P: O, is that right?
L: I had never heard of George. And of course it turns out that George is related to Alfred Dreyfus. A distant cousin.
P: Yes. Yes, I'd heard that.
L: And what we didn't know was that she had been recently estranged from him.
L: Divorced. But we called her, got a friend of hers, and we finally got his phone number and called him up, and I said to him, "Well, this is our last day in Melbourne. I don't know if we're going to be able to..." and he said: "You will regret it forever if you do not come over and visit me today!"
P: Very George, isn't it!?
J: But he's nuts.
P: He is.
L: I think so.
J: He's a stayer.
L: We met him, and he took us on a guided tour of his garden and he gave us the video ["Life Is Too Serious"]. And the next day, after we got to Sydney, we watched the video and there you were on it.
P: Yes. "There he is."
L: And saying the most remarkable things about George.
P: Well I think, I mean George isn't really going to say anything to do... about the music. He sort of sets himself up all the time, and therefore he causes others to joke about him. And I just thought I'd like to help him in any way that I could. I guess I just always think I'm a positive person about this.
L: But his frivolousness was inspired by your seriousness, in a sense.
P: Literally. That's right. With the book.
P: Yes, because Michael Hannon, who wrote that first book on me, in an ABC interview said, "This is
P&L: the first serious book [about Peter Sculthorpe]."
P: So George wrote
P&L: "The Last Frivolous Book."
L: George's book came out back in '84. And your book was in
L: And there've been books about you since.
P: Yes. Yes. Yes. George has done one.
L: What were the others? Michael Hannon's was the first one? And then?
P: Yes, well, I mean there is actually a bio-bibliography published by Greenwood Press.
L: Greenwood Press!
P: In the States.
L: I have a contract with them to write Marc Blitzstein's bio-bibliography.
P: Right. O yes.
L: I'll have to get them to send me yours.
P: But it was published in '93, so, you know, it's an out-of-date.
L: What do you do about that? Issue an update?
P: I don't think we do. It's probably better to wait until the composers are dead. [Laughs.] You're doing Marc Blitzstein.
L: Yes, I am. Did you know Blitzstein?
P: No, but I worked in a cabin at Yaddo, you know.
P: At Saratoga Springs, where he worked.
L: In the same one?
P: Yes. In the same one. And that for me was very special.
L: Oh, that's nice of you to say.
P: Because I love his music.
L: You do?
P: Oh yes!
L: What music of his do you know?
P: Well my favorite, what is that title? It's that Bet Davis...
L: I'm going to send you - I'm not going to give this to you now because it's my last copy here - I'm giving it to the Australian Music Centre tomorrow - but I will send this to you. This is a brand new recording.
L: Of never-before-recorded music by Blitzstein.
P: Oh, with Helene!
L: With Helene, yes. And a number of pieces on here I completed.
P: Really! O how fantastic.
L: You probably know his Regina.
P: Well I think that's probably my favourite. I was about to call it after the Bet Davis movie.
L: The Little Foxes.
P: The Little Foxes. That is my favourite. I mean I think that is one of the great theatre works of the twentieth century.
L: Thank you.
L: Have you written opera yourself?
P: I've written a few. But the first one was very Philip Glass, before Philip Glass.
P: So the timing was wrong.
L: What's the title?
P: Rites of Passage. And the second one was a television opera, for the ABC.
L: What's it called?
P: Quiros. It's about an early explorer; it sort of takes place in the Pacific, around Australia, and so on. But one of these days I must do it for the theatre. Because it's television, the love duet is about two and a half minutes, whereas you know it could be twelve and a half.
L: Yes. The duration is about an hour?
P: Ninety minutes.
L: And that was your second opera?
P: Yes. And I don't think there'll be another, because of the problem of collaboration. You know, I can't find the right...
L: What about Peter Goldsworthy?
L: He's such a wonderful poet. You know, he wrote the libretto for the Mills opera[s].
P: Right. That's right.
L: Which I haven't heard yet. They had a video at the Opera, but it wasn't American system, so we didn't get it.
P: O did they? I must get the video!
L: The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
P: O I've seen that. Yes. No, I thought you meant the most recent.
L: O there's a more recent one? What, Batavia?
P: Batavia. Yes.
L: I'm looking forward to that one. We've been in touch with him.
P: O you have?
L: Yes, he invited us to his home in Adelaide, but he has a dog, and Helene's allergic to dogs, so we couldn't go.
P: Aw! Yes.
L: But we've been to Melbourne, Uluru, Cairns...
P: Oh, you've really been around!
L: Well, at least to Eastern Australia. We didn't get to Western.... We didn't get to Perth.
P: No. Yes, well, Regina is definitely his best work, I think.
L: But you haven't heard...
P: I know The Cradle Will Rock. Yes.
L: And I completed Tales of Malamud, which he was working on when he died.
L: And this last year, after 23 years of work, I completed what he called his magnum opus, Sacco and Vanzetti, and a number of pieces on here [the CD].
P: What a treasure!
L: Is this Gordon Brisker? Hello!
G: Hello. Gordon. Nice to meet you.
L: I'm Leonard Lehrman. Do you know Peter Sculthorpe?
G: I believe so. A pleasure.
L: You both teach at the same institution.
G: Different places.
L: We had a great experience premiering his work in Melbourne.
G: Nice to meet you.
H: You too. Hi. Nice singing your music.
G: Well, thank you. Thanks for doing it.
P: Well, I teach at the university.
H: Gordon, why don't you have a seat?
P: Well, you're at the university....
G: No, I was at the corner for the recital there. [?]
H: Have a seat. We're having a little interview here.
G: I just had a sandwich, so I think I've got things between my teeth.
L: That's all right.
H: Well, whatever. It's not that close.
L: Gordon and I set the same poet, the same poem by the same poet, Jacob Rosenberg, a Melbourne poet, originally from Lodz, has a book of sonnets called Behind the Moon. And we were both inspired to set the same poetry to music -
P: How fantastic. Yes.
L: Having heard about it, across the Pacific and got in touch with each other by email, and we're just meeting today for the first time.
P: First time! Amazing!
G: Yes. I've enjoyed your music, by the way. Fantastic
P: Oh. Thank you.... O I enjoy some of it... [Laughter.]
L: But you can't be enticed to write another opera? Unless you found a collaborator?
P: If I found the right librettist, and where it took the least amount of time and energy.
L: Well, it never takes the least amount...
P: No, I mean, I'd rather write music between me and the desk, I think, you know?
L: John Corigliano spent twelve years on The Ghosts of Versailles.
P: Yes. That's right.
L: I've written nine operas.
P: Nine!? O my God!
L: Well, the first and last were completions of works begun by Blitzstein.
L: And in between I wrote seven of my own.
L: And I collaborated with Bernard Malamud, while he was alive.
L: It was very difficult, and my publisher said, "Next time choose a dead author!"
L: "What do your recommend?" He said, "The Bible!"
P: Yeah. Right. The Bible.
L: So then I wrote a Chanukah opera.
P: All right.
L: It was a feminist, anti-war Chanukah opera
P: All right. Yes.
L: And it was done in a military theater in Germany.
H: Let me just interrupt just a quick second. I'd like each of you to announce your names.
G: Gordon Brisker.
J: Jane de Couvreur.
J: Jane de Couvreur.
H: Thank you.
P: Peter Sculthorpe.
L: Leonard Lehrman.
H: There we go.
L: And behind the camera - Helene Williams.
H: Ta da!
L: I wish we could see the expression on your face.
H: Don't let me interrupt you.
P: I better just go and find out what we're talking about [in the pre-concert Composers' Forum with Martin Berkeley and others]....
L: You know, there was supposed to be a Critics' Forum this afternoon.
P: That's what I mean.
L: But they cancelled it.
P: At two.
L: No, at four.
P: Oh, the Critics' Forum. Oh, yours was at four.
L: And they cancelled it.
P: O really!
L: I just found out by chance this morning.
P: O my God.
L: So we can stay for the whole concert.
L: We didn't think we could, but we can.
P: Well, good! I better just go and find out what I'm....
L: Well thank you. It was a great pleasure!
P: I'll see you later!
L: Yes. Absolutely.
P: Excuse me. Right.