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As you know from my previous rant about WYD, I was a little worried about getting in and out of the city on Tuesday night. I was also worried as I wasn’t especially well that day (had been home sick from work), but I was determined to get into the city to meet Karen for dinner and to hear the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

The trip into town was uneventful. A group of American girls got on at UNSW, though they weren’t pilgrims – they were dressed up for some concert or other, and had so much makeup on I was tempted to run a finger down one of their faces to see if it would leave a channel.

The city was buzzing with people leaving work, pilgrims swarming around Hyde Park, and others just wandering aimlessly in bunches down the streets. I was early so I took the chance to stick my head in the Apple Store, absolutely packed at 6pm. I was impressed by the glass stairs, but I don’t know that there would be any reason to go back there (unless they were running an interesting workshop or something).

I wandered down to the GPO and saw Karen perched on a stool, scribbling away in her notebook. I gave her a hug, and we ordered dinner from the GPO Wood Fire Pizza. I read her notes for a difficult article she’s writing, and we chatted over prosciutto and funghi pizza (the word ‘funghi’ inexplicably had us in giggles).

After we ate our fill, we strolled across Martin Place to the City Recital Hall. Every time I go there I am struck by the beauty of the building, and the delightful way it’s nestled into a laneway, almost unseen from the street. We climbed up to the top tier of seats and were almost right in the middle for the performance.

A large, portrait-oriented screen hung down above the orchestra. As the ACO began Shostakovich’s String Quartet no 15, the sepia-toned images from Shaun Tan‘s The Arrival were projected onto the screen. The angular darkness of the music blended well with the haunting illustrations, though occasionally the projections were a little too swift and I wished I could have gotten more absorbed in the pictures. And I have to say, sometimes I find Shostakovich’s style a little too obscure and jagged, and long for something a little more lyrical that I can get lost in.

Well I got that in the second half of the program, a new work by Michael Yezerski, Richard Tognetti and Lyn Williams called The Red Tree. It was inspired by Shaun Tan’s wonderful book of the same name, which explores a complex, sad and wondrous emotional landscape through incredible imagery. An unnamed red-haired girl moves through her day, struggling with feelings of isolation and depression, searching for understanding and solace. It’s a theme that I can relate to, of course.

The seven movement work was large and grand and sweeping, yet intimate and personal and piercing. The Gondwana Voices children’s choir was an integral part of the peformance, and they were fantastic, singing in a mixture of English, Finnish and Hebrew. So tightly co-ordinated and perfectly pitched, and the occasional soloists had the purest, bell-like voices. I think my favourite movement was The World is a Deaf Machine, with the percussion of the choir’s hands and feet punctuating the driving melodies of the orchestra. The work ended with the last few positive, hopeful images from Tan’s book, and left Karen and I with contented smiles.

Karen and I parted at Pitt Street and I caught the bus home. It was mostly empty and smelled of vomit, but, I thought, at least most of the people seemed to have left the city. Well. Except for the one bunch of French pilgrims who got on at Liverpool Street and romped onto the bus in a blur of orange, waving their flags and shouting “Bonjour! Bonjour!” at the four of us already on the bus. We looked at them blankly, willing them to just. get. on. the. bus. They sat up the back and chattered loudly in French, getting more and more raucous the further away from the city we got. I put on my headphones to try and recapture some of the calm I had felt at the end of the concert.

It was a relief to get home, hug my mum, and get into bed. I spent some time poring over the book of The Red Tree before finally drifting off to sleep. Thanks for a lovely night, K!