We have visitors at our George Square Edinburgh Festival house, amongst them my dear friend Rob Hain, an artist from the Scottish boarder s who created this wonderful canvas of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall from where all her scholars take their graduation honours and where all the great orchestras of the world come to play.
And it was to the Usher hall we went to listen to Barry Humphries introduce and compere a programme of songs and music from the German Weimar Republic, the music of Weill and Krenek, the music of the cabarets of the smokey “degenerate” Berlin, before it was all banned and outlawed by the rise of the third Reich.
Yes, presented by Barry Humphries, he who as the legendary Australian Cultural attaché sought to persuade us that the one thing Australia did not have was any cultural appreciation of the finer things of life. The lying bastard! He evoked for us an Australia of the 1940’s and 50’s of tea shops and book shops, where sheltered the refugees, Jews and Germans, fleeing the horrors of Europe. A Melbourne where as a boy, he bought a battered European suitcase, in a dusty second hand book store, full of the sheet music of the Weimar. He could not read music but he treasured the hoard and now, he opens the suitcase, so full of music and memories, and shares them all with the Usher Hall. It was an Australian night, a European night, a Berlin night, a night of Jazz and of Tango and of cabaret and of sexy smokey songs, including the sultry Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata erotica. It was the music and the writing and the musicians and the songs of those who either escaped from or were consumed by the Holocaust. It was all in Barry’s rescued suitcase.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, provided the music, talented beyond the size of their continent, and Meow Meow sang in throaty German. Barry danced the tango, how old is he, in his 80;s now, and he sang too, with passion, in the ruins of Berlin.
He didn’t say so but it was also a tribute, the most wonderful of tributes to all that our fathers fought for, for all the bits and pieces of civilisation that they saved, and rescued and preserved, for their children and their grandchildren and among what they rescued among the treasures they saved for the world, was surely, this magical night at the Usher Hall.