A cracking inaugural concert gives the Robertson era the look of a potential age of gold.
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
February 15, 2014
There was breath of fresh air blowing through the hallowed halls of the Sydney Opera House last week and his name was David Robertson. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a new Chief Conductor and, on the basis of this, his inaugural concert, he promises exhilarating times ahead.
The hallmark of genius was not just in the invigorated playing and inspirational conducting, it went to the very heart of how to engage your existing audience and hopefully how to draw in a potentially a new one – in other words, smart programming.
The starting point was Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements – a work from relatively late in his neoclassical period. Stravinsky’s borrowings from the past, it turns out, was the inspiration for John Adams’ Absolute Jest, which followed. And Absolute Jest borrows from Beethoven, whose Seventh Symphony made up the second half. Wheels within wheels, then, and a satisfying musical whole whose deeper resonances were to be revealed in the listening.
The Stravinsky burst upon our ears with a great clangour of sound before the military precision of the motor rhythms that underpin the whole work kicked in. The pre-echoes of minimalism drew attention immediately to the similarity between Stravinsky’s sound world and that of John Adams. The sheer weight of the orchestral sound was also paralleled – at times we could have been in Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Other moments were revealing of Stravinsky’s place in the history of 20th-century music and his affinities with Copland, Barber, even maybe Janáček – certainly Prokofiev.
Robertson was not only a dynamic figure on the podium; he was also keen to bring out the grace and neoclassical elegance of the score. His conducting manner is a pleasure to watch – from the waist up he looks like he is literally ‘playing’ the orchestra, his feet meanwhile manage the occasional shimmy all of their own. His predecessor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, was a frequent dynamo but not always noted for the accuracy of his beat so it was terrific to see the clarity that Robertson brought to proceedings. The orchestra responded accordingly, seizing the concertante opportunities for piano, harp, bassoon and trombone.
John Adams’ Absolute Jest was for the composer “a thrilling lesson in counterpoint, in thematic transformation and formal design”. If that sounds a bit on the dry side the work is not a bit of it. An extended essay for orchestra with solo string quartet it takes fragments of two of Beethoven’s late quartets (Ops 131 and 135) plus the Grosse Fuge and some titbits from the symphonic scherzos, all mixed up in a joyous riot of sound.
From the off we are in the immediate territory of the Ninth Symphony but filtered through the prism of timpani, tuned percussion and shimmering strings. Playing ‘spot the scherzo’ as the piece progressed proved so much fun that it seemed hard to believe that some purists in the U.S. objected to Beethoven being pressed into service in this way. The Australian String Quartet were the heroic soloists, tackling the fiendish solo part with great panache. At times it was like hearing a quartet playing Beethoven inside a house while outside we are listening to something related but rather different. Standing to play, which helped them to put their backs into the tougher passages, they produced carefully modulated tones throughout with some winning solo work from violinist Kristian Winther and Sharon Draper on cello. Robertson’s achievement was to hold all of this together and ensure that Adams’ delicate balancing act was allowed to shine.
The second half of the concert was given over to surely Beethoven’s most joyous of symphonies – the Jovian Seventh. After the stately opening, the appearance of another set of motor rhythms (the genuine classical article this time) made the links to the Stravinsky and the Adams immediately apparent. Robertson’s Beethoven is beefy, elegant, lean and shapely using the composer’s modest band (violins divided left and right, two wind per part, no trombones) as well as hard sticks for timpani – what you’d call a period-informed approach.
The allegretto was appropriately allegretto, the scherzo playful (borderline cheeky) with some delicious solos from flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Only the poor old horns appeared to be having a difficult night. The conductor proved adept at building Beethoven’s vital crescendi in what was a highly charged performance throughout, culminating in a lickety-split finale that brought this rollercoaster ride to a full-throttle conclusion.
Orchestra Concert Essay
967 WordsMar 22nd, 20114 Pages
The music played throughout all of the concerts adhered to be diverse. The instruments, the individuals performing, and the conductor all proved to be outstanding. The concerts proved to be interesting as I witnessed them, first hand.
The first concert I attended was performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra had performed Shostakovich’s “Symphony NO. 7, Leningrad” from the Romantic era. The orchestra was a large ensemble (1) containing various instruments that contributed to the overall sound of the piece. Since the orchestra was a large ensemble, just like the instrumentation common in the Romantic era, the orchestra was able to perform in a lively, vigorous manner, probably vivace (2). The orchestra performed tutti…show more content…
All of the members of the orchestra seemed to be attentive to the conductor, which is important because every member of the orchestra needs to be aware of what is going to happen next in the music. The brass and the string had sections in the music, where they were the most important parts. Overall, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed well as a whole group.
The second concert I attended was performed by the Richardson Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra performed “Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582” by Bach, which is part of the Baroque era. The string instruments of the orchestra performed with the hair of the bow, in other words, arco (7). By using lots of motion or most commonly known as mosso (8), the orchestra increased the tension of the piece. The orchestra played at a pretty fast tempo (9), probably allegro. The piece had a distinct part where the harp played. The ensemble was large, in order to attain the full sound of the piece. The instruments played in the orchestra did not comply with the typical orchestras of the Baroque era because it did not have a distinct part where were the main instruments were the piano and the bass, or more commonly known as basso continuo (10).
Along with the use of basso continuo, the orchestra used ornamentation by adding grace notes (11) throughout the piece. The Baroque era also included the doctrine of affections (12), in which the Richardson Symphony Orchestra demonstrated by playing faster