Beethoven this week: Sydney Symphony Orchestra

 Playing “musette”

This week to hear the Beethoven 6th and 3rd Symphonies with the SSO.

The weather was wild and wet, and when I arrived there was a queue of at least 80 people (and lengthening) waiting to cloak their umbrellas and other paraphernalia.  Two people were serving them.  There is another cloak room, at the Opera Theatre, but (as is the way) it was not possible for her to accept items from patrons going to the Concert Hall, as the attendant announced she would be closing up before the concert was due to finish.  Eventually, after I first walked away in disgust then waited in mounting desparation for about 10 minutes (the queue moved at about 5 people a minute), the house manager waved through those of us with only overcoats and/or umbrellas.

If you like chatting up older women, SSO concerts are the place to be.  My neighbour arrived late in response to a last minute invitation from my next-but-one neighbour, whose husband [2008: or so I thought; in fact her gay friend whose partner was not interested in classical concerts. The “husband” has since died.] has been prevented by a bad leg from coming all this year.  She was delayed because her grandchildren have been staying with her in the week and she had cooked roast pork for them and her daughter, who had arrived to pick them up that evening.  Her lateness was compounded by the Opera House carpark being unusually full.  As she mentioned to me, we received an email warning about that over the intenet in the course of the week (clearly, she is no techno slouch!) but owing to the late invitation she was unable to allow for this.  She told me that normally she drives to Oxford Street and takes the bus into town.  She asked me where I came from, and when I told her that it was near Marrickville (she hadn’t actually heard of the suburb) her first reaction was to say “not Matraville!”  She lives in Centennial Park.  This will need little explanation for any readers from Sydney, but for the benefit of others, people living east of South Dowling Street generally profess ignorance of anywhere much west of it. 

 At interval I huddled out of the wind to smoke a cigarette (yes: that’s a confession) and shared my alcove (actually a door to the Opera Theatre foyer) with another older (ungracious estimate: at least 15 years older than I) woman.  She told me that she had arrived early (at 5.00!) and hence avoided any Opera House parking diffiulties.  When I hinted that I had a favoured non-Opera House parking spot she asked me where it was.  I was not unnaturally evasive. She hastened to assure me that my spot was safe from her. She would never use it because she wouldn’t feel safe walking back alone after the concert.  I still didn’t tell her exactly, though I felt a little chastened by this reminder that men enjoy a courage in public space which women do not.  There is only so much that can be done to “reclaim the night.”

I did chat to one man at interval: a former student of Ninglun.  He was kind enough to lend me some cash for a drink, as I had left home underprovided.

And the music?

I thought the Pastoral Symphony, which took up the first half, was well-suited to Gelmetti’s genial and rather expansive approach, though funnily enough he kept it in fairly strict tempo throughout. The orchestral sound was still a little solid for my taste, and there was perhaps still a lack of differentiated detail. There was also some shocking wind intonation in a few spots and a major French Horn fluff. Once upon a time, one expected French Horn fluffs as a matter of course at all SSO concerts, so this one stood out, to be fair, by its relative rarity.

In the second half, the Eroica  stood as the major work of the night. It was longer than I expected: the program note stated that, at the time of writing, it was the longest symphony ever written, and I believe it. In second movement, usually described as the “funeral march of a hero,” I was conscious of the effects of my interval drink and found myself a little inclined to doze off, though I don’t think that ever actually occurred.  The first movement and the scherzo both contradicted my comments last week about Gelmetti and fast music, and in light of the generally positive reviews (and here) that last week’s Beethoven 5 received, I wonder if I had just been in the wrong mood.  The final movement, which starts off as a series of variations on Beethoven’s theme from his overture to The Creatures of Prometheus was engrossing and satisfying.

Outside, the storms had abated slightly for my walk back to the car afterwards.  Perhaps the fourth movement of the Pastoral  had taken some of the wind (and water, to stretch a metaphor) out of the weather-god’s sails.

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