Sydney Omega Ensemble – Paddington Uniting Church

This afternoon D and I went to hear the Sydney Omega Ensemble.

The program was:

MAURICE RAVEL Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, string quartet and harp
CHRISTOPHER GORDON Chamber Symphony: Freefall
(a new work commissioned for SOE by Ars Musica Australis)

The chairman of the Ensemble gave me these tickets after I complained to him at the drinks function after the last concert about the poster outside Angel Place which misstated the start time and misled me so that I missed the first half. In truth, it is quite likely I would have gone anyway – except that, because we are going to Keating! on Tuesday night, I was obliged to accept tickets for, in my opinion, the less favourable of the two venues.

On Tuesday night, the concert is repeated at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. Earlier this year I went to both venues when they played the Spohr Nonet. The Independent Theatre was an incomparably better venue. Recently it has been substantially restored. It has a very favourable acoustic and raked seating which is only a little odd because the seating is still old-fashioned-theatrical, which has a semiotic difference from contemporary-concert-hall.

Unfortunately, it sounds as though the Ensemble won’t be persisting with the Independent next year simply because it hasn’t been a box office success. This is exacerbated in the Ensemble’s eyes, I am sure, by the price of the venue – the Paddington Uniting Church, by comparison, must be comparatively practically free to them, or so the ambience suggests. Given the size of the public for those concerts, the much healthier attendance at their Angel Place concert (the one I missed the first half of, as if I shouldn’t be letting go of that!) was very impressive. I don’t know how much that owed to their guest artist, clarinetist (and son of the conductor) Dmitri Ashkenazy.

As when I last attended at Paddington, the afternoon was hot, and the musicians’ working conditions were ameliorated by blower fans which, however acceptable for putting a breeze up a cassock or surplice on a muggy day, are not an acceptable form of professional concert environment.  Perhaps this is why the public which was attracted was so pathetic – perhaps 40-60 people at most, of whom a good 15-20 were probably on comps of one sort or other (including, in this case, us).  How is this sustainable for a concert with 11 or 12 performers?

There were a few substitutions for the usual line-up, and I’m not so sure that all of them weren’t improvements.  I assume the regular pianist, Katie Golla is at present in Melbourne on account of her day job with Opera Australia.  Her replacement, Clemens Leske Jnr, is an altogether higher class of pianist.  He represents more the level of pianist which such a group requires: the pianist doesn’t need just to be the equal of the others (as I think Katie to be) but, because of the role the pianist plays, equal of 2 or 3 of the others if not all of the others put together. 

It’s a pity the house was so poor, because the ensemble’s standard of performance deserves more notice, and the program was excellent.  The Ravel is a luscious work designed to exhibit the virtues of the pedal harp over a chromatic rival; the Nielsen is a classic with a particularly charming minuet and a poised set of variations on a theme at the end.  The Gordon was a premiere: it was strongest in its hectic fast bits, which owed something to chugalug minimalism for the way in which it rang the changes on repeated patterns; bravely, it ended with a solo for the viola.  At first I was thinking, “No, No! Don’t risk it! Don’t give the big moment to the viola! ” but in the end it somehow worked, even if as something of a deliberate anti-climax (or do I mean post climax in a sighing kind of way?).

 And afterwards there was wine and light refreshments – very civilized and especially so since, in this case, free!

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