Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2008 – 1

Tonight to the first of three concerts by the TSO, as previously anticipated.

On my arrival, I could see that the concert was sparsely attended. The usher told me the house was only 500, and if that was based on all tickets issued, then the large number of uncollected comps sitting on the TSO service desk at interval should be deducted from it.

I can’t say I am surprised. Not because the TSO is not worth hearing, because obviously I am not of that view, but that, apart from the fact that I had already booked my tickets, I did not see any other trace of their trip to Sydney. I suppose I would have if I had walked past Angel Place itself, but that is a walk on an obscure, narrow and fairly unfrequented laneway.

Someone whom I see regularly at concerts quipped that maybe there were 6 music lovers there. That was an under-estimation, but my guess is that the Tasmanian Tourist Commission had about 120 – 150 there; there were another 100 or so relatives and friends of orchestra members, and another 100 or so on the free list (I saw a few of the usual suspects). That only leaves 100-150 paying members of the audience. OK, maybe I’ve pitched the figure too low, but it couldn’t have been more than 250 at the most.

To put it another way, in an auditorium with a capacity of about 1200 people (1238 is the official figure) there were probably almost 800 empty seats. The entire top level was untenanted. In the second half I counted perhaps 35 upstairs on the keyboard side, 15 upstairs on the non-keyboard side and probably 50+ in the central gallery (I moved there from my initial cheapest-possible seat behind the pianist), and the remainder were downstairs.

What a shame and a disgrace.

Were they even trying to get an audience? What steps did they actually take to do so? Who was looking after this for them?

I hope things look up tomorrow and on Saturday, when the most popular (but in fact least interesting apart from a reasonably distinguised violin soloist) items are programmed.

As mentioned before, the program was:

MOZART Symphony No.29, K201
MENDELSSOHN PianoConcerto No.1
MOZART Symphony No.39, K543

The highlights of the program for me were both in the first half. The Symphony No 29 was described in the program note as his first “recognized” symphony, and I certainly recognized it. I am a sucker for muted strings (in this case, just violins) and so I especially liked the second (slow) movement which featured them. I also tip my hat to the horn players, who in both Mozart symphonies played natural horns.

But definitely most exciting and novel was the Mendelssohn concerto. Neither of these often get a concert outing and certainly not in Sydney: I wouldn’t be surprised if the last time I heard this one live is when I played second piano to Marilyn Meier in some eisteddfod in about 1976 or 1977. It was interesting (to me) to see how deeply it remained imprinted in my musical memory. Kirill Gerstein, the pianist, was a persuasive advocate, though he sadly looks at least 5 years older than his rather fetching publicity photo and has distinctly thinner hair and a higher forehead.

As an encore, he played the Liszt arrangement of Schubert’s Erlkönig. This was quite an apt choice, given Mendelssohn’s associations with Goethe (who wrote the poem set by Schubert). Perhaps it was a bit meaty after the almost Offenbach-esque finale to the concerto, but Gerstein did a good job right up to the last moment (I prefer the denouement more abrupt) to capture the three different personae of the child, his father and the sinister supernatural Erlkönig who calls the child to his death.

In the second half I was sitting further away – I wanted to hear the hall a bit more. Maybe the TSO is an orchestra that sounds better close up (the empty-ish hall may have been a factor here), or maybe I just am not so keen on Symphony 39, as it was a bit of an anticlimax, but not disappointingly so.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, when I go for the next instalment. I hope then to continue a conversation with my criminal law lecturer from 1989, and to canvass my first proxy for next year’s Opera Australia AGM – my second-half neighbour (a former teacher at Ascham who knows Rowena Danziger well).

10 Responses to “Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2008 – 1”

  1. Thom Says:

    I saw what I assumed to be an expensive ad placement on the back cover of Limelight magazine, and a 1/5th page colour ad in the Spectrum just past. Didn’t notice any editorial coverage this week or last (although that doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t any), but if I remember correctly they bought themselves the cover story for the 2MBS Fine Music magazine in the September issue. So it would appear that money was spent, but perhaps not enough was done to create genuine buzz about the concerts. Or perhaps a great deal was done to create genuine buzz, but it just didn’t work. At least the timing was better this year, with the visit falling during a period when the SSO is on tour in Italy and the ACO in Japan. I’m fond of the TSO, but perhaps fondness isn’t a feeling that brings out Sydney audiences in droves.

  2. marcellous Says:

    But did you go, Thom?

    Maybe I was too harsh about their efforts. Maybe things will be better for later nights. Maybe the pricing was too high. I expect it shows just why orchestras etc work so hard to foster their direct relationship with their particular public and that mere advertising cannot do the job. I really think the TSO’s only chance is to tap onto a local orchestra’s (jealously-guarded, I suspect) list. I said what I wanted to say about that last year. and when I reread my post from their first concert then things don’t seem to have changed much. Isn’t that around about when you first turned up here?

  3. Thom Says:

    Thursday is always bad in my view – it competes with any need or urge to participate in late-night shopping, and for those who drive the parking becomes worse than usual.

  4. marcellous Says:

    Don’t get me started on the bloody parking! Parking for 7 pm concerts is out of the question, whereas for Angel Place at 8pm it is normally a breeze. I wonder if the management at Angel Place push these 7pm concerts for their own reasons – they save money if they don’t have to keep their box office open so long and can send their staff home earlier.

  5. Rob Says:

    Sydney Con students have been offered 2 comps each for tonight’s and Saturday’s show. The email came around today in, what I can only assume to be, response to the shocking numbers last night.
    I’m going on Saturday, but I don’t imagine very many of us will go see. Most con students seem repulsed by the idea of going to a concert of the music that they study & play themselves – just take a look at the appalling attendance at the weekly free concerts at the con.
    Bitter? no…

  6. Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2009 - 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] couldn’t give away tickets to this concert, or so it seems from a comment to my post on Thursday night’s concert. Tickets were being given away to Con students, though […]

  7. Thom Says:

    True Rob. Although offering free tickets to music students always seems like an easy and/or obvious option to marketing departments, most of the people in marketing departments have never been tertiary music students themselves! I’m ashamed now of the number of opportunities to hear free concerts that I turned down in my day, but that’s how it was. A mix of youthful jadedness and a kind of arrogance, which most if not all grow out of, eventually.

  8. Thom Says:

    The Australian’s Review today includes a prominent editorial piece on Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Seems a little late to me – something like that should have appeared last weekend.

  9. marcellous Says:

    As to the timing of The Australian’s article: always, always. The problem is that they like to report news (their mindset is: what has happened) but the orchestra needs publicity (what is going to happen). The press want people to pay for that.
    Peter McCallum has been attending and dutifully scribbling away but on present performance by the SSO a review may appear on Tues or even Wednesday next, if at all, and these days for some reason rarely on the web.

  10. SSO - Kirill Gerstein « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] heard KG twice (1, 2) a little over a week ago when he played with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, so I had […]

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