Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2008 – 2

Tonight to hear the TSO again.

You 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 as far as I could see few took up this offer. A case of too-little-too-late. As I know from my own experience with spare tickets, it is no good trying to rope people into a concert at the last minute. People will be tired, or have a date with a non-music-lover, have to practise or complete their assignment, or just be washing their hair. Giving away tickets is the worst tactic: a more realistic approach is needed to selling them off cheaper when the state of the house becomes obvious – and not just to the pampered jades of the Con, easy to reach though they are. I’m sounding like a cracked record here, and I am sure I will again.

Together with a depressing day in court, this inclines me to gloom.

It’s just as well that the music definitely cheered me up.

The program was:

MOZART Symphony No.31, K297, Paris
MENDELSSOHN Piano Concerto No.2
MOZART Symphony No.40, K550

For an encore, Kirill Gerstein played the Schubert Impromptu in G flat major. That was very nice (there was a smudged leap at one point which provoked an audible intake of breath from some self-righteous person nearby) but it is worth commenting that at about 7 minutes, it was equal to about 10% of the advertised program length. If it weren’t for that and for stretching out the interval, we woud all have been out by about 8.40.

There were no muted strings tonight so my favours between Mozart’s Paris and No 40 symphonies are probably fairly evenly distributed. In the Paris, the trumpets and the horns both played natural (ie, unvalved or keyed) instruments. I asked the principal trumpet and he said that he hadn’t played natural trumpet on Thursday because the keys were wrong – he has an E flat natural trumpet, but it is a bit hairy. With the Haffner and the Jupiter tomorrow night we will be back in D and C respectively, and natural trumpets will be the go.

The Mendelssohn was again the highlight, if perhaps a little less successful than the G minor Concerto (a few ensemble moments and a couple of fluffs by KG). Mendelssohn is often belittled as being rather saccharine, but laid down next to Mozart, he sounds quite full-bloodedly romantic. There are little musical fingerprints in his phrase shapes which I now intend to track down and relish, including a little relistening to some recordings of the concerti.

The program note (they are all rather brutally “abridged”) stated that the concerto “was composed on Mendelssohn’s honeymoon, and the newly-wed husband reported joyously of the last movement that his wife, Cecile, ‘cannot hear it often enough.'” I’m not sure if something has been lost in the translation or the abridgement here, but this summoned a distinctly ambigous “play-it-again-Felix” scenario to my mind. Maybe the last movement was preferable to the alternative.

One of the nice things about sitting at the side of the orchestra is the opportunity for orchestra-watching: all those little moments and glances which are incidental to musicians working together. Sometimes, these exchanges are more introspective. In the Mozart 40, one of the notes in a rising arpeggio in the clarinet solo didn’t speak, and the player (who is, incidentally, a rather old fashioned kind of clarinettist) held the instrument in front of him and glanced accusingly at his reed [“A bad workman always blames his tools” Miss Elvy used to say when I was in 4E at West Pymble Primary.] He got it right on the repeat. The principal flautist bears an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Willems.

The word is that next year the TSO proposes coming to Sydney in August and playing Schubert and (another) round of Beethoven piano concerti. This seems unnecessarily similar to their trip with Freddy Kempff playing Beethoven concerti and Schumann symphonies and overtures in 2006. With the right artist, it might work. We shall see.

10 Responses to “Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2008 – 2”

  1. Rob Says:

    I don’t know if giving away tickets is the worst tactic; I certainly take advantage of them often, as well as a couple of other die-hard students who rarely miss an oppurtunity to catch a show.
    Perhaps the German idea of discounting things for musicians or those involved in the industry might work – it cetainly seems more logical.
    I lament the cost of opera tickets, even the student/rush tickets are a bit pricey: I was spoiled by getting free opening night media tix through my partner for a time.
    There seems to be a clear delineation between accessible & non-accessible concerts in Sydney. I know I wouldn’t have considered going to any of the TSO shows for more than $20.
    Maybe I’m just another pampered jade.

  2. marcellous Says:

    Yes, Rob, I’m afraid you probably are just another p.j [not that there’s anything wrong with that].

    The main reason why giving away tickets is the worst tactic is that it is the least likely to turn into either actual attendances (people who have given tickets will more readily not show) and it is also the least likely to turn into repeat custom – it just cultivates the free-list sense of entitlement. I saw them there on the first night, people with obvious TSO connexions who turned up on the list [eg: Guy Noble; Matthew Coorey, just to name two I recognized] who would never dream of paying for a ticket. It is not one’s fellow musicians one needs in the audience – for many of whom a concert is a bit like a busman’s holiday and who generally don’t go to concerts unless they are asked to do so gratis. I’m not saying that asking these people performs absolutely no function, but it is not an audience-building one.

    And as to your $20 estimate, Rob, that’s a subject I will return to. Of course estimations of ticket value are relative to a person’s capacity to pay, and I guess you are viewing prices through your [sense of] student entitlement. Services are always expensive: that’s the problem with live music. How much must it cost to bring 60 people to Sydney for a week? And I doubt if you can even open the doors of Angel Place for less than $20 a ticket – which somebody has to pay.

    Then, on the other hand, I won’t say that I’m in any position to preach. I signed up for all three concerts for a total of a touch over $120 [this made me a TSO subscriber] – the face value of each of my tickets is $41.

    Opera tickets are even more expensive because it is an even more luxurious art form. I do think that the price hikes at the bottom end of the range have been too steep, all the same.

  3. Rob Says:

    I don’t believe I have a strong sense of entitlement at all. I’m not stomping my feet and demanding that ticket prices go down or become free because I’m a student and I deserve it: I take advantage of the freebies and cut prices because they are there.
    I don’t feel guilt about it either, as I’m sure some would like me to, because I will be working in and contributing to this industry, and I will continue to go to concerts even if I’m not. I’m grateful that organisers (presumably) understand this, that is if their motives are more than ‘audience building’.

  4. Thom Says:

    This is all true, but…an underfilled hall is not only extremely discouraging to the performers but it risks giving those who have attended an impression that the event was perhaps not worth the effort.

    Of course a presenter should be smart and do audience-building things that will attract genuine concert-goers. But if they still don’t have a decent house in the week of the concert, it makes sense to fill it by any means possible. Where, for example, was the “industry offer” of which our local theatre companies have become masters? As with music students and musical associates, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday, but a bottom is a bottom when it comes to seats.

    Student prices? I give the prize for smart thinking to the Australian Ballet. They got me hooked as a subscriber with about 20 years of very generous child and student/youth prices (not much more than the cost of going to the movies). Once I reached the age for adult prices I was not only able to pay but quite willing to do so in order to keep a fabulous stalls seat (six spots along from Maina Gielgud’s). No doubt they lost money on me at first, but that kind of investment pays off.

  5. marcellous Says:

    Sorry Rob to have caused offence. I did think of cutting out the “sense of” because I could see it might cause it, but now that you’ve responded I’ll leave it there for the record, but you can consider it retracted and especially as to any emotional foot-stamping elements. After all, you are somebody who takes up the freebies etc, which actually makes you a lot better than those who don’t at all.

    Leaving aside “sense of,” what I really (or at least also) meant is that, if you can get student prices, then obviously your view of what is good value at what price is affected by that. I once walked away from Death in Venice when they didn’t offer me a good enough student rush seat. It cost me a lot more when I finally saw it many years later.

  6. Rob Says:

    No offense caused! I do tend to have a snap reaction when I hear the ‘e’ word, most likely becasue I’m on the receiving end of many *many* benefits (except scholarships – those are reserved for pianists and string players, not musicologists). I’m trying to think of the Clive James quote about students rallying against the system that indulges their every whim.
    I don’t mean to imply that I’d walk away from anything that isn’t free or hugely discounted, I’m happy to hand over the cash for a good show. The trouble is that it’s such a gamble. ACO is a safe bet, but I’m not happy enough with TSOs recordings to risk it. Then again, I never harshly critique a free show, maybe if I paid I’d feel justified in tearing strips off.
    I wonder if that’s a conundrum critics such as P McC have to overcome in their line of work? Though modern criticism seems to be more didactic in nature than the good old days of Shaw.
    I agree with Thom’s observation about hooking ’em young, I know I’ll be subscribing to this & that when the funds allow.

  7. marcellous Says:

    @ Rob:

    Offence/offense: glad that’s settled.

    “I’m not happy enough with TSOs recordings to risk it.” – Quite frankly, the TSO is not the VPO. But the VPO rarely comes to Sydney. The TSO is not even the SSO, but I think it is a mistake to turn down live performances on the strength or weakness of recordings – a mistake, mind you, made by many. Maybe that’s a relevant consideration if you live somewhere like London or New York when you can, indeed, choose between various orchestras whose calibre you can assess on the (albeit synthetic) qualities of their recordings, but in Sydney that is far from the position. After all, the SSO is not the VPO either.

    I don’t think that critics only write good reviews because they get free tickets (that is not quite your point but I am stripping it down), but I do think that, because there is so little published criticism of performances, critics are conscious of the power they wield and would generally rather simply not publish a review at all rather than wield the knife. Hence the emergence of the less evaluative and more discursive review with a feuilletonesque twist which has become PMcC’s trademark. If you read between the lines you can sometimes detect negative comments discreetly made, but generally only by omission or implication. Even PMcC’s farewell to Gelmetti endeavoured to couch the negative aspects of the evaluation in terms of the response of his audience rather than outright statements of PMcC’s own views. Murray Black of the Oz is more prepared to say it as he sees it (as are some of the Oz’s reviewers in other cities) and sometimes put the boot in – but the Oz’s reviews are even more occasional than the SMH’s, which places it in a different position. In London, where there is a multiplicity of both papers and orchestras, the situation is different.

  8. wanderer Says:

    “I once walked away from Death in Venice when they didn’t offer me a good enough student rush seat. It cost me a lot more when I finally saw it many years later.”

    It cost you a lot more than a lot more, it cost you not seeing it the first time, and among other things and apart from the pleasure, presumably Robert Gard’s performance. My point is, “it’ isn’t always repeated, and ‘it’ is the work itself, or the excellence of the execution. Death in Venice had both – hence it fell into the ‘must go’ category. If not a ‘must go’, then all the other operatives come into play, including a gimmick, bear suits or something, especially for a little fish into a big pond – eg the SSO used Joan Sutherland in New York, and a didgeridoo player this time round in Italy.

  9. marcellous Says:

    You are so right about that, Wanderer.

    In truth, it wasn’t just the value which was at stake when I knocked back my opportunity of seeing Robert Gard in D in V. I was a bit tired, so I had pushed myself to get there, and perhaps a bit cranky, because most of all I was angry at the bloody person in the box office. I knew they had better seats available and there was no good reason for them not to offer me a better seat on the student rush. They were just playing some mean kind of God game (you know, like immigration officers at Heathrow). You can see that it still rankles!

    I still see RG turning up from time to time at the opera. I regret that, like the rest of Sydney, I didn’t get to Titanic. I see that he is back in Makropoulos Secret.

  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 reasonably […]

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