SSO – Mozart in the City

Last Thursday I went to my first SSO concert for the year, in the Mozart in the City series at City Recital Hall, Angel Place.

I have only occasionally attended these concerts in the past, mainly because the time is not really convenient for me (too early to go home and have a nap beforehand and in any event impossible to drive back in to the city and park at that hour). I took up a generous discount offer this year with the result that each concert only costs me a modest $30.

In some ways, I feel I have come too late to the series: the programming was more adventurous in previous years than it seems to be this year.

Anyway, the program on this occasion was:

Haydn: Symphony No 22 (The Philosopher)
Beethoven: Romance No 2 for violin and orchestra
Mozart: Idomeneo overture and dance movements

Michael Dauth, co-concertmaster, was the soloist and otherwise led from the concertmaster’s desk.

In previous years, Dene Olding has introduced the program from the stage. This year, ABC Classic FM announcer, Damien Beaumont, has been brought in for this purpose.

I’m not a fan of this sort of thing, and nor were the two elderly ladies sitting to my left. One of them said to me, rather earnestly, “they have a pre-concert talk,” from which I took it that she was of the view that those who want such information should get it there. It was clear that Damien was also labouring under something of the same difficulty, given that much that he could say could already have been divined by his audience from the free programs which are now provided.

I appreciate that the SSO wishes to impart to the concerts a more welcoming and less intimidating atmosphere, particularly for novice concertgoers. However, a very large part of the audience appears to be veteran concertgoers who are attracted by the early start and finish of the concerts. They are in no need of either compulsory jollification or provision of relatively rudimentary information. I expect quite a lot of them would rather have less talking and an earlier finish, or else more music.

To me, the degree of jollification which Damien Beaumont obviously felt compelled to deliver betrays a lack of confidence in the capacity of the music itself to carry the program. I would prefer it if in subsequent concerts he toned this down a bit and took an approach (which can still be quite conversational and welcoming) more like the sort of thing he says as a broadcast announcer. I would also prefer it if he eschewed comments of the “Wasn’t that great!” or “Are you having a good time?” sort. That’s really up to us, and quite indecorous of concert management to impose or declare. I also hope that in the future he will have a less sibilant-sympathetic microphone to work with.

Whilst we are on the topic of accoutrements to the music, it is a shame that the program did not identify the players who were actually playing. A number of players who I presume were Sydney Symphony Fellows (younger players given work experience for a year on a stipend) were not identified at all. And this was the third time I have read the magazine-style vignette about second flautist Carolyn Harris.

Such nit-picking aside, I enjoyed the music, though just occasionally the interpretation seemed a little undercharacterized (eg, the beginning of the development in the second movement of the Haydn). Michael Dauth had a bit of a nervous evening – he forgot his music at the beginning and dropped his shoulder rest during the Beethoven – and I thought he looked more relieved than exhilarated when it was all over. The Idomeneo overture was not as exciting as the last time I heard it in that hall, in Pinchgut’s production. I put that down to the sense of occasion that an overture can have in its proper context rather than the playing itself, though it is also a question of the piquancy of original instruments, and especially the flutes. The SSO took the non-continuo approach. For me the highlight of the concert was the Idomeneo dance movements, which exhibited a more Frenchified Mozart than we usually hear. The originally advertised program had these at the beginning: it was the right decision to put them at the end.

Afterwards there was to be a Q&A session with a panel of three players and Rafe Wilson, the orchestra’s artistic manager. In my experience these are usually lame affairs: the problem is generally the quality of the questions rather than the answers. I did not stay for this. Instead, I caught up with C, whom I first met in 1978 when our timetables put us in the same tutorials for English I (Peter Shrubb – rumoured to be one of two surviving Leavisites in the department at the time, but memorable chiefly for the care with which he would hitch up his trouser legs to preserve the crease) and Early Modern European History I (Iain Cameron and Alastair MacLachlan). C now lives in London but is on a flying visit back to Australia to see his parents. We adjourned to the Westin (the conversion of the old GPO was news to him) and made our own conversation. It’s maybe three or four years since we last saw each other, so we had quite a lot to catch up on, not to mention a certain inevitable amount of reminiscence by the way.

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