“Ladies and Gentlemen, Girls and Boys”

So Richard Gill began his address to the audience at the beginning of tonight’s Sydney Symphony Meet the Music concert. (OK, I can’t now swear that it wasn’t “Boys and Girls.”)

In this series, we already have a compere – Andrew Ford. But it would take more than that to stop Richard addressing the class – sorry, audience – and in this case there was an extra reason. Some Danish (I’m sure he said that) acoustic experts were testing the acoustics of the hall, and in particular (I guess) the impact of various acoustic baffles above the stage and a smoothing of the horizontal crenellations on the side walls. This required silence (and, I’m guessing, our bodies in the hall) whilst a thereminesque tone was repeated six times.

So many possibilities to be tried out. What will be the best solution?

All very interesting, even if any improvements seem likely to go the same way as any other major public works in NSW these days – that is, nowhere, or not very far.

I don’t sit in the seat I was in tonight all that often, so it is difficult to really make an assessment of the effect of the trialled features on the sound in the hall. It’s hard to do a true experiment, because of course the piece and the performers (and particularly the conductor) can all have an effect on the orchestral sound. The trumpet, oddly, sounded further away than usual, even though the principal was the not usually reticent Paul Goodchild. My own feeling is that more might be achieved by a bit more elevation on the stage – but that’s probably because, sitting in the stalls, I would always like to hear more woodwind.

The evening’s program was:

HANDEL Concerto grosso, Op.6 No.3
DVORÁK Cello Concerto in B minor
GORDON Lightfall for Horn and Orchestra premiere

Gautier Capuçon and Robert Johnson were the respective soloists. Mr Gill directed the Handel from the harpsichord.

Obviously, it was designed as a lesson in the concerto.

I’m not really convinced about this as an exercise in program design. Even if it is the case that the audience like a good soloist, in this case with three concerti (even if the first was grosso) you can still end up with too much of a good thing, or maybe just not enough of a really good thing.

With the works chosen, I would have put the Dvořák on last. I would also have given serious consideration to a concerto grosso which featured not simply string concertante instruments. As it was, when Andrew Ford came on afterwards and talked of all the drama and pathos with which Handel invested these concerti, I had to wonder if he’d been listening to the same performance (my observation is that he generally waits outside, but maybe that’s because I go on the Thursday and he’s already heard enough at rehearsals and on the Wednesday).

Christopher Gordon’s piece is not strictly titled “Concerto,” but Robert Johnson was up the front for the whole thing. There was a lot of interesting stuff in it, though I didn’t feel that the ending really worked. One moment the orchestra were building up a bit with the horn doodling along rather as people do in meetings or when talking on the phone, the next thing it stopped.

In other news, the Opera Australia brochure arrived today. I have so far searched it in vain for any details of the actual dates of the series I am being asked to renew. I did this just before my pre-concert nap, so perhaps I missed something.

Afterword: the dates for my series are in the separate letter addressed to me, which includes the ambiguous sentence:

“We are only offering our current subscribers the opportunity to retain their seats in 2010.”

According to Bill of the OA box office [this may yet have to serve as my contemporaneous note], that does not mean that this is all that OA is offering its current subscribers. It means that no new set subscriptions with assured renewal (or, I would presume though he didn’t say, improvement of one’s seat) are being offered to new subscribers. In other words, existing subscribers alone will have rights to renew their seats in the future; others had better scramble in early with their renewals each year if they want a good seat. I do wonder if OA will regret this loosening of the company-subscriber bond which just brings subscribing down to just a discount for booking in quantity at the beginning of each season.

The sad news is that Lisa Gasteen, given in the brochure as Minnie in Girl of the Golden West, has apparently had to withdraw because her neck injury precludes learning new repertoire. A replacement is yet to be announced. This is kind of an embarrassing pause for everyone. Will Anke Höppner (singing Minnie in Perth this year in what must surely be the same production) ever get a call? Perhaps Opera Australia is waiting to see how she goes first.

And now a confession: the fourth paragraph of this post is just a set-up to justify the post’s title, which is actually inspired by the name of the acoustic engineers – Kirkegaard Associates (headquarters in Chicago).

Pretty lame, really.

7 Responses to “Either/or

  1. Ken Says:

    Too lame or too deep – either way, I missed it.
    I don’t know what brief was given to Kirkegaard, but the strongest complaint I have heard about the CH is that the players can’t hear each other. Improving this might be the first priority.
    K is considered about the best in the world at changing the acoustic of an existing space – he worked on Verbrugghen Hall in the redevelopment of the Con.

  2. marcellous Says:

    K: “Either/or” is the title of a book by Danish ur-exitentialist philosopher K[ierkegaard] which includes a discussion of Don Giovanni as an aspect of the erotic in music (it was all in the link).

  3. bec Says:

    Hi Marcellous,
    I have noticed you haven’t said anything about the Sydney Symphony’s 2010 season or brochure. I can’t work out whether you’re just being diplomatic (and why would you be?) or whether you’ve got nothing to say (which I can’t quite believe!). I am dying to hear your thoughts on Mahler too. Update us, please.

    • marcellous Says:


      To tell the truth I’ve become a little less loquacious of late. I thought that Covell gave a reasonable account in the SMH though I might choose different highlights. Since you have asked, here are some brief reactions, mostly to the season rather than the brochure.

      The Mahler absence commented on last year is now explained and the return welcomed.

      It’s good to see Simone promoted to an adult concert.

      The most delectable concert of the year is likely to be the Lazarev/Thibaudet/Saint Saens 5 and Scheherezade combination (plus Spartacus).

      I didn’t renew my Mozart series (taken on the introductory discount this year) because I have missed too many of them this year (though the middle 2 concerts are attractive to me). Wild horses would still not drag me to another Discovery presentation. The 6.30 series is also difficult for me to attend: I was unable to get to the beginning of 2 concerts this year.

      It’s a pity that the Mahler 8 has been hived off to a gala.

      The 6.30 series could do with one more non-orchestra member as a soloist. I would rather hear more from Ades as conductor and less from.., well what follows follows logically and a minimal tact intervenes.

      Re the Spanish-themed concert featuring Slava Grigoryan, I am apprehensive about guitar concerti (amplification issues). I haven’t had time to work out whether there is any particular terpsichorean science in your copywriter’s invocation to “Dance the farruca, malambo, fandango!” rather than the more customary “cachucha, fandango, bolero!” of The Gondoliers. I’m also a little bit apprehensive about the Midori program, which seems very much a soloist’s vehicle with fillers, though I guess curiosity about a big star (playing rather small repertoire) will get me there all the same.

      I am particularly looking forward to Paasikivi, Skelton, Lortie, Ohlsson, Caetani and Bernd Glemser, the last remembered from SIPCA many many years ago. Not so keen on so much Chopin in the Piano series despite the bicentennial justification and note that the only possibly modern (ie: post impressionist or for that matter even post-romantic) work in the Piano series is from the youngest artist only.

      I’m particularly looking forward to Shostakovich 15, even if he is kind of parodying himself (as Canon Laurie Murchison once said to me about Bach and his cantatas) by then.

      I will require Roy Goodman to sing that solo without any downward transposition. (OK, that’s a joke.)

      Of course, if there were other things which I am being diplomatic about, it would not be diplomatic of me to say why.

  4. bec Says:

    Ha! The honest and amusing response I was looking for! Thank you – for both your honesty and your diplomacy.

  5. Tale of two cities « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] (subject to hanging out the washing, etc etc) to two thirds of a program which I heard in the 6.30 series last year of the SSO conducted by Richard Gill. If anything, the radiophonic realisation of the SOH acoustic […]

  6. Striking improvement « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] What really distracted me from any critical evaluation of the performances (even supposing I were a critic) or even the works was the striking improvement in the Concert Hall’s acoustics which is the product of the trials and experiments first noted on this blog in 2008. […]

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