On Saturday night to hear the SSO conducted by former chief conductor Edo de Waart.
As far as I can make out, this is only de Waart’s third return since his departure at the end of 2003. The first was in 2006 and the second in 2011.
That is a bit of a contrast to the present immediate past chief conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, who is back to conduct 20 concerts next year compared to the incumbent David Robertson’s originally announced mere 24 (26 with the extra Mahler Resurrections at the Sydney Town Hall announced in the past week, plus maybe some as yet announced touring dates).
One can safely assume that Gianluigi Gelmetti, who held the post between de Waart and Ashkenazy, has never been asked back and it seems unlikely that he will be. One may reasonably doubt if he would come if asked. That’s a sad ending of what started as such a beautiful (if over-touted) friendship . Surely we could still do with a bit of Ravel at some stage?
Going further back, I guess we can forget about Zdenek Macal.
I don’t think any other surviving former chief conductors are still active.
Meanwhile, Edo de Waart is more than welcome.
It was a neat program: Nietzsche according to Strauss, sandwiched between snatches of Wagner (preludes to Lohengrin Acts I and III). The wild card thrown into the middle was an organ symphony by the Belgian composer, Jongen. De Waart conducted one of the commercially available recordings of this many years ago with the San Francisco orchestra and recently performed it in Hong Kong with Olivier Latry, a titulaire from Notre Dame who was the soloist again in Sydney.
It took me a while to get into the Jongen. Part of it was working out who was doing what; and a full organ with mixtures imposes its own intonation challenges to the orchestra- things sounded a bit scrappy. The piece really hit its straps for me in the third movement – a kind of submarine slow waltz where the organ bathed the orchestral sound in an eery glow. The last movement had mixtures too but in carillon/toccata mode which didn’t seem to set up such a struggle with the orchestra
I don’t profess to be able to judge a good from a bad performance of Also sprach Z. Perhaps I’d notice if it was really bad, and certainly I noticed plenty of good playing. I did feel that when we got to the waltz that cheerfully if cumbersomely skips a beat (as if to click its heels) decorated by Meistersinger-like xylophone highlights that things were just a bit brisker than they sometimes are.
As to the Wagner at the beginning and the end. It took me a while to warm to the Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin. Not because of the playing but because of the context. There was something a bit too prosaic about the concert hall and its initially restless audience. Even a fidgety audience before an opera has a different feeling. Still, by the end I had been drawn into the magical mystical world of the Grail as Wagner intends and I felt myself warmed by an inner sigh of delight.
The prelude to Act III is more familiar in the Concert Hall as a common encore, and did not disappoint. I think it would have been practical and also effective if the orchestra had just whipped into this as if it was an encore rather than waiting for some players to leave. It finished with an ending based on “”Nie sollst du mich betragen” (Lohengrin’s prohibition to Elsa of any questions). The internet tells me that this is known as the “Toscanini ending.”
Just before the Strauss Tobias Breider announced that there was to be a free supplementary event in the northern foyer to which we were all invited. I half-heartedly wandered up to have a look but by the time I got there the steps which serve for seating were so well filled that I thought of the increasing scarcity of late night trains and decided to give it a miss.
Outside a crowd of partygoers occupied the forecourt and steps (fenced off to the rest of us) for what I gather was the first corporate party of the season. All dressed in white, they had the appearance of some strange sect.
I took a moment to observe them and happened to spot Frank Lowy and his entourage being escorted to a small boat waiting at Man-o’-war Steps. “Mind your step!” I wanted to call out, but I was out of earshot. In any event, attendants with torches were taking good care of that.
The torch-wielders hopped on board and all scooted off to an enormous motor yacht moored in Farm Cove. Launched on the tears of a thousand oppressed Westfield tenants, or on the smiles of a million satisfied customers? Probably a false dichotomy.