Skool concert

On Tuesday with D and my sisters, YY and KR, to the Sydney Conservatorium for what was described on the night as the first concert of the Verbrugghen Ensemble – that is, their first regular concert after inaugural lunch-time performance last October.

The concert is to be broadcast this afternoon at 5pm.

This was the first time YY had been back to the Con since,  rushing out into the real world of actual gigs, she abandoned the Jazz diploma course in about 1978.  Unsurprisingly, she remarked on the comparison between the dusty old main hall and the shiny new Verbrugghen. It was a bit more of a wrench to find that the fish-ponded courtyard and old Con High were no more.

The ensemble (as also the Con’s main hall) is named for Henri Verbrugghen, the plucky little Belgian who became the first director of the Con on its establishment in 1915.  Bad luck for at least one other applicant, the composer Humperdinck who must have been a bit desperate to apply for such a distant post but who was obviously rendered ineligible by the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.  (I  have read Humperdinck’s application in the NSW Archives, now apparently known as the State Records.)

The program was:

Copland, Appalachian Spring and
Mahler, arr Erwin Stein, Symphony No 4

The ensemble was announced last year by the Con as a “resident ensemble.”  What we got at the concert wasn’t quite what was on the original label. There were a few substitutions of artists including a double-bassist who didn’t even make it onto the printed program.

My heart sank just a little when a person who identified herself as the Acting Dean stepped up to the onstage microphone at the start for a little speech acknowledging the Gadigal and Eora people and giving a spiel about the ensemble as a successor to the 1916 Sydney String Quartet and the ensemble’s plans to be a presence in Sydney musical scene.  I guess most of  the audience, being Con staff and students, were ready for this, but to me as an outsider it detracted from what was surely otherwise intended to be a grown-up concert.

With the Australia Ensemble and the Omega Ensemble, the Verbrugghen makes three nominate mixed ensembles in Sydney.  For what it is worth, I was more impressed by the Australia Ensemble’s performance of Appalachian Spring (now almost 8 years ago!) than the Verbrugghen’s, but thought the Verbrugghen’s version of the Mahler more successful than last year’s version of that by the Omega (though not in all respects).

My sisters and D were not troubled by any such comparisons. I was pleasantly surprised at how much they all said they enjoyed the concert, even if KR (who rarely gets to classical concerts – the last  probably being when she came to the Australia Ensemble with me in 2013) confessed to dosing off a little in the slow movement of the Mahler.  She’d had a lot on.

The chamber arrangement of the Mahler is particularly successful on its own terms in the last song movement, and also when the violins engaged in more soloistic stylisation than you might get (the scordatura part aside) in a symphonic performance.  Maybe balance was different elsewhere in the hall but my elder sister and I agreed that we would have preferred the piano lid to be open even a little and in the Mahler to have heard a bit more of the harmonium which often has to stand in for the whole brass section.

We would have liked to stay for the meet-the-ensemble opportunity after the concert, if only so that YY could have had a little high school reunion with Phillip Shovk, but an early-closing kitchen (it was a Tuesday night after all) meant we had to scramble into a cab.






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