Archive for September, 2019

Keys to the city

September 5, 2019

This was the rather natty title for a series of concerts (even: a festival) put on by the SSO featuring visiting pianist Kirill Gerstein. There was a recital and two different concerto programs.

The “festival” seems originally been designed to showcase the SSO’s proposed new venue for the (at least) 2 years when the SOH Concert Hall will be closed for improvements, starting next year.

At first that was to be the International Convention Centre’s Darling Harbour Theatre. The SSO got a $1M grant from the NSW Govt to undertake acoustic enhancement. This turned out to have been funded as to $400K by cuts to general “peer reviewed” arts grants. Then the SSO changed plans, handed the dosh back and announced that the good old Sydney Town Hall was the chosen place. Funnily enough, this fitted the “Keys to the City” theme better than the original plan.

The recital on a Monday night at Angel Place seemed to have been a bit of an afterthought for which very attractively-priced tickets were made available. I took up the offer

I especially liked the first half:

Liszt Transcendental Étude No.7 in E-flat major ‘Eroica’, S.139
Beethoven Variations and Fugue in E-flat major, Op.35
Janacek Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, JW.8/19 ‘From the Street’

Gerstein treated the Liszt as a kind of prelude to the Beethoven – segueing straight into it. Before the Janacek he gave a little talk about how the piece was a reaction to the killing of a Czech nationalist protestor (it was an Anti-Austrian demonstration in Hapsburg Brno) and dedicated his performance to a rather funny, I suppose US-centric list of present-day victims – to the victims of mass shootings in the US (the latest were fresh news that day) and protestors in Hong Kong and Moscow. Perhaps it had been a quiet day in Gaza, which didn’t rate a mention. That’s the problem with politics in concerts – everyone will have their own list.

The neat thing about the first half was that it was was all in E flat – though the Janacek is in the minor.

The second half was more disparate though WWI hung like a bit of a shadow over some of it. I enjoyed it. I’ve left it too long to remember the encores – one was the Chopin Waltz which skips into two with the figuration cross beat.

The better of the Concerto programs for my taste was the one featuring the Gershwin and the Ravel Left Hand. It was only on once, in the daytime, and I didn’t feel free to skive off. I did catch the Gershwin on ABC Classic FM. After a blazing conclusion to the first movement the good burghers of ABC 1.30pm concert-ville remained silent, as of course all good ABC subscribers know you should. David Robertson, conducting, turned around and said “You’ve shown eminent self-control.” (here at 54:35).

I instead heard the Grieg, together with a scrap of Sibelius (En Saga) and Berlioz Symph Fant. There were two ophicleides!

In the last movement, a percussionist headed offstage. Here in the corridor on the way to the very truncated gents (and opposite where a more spacious former facility has been cannibalized by a kitchen) is what she was headed for:

symph fant bells

The SSO are obviously a bit worried about the next two years. I think they genuinely don’t know: will the Town Hall be too small, or will nobody come? And if there are people who break the habit because they don’t like the Town Hall or can’t be fitted in with nice enough seats, will they follow the orchestra back to the SOH in (the SSO says) two years’ time?

At the start we got a bit of a pep talk from Emma Dunch about next year’s subscription series and ye olde Town Hall (olde worlde) acoustic.

Well let’s wait and see about that – it is pretty boomy though sympathetic to the bass and also to the piano. The problem really is the flat floor which is bad for sight lines. The orchestral sound seems to float past above you if you sit in the front stalls and a tall person will probably block your view if you are further back.


Ye olde air conditioning system could also do with a bit of attention to reduce its noise level.

I was not the only person dismayed by the seat I had been given – close-ish and to the side. This is the view from there:

Front side view

SSO ambassadors were mingling in the crowd and one offered me a seat in the Eastern Gallery (that’s the furthest but square-on to the stage). I found an excellent seat up there at interval. The view was splendid:

East Gallery View

but for me that’s too far away and too much is lost in the echo on the way.

Except for a few special occasions next year for which I’ve secured downstairs aisle seats on the outer side of the aisle  looking inwards, I’ve plumped for a side gallery about a third of the way down and wonder if I shouldn’t have gone even closer.  It’s a trade-off between a good balance and twisting your neck.

Time will tell.