Last Sunday, as foreshadowed, I went to hear Orchestra Romantique at the Paddington Town Hall.
Amazingly, I cannot remember ever having been into the Paddington Town Hall “Grand Hall” before. It is a funny room: it feels like a ballroom with minstrels’ galleries and sawn-off-at-the-bottom art-deco decoration at the sides. There is a minimal stage and the orchestra were on the same level as the audience with just a few risers for the back rows. Maybe the seating could beneficially be offset to improve the sight lines.
The hall was almost full. Before the concert began, as the crowd chattered and the orchestra warmed up, it was a jumble of noise. I was worried that we were going to hear nothing at all. That fear proved misplaced. The acoustic was surprisingly crisp.
Because I have already published a “plug” for this event, I am probably disqualified from offering any evaluative comment, and in any event, I am not a critic. Harriet Cunningham has given a reasonable account tempering critical rigour with encouragement. The one thing I would add to her account is that I would have preferred just a little more flexibility and yielding, that is, dare I say, warmth, especially at transitionary moments in the second and third movements of the Berlioz.
That’s a question of interpretation. As to the orchestra itself, despite their small numbers, the violins kept their end up remarkably well, and in the Berlioz there was indeed some “authentic” dividend apparent in brass and especially in the sharper sound of the smaller trombones in use and the milder sound of the ophicleide and serpent in comparison to their modern replacements.
The orchestra’s publicity has made much both of its intended modest admission prices and also the “family-friendly” times. In my experience, confirmed in this concert, cheap concerts create a kind of moral hazard: it is cheaper to bring the child than engage a babysitter. That hazard is increased when the concert is in the daytime on the weekend and the orchestra is working, or most of them are, for free.
Unfortunately my enjoyment of the concert was very much qualified by the presence and conduct just in front of me of a child who appeared to be the child of a member of the orchestra. The child was bored and restless and at the end of the concert rushed out at the first opportunity. The seat was too high for her feet to reach the floor and she was uncomfortable if she sat back in it. She kicked her heels. She sat on the floor. She looked around. She played with various objects. She moved her chair into the aisle. She sat on the floor again. This is not an exhaustive account.
The child seemed notionally to be in the care of and finished the concert on the lap of (and probably to the considerable discomfort of) an adult who might well have taken a few more sensible preventative steps to control, avoid or ameliorate the child’s conduct. Or so I would have thought, save that for all I know the child was entrusted to the adult by the orchestra member in question at the last minute. If that were so and in the absence of any more well-established relationship, the child could hardly have been taken out of the hall and down to Oatley Park to ride on the swings, which would have been best for all concerned.
Some of this is my own problem: I am too easily distracted and then angered by what seems to me to be a kind of vandalism (even worse because it is sometimes even entirely unwitting) inherent in this sort of thing. The anger is compounded by a kind of internal frenzy because I want to move or say something to bring it to an end but usually end up doing neither. I know that the child’s conduct distracted others. In retrospect, I should have moved, and not been shy or self-conscious about it.
I still hope that Orchestra Romantique’s venture prospers. I expect I shall go again. However, if a concert for adults is really going to be family-friendly, perhaps what it needs is a crèche in the foyer or otherwise close at hand where bored and restless children can safely and readily go.