Sunday, March 1, 2015


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (riding high into the second year of David Robertson's tenure and buoyed by the news that, politics and climate change willing, there's a couple of hundred million for upgrading the concert hall acoustics) just brought off a fabulous Opening Gala. It wasn't the first concert of the season (The Schumann Symphonies and violinist Christian Tetzlaff had the honours) but it was the Gala Night.

Quite dressy too, though not stuffy, and a packed house dotted with VIPs - notably the totally wonderful Lord Mayor the divine Clover Moore with Mr Peter of the jolly smile; the GG (a long way from the parade ground); the newly Damed ex NSW Governor and orchestra patron, the irrepressible Marie Bashir; sundry pollys and one whose name I can't bring myself to type but he's the current (just) great overseer of allocation of buckeroos; socialites and sponsors (Credit Suisse with several rows in the stalls), and a very excited Sydney audience in a city that is fairly buzzing as Mardi Gras winds itself up and the Big Boats roll in and out one a day.

Great programming, really great:

Bruckner's       Motet, WAB11  -  Christus factus est

followed without pause by

Berg's Wozzeck Act III

and after interval, and another drink

Beethovens' 9th - The Choral

Conductor David Robertson
Miriam Gordon-Stewart, soprano
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Simon O'Neill, tenor
Peter Coleman-Wright, baritone

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Gondwana Sydney Children's Choir
Sydney Grammar School Choir

This is the work of the new(ish) Director of Artistic Planning Benjamin Schwartz (ex Boston) kicking in, with David Robertson of course.

Bruckner's sacred motet, of Christ's exaltation into Heaven, with a Name above all names, beautifully lays open the case for the ascendency of forgiveness and understanding in, of course, a Christian Catholic way. The choirs - Sydney Phil and Grammar school adding an upper sheen of otherworldly brilliance - delivered a most beautiful rendition freed of churchy sentimentality, not cold but the word of the truth.

That it leads directly into the first of the 5 scenes of Act 3 of Wozzeck (1925, 100 years after the murder case in question) with Marie reading the bible in her room catapults, flings, you into a world of shattered values. Mr Berg's advice is to not to try and listen to the music but to listen to the drama. Drama there was. The scenes were visually enhanced (I think is the expression) with mood lighting - sickly pale green pond, blood red moon, brilliant death white - and worked for me. All four soloists, placed as is Mr Robertson's want behind the orchestra, made it into your head, and into their despair. Peter Coleman-Wright, coming late to the task, showed yet again what a wonderful character actor he and his voice make.

                                                (preperformance showing the new LED lights for easy colouring)

Woyzech was executed for murder in Leipzig in 1824 after considerable public awareness of the case and its questions of culpability and mental state. In 1824 Beethoven completed his 9th, his great treatise on humanity, his great call to brotherhood, equality, understanding and therein forgiveness. The link is hardly obtuse.

Back with routine lighting after interval, we lucky ones were given a stunning performance of controlled intensity, concentration and precision, which brought K to tears (and only excellence of the highest order ever does that) and had the hall mesmerised, frozen, motionless, noiseless, breathless, hypnotised, under the influence, experiencing some thing rare and wonderful: superb music making. Soloists well cast and wonderful, and most notably Simon O'Neills thrilling tenor (a timbre I not always warm to) flying out - 'Joyously, as His dazzling suns' - the sunshine beaming as he threw himself into it. He loves it, it's obvious. He means it. He all but sang the whole thing from go to woe.

Must have been about 200 in the choir and as usual fabulous, for all the right reasons, at the hands of the their task master Brett Wymark.

No adequate words from me for the orchestra and Robertson, the Adagio, except what the tears said in the stillness. I really like David Robertson. He's changed since his first guest visits. He's tight but not stiff. The energy and commitment is palpable. He is, in his own (very genuine) words, driven by and satisfied by the music making. That's it - he's genuine. Not sentimental. Just the genuine tireless real deal.

We stayed for a while, the goodness lingering, leaving as the last idled home.

Ah ha - first review is in.


David said...

Robertson likes linking unlikely pieces. At the start of one BBCSO season he segued beautifully from the pizzicati at the end of the Tristan Prelude into Erwartung. I had to give a talk beforehand, and it made me try and get a grip on the Schoenberg, though I still don't care for its length (though the last page is fabulous). Even the Beethoven 5, which the orchestra hadn't played for 13 years, started in mid-air so the beginnings gave something to talk about.

Still can't imagine Wozzeck's Third Act working by itself, though better some of that masterpiece than nothing.

wanderer said...

The Wozzeck act 3 wasn't stand alone David, by itself stand alone that is.

Certainly it wasn't telling the full Woyzeck story but it was in a context: a context of the Hell On Earth into which we plunged after the Bruckner Heaven (and that's a snake anyone can, and does, land on anytime anywhere) - the inhuman times from which Beethoven /Schiller sought transcendence.

Add to that, it was incredibly provocative, educative, stimulating .... Many would have been hearing it for the first time (me the second or third) and the better for the exposure. The lobby chat revolved very much around how well it worked and how meaningful it was.