04 April 2009

Our own

Our own Canberra Symphony Orchestra was playing the other night and Megan and I got along. It’s a different environment from the jazz scene: respectful, immobile, cummerbuns, standing ovations, and manifestly older. The orchestra sounded a dream in the new Llewellyn Hall acoustics. The range was full and even, and the reverb put a soft wash over the lot and held it together, and despite the large size of the venue, individual instruments were quite audible. You couldn’t say even the 50 musicians playing fortissimo was really loud, but it was loud enough. This just confirmed for me that the post-trauma renovations have been successful, if only for some musics. I’ve complained on CJ about jazz and soul in this venue, but for acoustic classics, it was wonderful.

The music was Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms in an evening entitled Serenade; “a concert experience pairing gorgeous melody with dramatic virtuosity”. Beethoven’s Lenore Overture No. 1 was apparently the first of a series of overtures, and I hear Beethoven was not pleased with the early ones. It was pretty short, but still showed stormy early romanticism, as is Ludwig’s way. The Tchaikovsky was his Violin Concerto, with Nicolas Koeckert as the romantic hero soloist out front. He certainly played with involvement and virtuosity and presence and sometimes with ferocity. Fingering on a violin lets the player range wide and high, and this piece had Nicolas into the high harmonics: impressive stuff. What a lovely little instrument a violin is! It seemed to be a pretty hard piece all round, and the performance didn’t always feel so settled to me, but it was melodic and dramatic and was a great display of technique. The final piece was Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 in 6 (!) movements. Apparently it was an early work, written when he was 24. The orchestra seemed nicely settled on this one, and I was settled into the classical milieu by then and enjoyed it most of all.

The orchestra itself has about 50 members. As best I could manage, it comprised four basses, six cellos, 8 violas, 8 second violins, 10 first violins, and pairs of trumpet, oboe, flute, bassoon, clarinet, four horns and a timpanist: about 50. The other romantic, individualist hero at an orchestral concert is, of course, the conductor. On the night, this was Benjamin Northey.

Interestingly for local jazzers, Lethal Leigh Miller was moonlighting in the second bass seat. It’s quite a change from the funky Lethals, although I noticed he did display a jazz habit by nodding his head with the music at one stage.

What a beautiful sound, though. I’ve also got tickets to Beethoven’s ninth in May: an orchestra and a dramatic choral performance in this lovely space. Now that will be bliss.

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