25 January 2012

This year’s overkill

I thought I’d sit back, relax and listen to the last orchestral concert of the Australian Youth Orchestra Music Camp for 2012. I had as many pics as I needed and perhaps I’d attended more than my fill over the last 8 days: 8 concerts over eight days; 4 concerts over the last 2 days alone. Just how good was this orchestra! My comparisons are admittedly limited. They have youthful energy and commitment, the best professional guidance and a few weeks of musical immersion behind them. On the other side, they are still young and I assume they are not yet professional, even if they are amongst best for age. I don’t judge here (not for nothing that I call these posts "reports" not "reviews") but I felt very comfortable with their performances throughout. I was very seldom discomforted by intonation, the feels were apt, the tempos were steady, the interpretations were nicely mature and sensitive, and the ensemble playing was comfortable. I was disappointed by the last concert, but from the music not the performance. The tunes just didn’t entertain me on the night. I may have been in a minority of one: not just Megan and Sally enjoyed it, but the applause was explosive and I was surrounded by standing ovations. So how did this sourpuss find it?

First up was Nelson Cooke Chamber Orchestra with Janacek’s Suite for string orchestra (1877). I heard imploring strings, flowing, liquid lines, searching decays and dynamics, massed strings and high violins and some attempt at Beethoven passion in the last movement. But it felt overly earnest and the emotions seemed unexplored to me: too much heart on too big and obvious a shoulder. Next was Paul Dukas’ Sorcerer’s apprentice (1897) from the Alexander Orchestra. After Janacek and a missed dinner because the restaurant couldn’t handle the numbers between concerts, I guess I wasn’t in a mood for more light-hearted amusement. This just seemed like so much energy expended for so little purpose. All very clever and entertaining but I just wished for the naughty broom to return to its bloody cupboard. It would have saved so much effort and anguish. Finally Sibelius’ Symphony no.2 (1902) by the Bishop Orchestra. This was introduced as written in response to the warmth and light of Italy. Now, I know Italy. My guess is Sibelius encountered a labyrinthine Italian bureaucracy while in Italy rather than spending time frolicking in sun-drenched Umbrian meadows. This was lots of swelling tones and dynamics and turgid emotions. Competently constructed but with instrumentation that felt too simple and uncomplicated. It all seemed too obvious for the emotions being presented. None of the passion of Beethoven, the wit of Mozart, the intellectual clarity of Bach or the elaboration of Shostakovich. But I’m just me: everyone else seemed to love it.

Of course, the Llewellyn Hall exploded at the end. The excitement and release at the end of the music camp must have been overwhelming for the three hundred or so people involved. The tension released at the end of a live broadcast to ABC FM just added to it all. There were standing ovations, cheering, whoops and hollers, smiles and hugs. And my week had been quite stunning. Eight concerts ranging widely in style. At the end, I understand better what I like and wish to explore, as well as what I’m happy to pass over. The AYO is a wonderful gathering of talented people and the institution is fabulous and seemingly of international status. Congratulations to all involved, and I’ve already set aside a week in 2014 for another session of overkill.

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