The Metropolitan Orchestra – Met Concert #3 (Music Review)

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It was an enormous joy for me to attend The Metropolitan Orchestra’s performance in June 2013 at the Balmain Town Hall, so when I was invited to attend their third concert in 2014, I was thrilled to give my yes and toddle along to the Eugene Goossens Hall on Saturday the 2nd of August. Like so many  Sydneysiders, I’ve grown to love TMO with their special combination of pomp and accessibility that result in an arms open intimacy that draws every listener into what makes music so uniquely moving. You can examine the detail of their 2014 program here, but I was fortunate enough to attend the concert where Lyrebird Trio were the guest soloist in the mid way performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. This was delightfully bookended first by Le Nozze di figaro Overture by Mozart and secondly by Dvořák  Symphony no 8. Where the previous concert I saw took advantage of the immediacy of its surrounds to connect with the audience, conductor Sarah-Grace Williams used the enormity of the sound of the ABC Eugene Goosens Hall to connect with an expectation in the crowd that forged a one on one intimacy with each audience member. If I enjoyed a musical experience as part of a thrilled collective – almost as one experiences alternate live performances like a band or theatre – in my last connection with TMO, this time my experience was singular. Almost as if the enormous, beautiful sound of the orchestra was whispering intimately in my ear and holding my hand for a small time on a journey through sound. This was so effective, I found myself surprised to see other people around me at interval. TMO is an adaptive orchestra, comfortable in a variety of spaces, and always interested and deeply engaged in its relationship with its audience.

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The challenge in playing something like Le Nozze di figaro is surely battling the internal “tune whistle” of the audience, as each taps along to a familiar and deceptively simple melodies and first sections that sit in contrast with complex second sections carrying their own delightful contrast. In this particular version, Sarah-Grace Williams draws heavily on the contrasts so that the familiar becomes a kind of signpost to its own freshness, something new out of something old. It gives the effect of youthfulness, or vigor, sitting alongside precision and accomplishment. The mind isn’t free to wander down its own neural patterns previous listening evokes, rather it was held captive by this orchestra and its insistence on the small liberties that made its Le Nozze de Figaro so unique. But if the audiences knowledge is the problem of a performance of a piece so well-known, then surely it is inside that, the same advantage, because it is in the familiarity that Sarah-Grace William’s small liberties held such a striking difference. The advantage of working with pieces such as Le Nozze de figaro Overture is that Mozarts great accomplishment is the avoidance of simple contrasts, preferring instead achieve multiplicity in the most subtle transitions. In this way, a piece such as performed by TMO on Saturday night, becomes something of a signature piece, because its familiarity will ensure you never forget this particular version.

After interval, we were treated to the stylings of Dvořák  Symphony no 8, the wild Bohemian exuberance spreading itself over the audience, perfectly gifted by TMO. If Mozart inadvertently makes us sing along, then surely Dvořák  dares us to try, making constant mockery of our efforts. In our program notes by Andrew Doyle, we read about Antonin Dvořák  composing this entire symphony between August and November of 1889. He describes the intensity of the period as if “melodies simply pour out of me.” This passionate enormity is met through the exuberance Sarah-Grace Williams encourages in the orchestra, filling the audience with an inescapable joy, the highlight of which was an accomplished brass section. It’s true that the baroque intensity of this Symphony may get a little “Czech” at times, but who better to infuse hot blood on a cold Sydney night than the cheery, passionate Dvořák  at the height of his fervor? Williams let the sun shine through, heralding a kind of dancing dawn in each section of the canon. Proof of our exuberance, the audience broke into enthusiastic applause between movements, decorum taking a while to settle us all into a certain amount of propriety.

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But the highlight of the evening, and the reason we all braved such a chilly night in a large hall was the middle piece, the marvelous Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major as performed by soloists Lyrebird Trio, with the Metropolitan orchestra behind them. This was a truly breathtaking performance, watching the trio work together so seamlessly, so creatively was thrill enough, let alone the pleasure of having the music wash over the senses. Glenn Christensen (violin), Angela Turner (piano) and Simon Cobcroft (Cello) each have impressive solo careers as well as fame and accolades as the Lyrebird Trio. To hear them perform Beethoven was, surely an extra special treat, and a marvelous choice of music for the people of Sydney to be lucky enough to enjoy. The shift from a piece of music to a thrilling composition, that moment Adorno calls “animated by its own inner weight, transcending the here-and-now of thematic definition from which it proceeds,” (Adorno – Philosophy of Modern Music) is surely the primary obsession from which Beethoven energised his compositions? To see a trio of such intimacy, profoundly dedicated to the intricacies of sound and so engaged with sounds lofty potential was something no one in the room will soon forget. In fact, the ardor of the audiences – we almost felt like witnesses to a secret greatness – proved too much to prevent cheers, whistles and a couple of repeat bows when the trio were done.

This is my second evenings immersion into the beauty of The Metropolitan Orchestra under the generous and warmly proficient artistic direction of Sarah-Grace Williams, and I can only say each concert brings me deeper and closer to a pulsing heart of music so beautifully real, I almost feel it in my hands. We are mid way through the 2014 program. Make sure you are able to attend at least one of the forthcoming concerts this year.

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