Melbourne Symphony Orchestra | MENDELSSOHN AND BRAHMS
Friday December 2nd 2022, Hamer Hall
Sir Andrew Davis – conductor
Christian Li – violin
Ensuring the tradition and richness of the classical western art music tradition, and indeed the future of our Australian orchestras, continues cannot be taken for granted. Friday night’s concert with the MSO was totally encouraging in the way it brought in a younger audience, yet kept the highest artistic ideals front and fore, in a program that featured an Australian work, a Melbourne born prodigy as soloist, and a symphony that gave a firm and wholesome nod to the traditional.
Booking Christian Li to play the Mendelssohn violin concerto must have been the secret to changing the audience demographic. Never before have I seen so many children at an MSO evening concert. I am quite sure many are learning the violin and what better role model to watch and listen to, as he plays a favourite of the repertoire. Born in Melbourne in 2007, Li shot to attention in the online world when he was the youngest ever Junior 1st Prize-winner of the Menuhin Violin Competition. He was aged ten at the time. Some four years later he is studying at Julliard and balancing a career as a young soloist. Li presented with a commanding stage presence. Eyes closed for most of the first movement he gave an energetic reading of this movement, but clearly showed his enjoyment of the more introspective nature in the second. He finished the concerto with clarity and ease as he moved through the virtuosic moments of the last movement. Perhaps it was just my impression, but there seemed to be a genuine sense of pride and gentle guidance from conductor Sir Andrew Davis as they worked together.
Following Deborah Cheetham’s always moving Acknowledgement of Country the concert had opened with a contemporary Australian work, Carl Vine’s MicroSymphony. The full texture of the large orchestra was fanfare like and announced the beginning of a fine night of music making to audience members, both young and old. The work contains something for everyone. The use of brass and percussion provides plenty of dynamic excitement, but the contrast and masterful orchestration in the middle sections gives variety and a wealth of tone colours.
Concluding the night, after the Mendelssohn concerto, Brahm’s Fourth Symphony brought back the forces of the larger orchestra. Sir Andrew was at his finest, barely glancing at the score, and the MSO sounded crisp, balanced and clear. The ending of both the first and second movements brought spontaneous patches of applause. A personal highlight was the flute solo in the final movement with Prudence Davis producing a tone that was equally rich from the highest to lowest notes.
As I made my way out of the stalls, Brahms still buzzing around my head, I noticed a child of about 5 asleep in their parent’s arms. It was indeed a big night of music making, but if the MSO can keep doing this so well, I think we are in fine shape.
Photo credit, Laura Manariti