A group email recently arrived in my inbox with an invitation to join a fantasy football league. Not knowing what, or who, the teams or players were, I simply deleted the message. But if I’d been asked to pick my dream-team orchestra, my curiosity would have been piqued.
The Australian World Orchestra (AWO) does essentially that: brings together Australian musicians from around the globe to create an Australian-powered world-class orchestra.
With over 100 musicians from 50 orchestras worldwide, the AWO is a full symphony orchestra, but its musicians relish the opportunity to also perform chamber pieces.
For their current four-concert series, Chamber Eight on Tour, the programme features two pieces not often heard on the concert circuit: Beethoven Septet in E flat major Op. 20, and Dvorak Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 77.
In the Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the seven players arrived on stage in procession, clutching their charges, looking like a stringed-instrument illustration of the origin of man: the violin evolving into the viola, the viola into the cello, and cello into the lumbering double bass. Even the single clarinet, bassoon and French horn looked like comfortable cousins in this close-knit septet.
Perspex screens at the edge of the stage behind the ensemble helped contain the sound while also giving a visual sensation of separation from the main auditorium. The reverse-seating arrangement had the audience sitting in the choir stalls while the players faced the back of the stage. The set-up was surprisingly effective in helping create an intimate chamber atmosphere within a large concert space.
Opening the program with the high-spirited Beethoven Septet, the musicians demonstrated their collective experience and prowess through tight, precise playing that expressed balanced emotion and control.
Led by outstanding violinist Daniel Dodds, the tight bond between the players was obvious, demonstrating discipline and coordination, seven musicians working as one.
Paul Dean (Head of Winds, Queensland Conservatorium) weaved a melodic thread on clarinet, giving the performance whole-body dedication with raised eyebrows and swaying shoulders. Lyndon Watts, who spent 18 years with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, showed impressive mastery on the bassoon. Andrew Bain’s French horn sang beautifully, well timed breathing carrying the notes with clarity and depth. Berlin-based Matthew McDonald’s masterful double bass provided a strong, solid sound, and Tahlia Petrosian shone on viola, showing her skill and mastery of this noble instrument. David Berlin’s expressive cello playing delivered a seam of rich warmth to the overall sound.
Beethoven’s Septet would have been like pop music in its time, with the popularity of the format attracting much patronage. The concert at which the Septet was performed earned Beethoven considerable profit, probably enough for him to live off comfortably for two years. The AWO’s superb phrasing and accuracy brought warmth and colour to the delightful piece.
The Dvorak String Quintet saw violin Natalie Chee (Concertmaster, Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart) join as concertmaster. This fluent, lively piece showcased the strings’ voices, highlighting the great control of tone and mood from each player. The standout movement, Poco andante, brought a deeper level of passion and emotion to the piece, the musicians working off each other to create a seamless, hypnotic sound.
In a small-group ensemble, there’s nowhere to hide. Wrong notes become neon-lit; missed cues are amplified into awkward silences. Testament to AWO’s intuitive, intelligent approach and vast experience, the performances were sublime.
Watching the AWO Chamber Eight perform reinforced just how valuable and rewarding it is to acknowledge Australian classical musicians who have succeeded overseas, and to give them a platform from which to share their experience and skills with Australian audiences.
Australian World Orchestra Chamber 8 tour | 24 July 2017 | Queensland Performing Arts Centre