Some decades ago only the really major orchestras would have tackled either the Mahler symphonies or Debussy’s La Mer. This programme had both and perhaps the energy of younger players meant that they could sustain the playing until the very end. Interestingly the youth orchestras of these times compared to a few decades ago are playing much more difficult repertoire and taking on the challenges of the major works.
“they were delighted to be playing this music”
The programme made demands upon the listener as well as after the easy start of the beautifully impressionistic Debussy La Mer and the interval, the audience had to sit through almost 90 minutes of Mahler symphony of which any violinist playing the 1st or 2nd violin part could be proud of getting through. While that may sound an ordeal, it wasn’t because of the fine leadership of a conductor that can get the most out of such youthful players and musicians that dedicated themselves to the wonderful score. I noted several players involved with the music on much more than a professional level; they were delighted to be playing this music and showed that they were loving it as well as being highly intent upon concentrating on the ensemble and their part in it. I had an interesting window through the orchestra from where I sat in the stalls and noted a cellist in the middle of the orchestra with what might be described as a beatific look of joy on her face whilst concentrating intently.
“expressed convincingly, authoritatively and beautifully”
Sir Mark conducted the Debussy from memory and the highly delicate nuances and phrasing required in this work were expressed convincingly, authoritatively and beautifully under Sir Mark’s baton. The precision of the orchestra and the textures of the score were most ably handled by the orchestra enabling difficult passages to work with excellent precise ensemble and yet flexibly into the overall scheme of the piece under the leadership of Sir Mark. A curious thing did happen though when I could not work out where the percussion was being played and why it was a tad late. Eventually in the second “half” of the concert wondering why the doors were open to the offstage area, I realised the percussion players were sometimes playing offstage. Throughout the whole concert this was the only thing that slightly marred the performance.
“the cellos lovely warmth of sound”
Certainly in the Mahler, the percussionists at times were kept very busy and their precision there was fine when they were on the stage. I did wonder at the huge mallet for the big drum that made such a huge bang every time it was used and noted that the “slammer” of this 1.5 metre “sledgehammer” took out his ear pieces afterwards. The four or five times this was used were certainly dramatic!
I really could not fault the Mahler in any other way noting the wonderful ensemble of the various sections. I was particularly taken by the cellos lovely warmth of sound and the general beauty of string tone of the whole string section. Unusually the double basses were on the left behind the 1st violins and the second violins were to the right of the conductor. This left the cellos in the middle for the orchestra facing the audience and this may have contributed to their warmth and presence of tone.
The programme notes were informative and gave some history of the 58 year old AYO. Interestingly over 65% of orchestral musicians in Australia have had a stint in the AYO and it is clear that this is a very important training ground for musicians up to 25 years old as well as a wonderful way to attract younger audiences to orchestral concerts. The audience seemed to be far more a cross section of ages than most orchestral concerts usually are. There might be possibilities here for gaining greater numbers of younger audience members to classical musical events.
“worth going to”
This was an enjoyable evening particularly for music lovers enjoying the bigger more challenging classical works and it was performed with precision, authority, delicacy and nuance. This is an orchestra worth going to.