To say the concert was unique is an understatement.
As Macquarie University’s orchestra-in-residence, the Balmain Sinfonia held this concert as part of the University’s Golden Jubilee or 50th anniversary celebrations.
Homage to Governor Macquarie
It started off with “Music from the times of Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824)”, the Governor of NSW between 1810 and 1821, after whom the University was named.
The conductor, Gary Stavrou, announced that this section would take around thirty minutes but it in fact went for nearly fifty minutes!
This section started off with a work by Josef Haydn written in the year of Macquarie’s birth viz. 1762. The not-often-played short three-movement Symphony No.10 in D major Hob.I:10 was a lively piece with bright winds, especially the horn and oboe, somewhat spoilt by the ragged opening by the violins.
Next up, a “lone piper” appeared, playing a medley of three well-known traditional Scottish tunes for bagpipe. He walked onto the stage, up the steps on one side, then out through the back door whilst playing.
The next surprise was the appearance of two country music/bush band performers, one wielding a guitar (Alex Hood) and the other (Bob Campbell) a fiddle. The first piece was an old country tune to which the words were changed to reflect the Australian environment. It was something the new settlers would have sung while drawing a bullock wagon past the Female Factory “depot” at Parramatta. The second piece was a story by Bob, told to guitar accompaniment, about the aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy. The last piece was again performed by both Alex and Bob and told of the bushranger “Bold” Jack Donohoe, whose surname was changed multiple times but who was better known as the Wild Colonial Boy. All this was certainly most unexpected at a classical concert!
The final piece in the homage to Governor Macquarie was a piece written by Felix Mendelssohn in the year of his death viz. 1824. The Hebrides Overture was written by Mendelssohn when he went on a tour of Scotland. This piece was particularly fitting as Macquarie was born on Ulva in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The lower strings and solo winds (clarinet and flute) were noticeable. Unfortunately, the variation in speed between various sections of the orchestra, especially in the faster sections, spoilt the performance.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4
The next item on the program was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op 58. The soloist here was the well-known local pianist Clemens Leske. He gave a polished performance of a work that was an enigma in Beethoven’s time in the way the balance between soloist and orchestra was constantly changing and due to its atypical structure in that the soloist starts the first movement without the orchestra and the orchestra starts the third movement without the soloist.
Leske played with good control and clarity as well as with good changes of expression and mood in the first movement. His simultaneous trills in both hands were particularly good. The second movement was a good dialogue between orchestra and soloist but the third movement was again spoilt by the violins struggling in the opening section followed by the interplay of the main subject between strings and winds becoming disjointed.
At this point, after an hour and a half, Interval arrived, during which time tea/coffee and cake were available for purchase in the foyer outside the recently refurbished Macquarie Theatre. Many in the audience, and members of the orchestra, went outside to soak up the lovely sunshine that had been missing for most of the month prior!
Mystery Music: Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets
Straight after Interval was the regular item “Mystery Music” played by the orchestra. The audience was asked to name the composer and shout out the answer. A few knowledgeable audience members correctly identified Holst as the composer. A number also knew the piece was Jupiter from The Planets. To break the deadlock, the third question was how many movements are there in The Planets? Answer – seven. The winner won a free double pass to the orchestra’s next concert on Sunday 7 December.
Saint-Saens’ Symphony No.3
The final work in this extraordinarily long concert was Saint-Saens’ Symphony No.3 in C minor (Organ), a rather ambitious undertaking I thought for a community orchestra. The uniqueness in this piece was that the organ part was substituted by the keyboard as there is no organ at the venue. Even though an organ sound was produced by the keyboard, the grandeur and elegance of the organ were clearly missing. The pianists (the keyboardist played the part for 2 hands while a cellist and a flautist played the part for 4 hands, having surreptitiously crept over from their usual positions on stage) were generally drowned out by the volume of sound produced by the orchestra, particularly as the piano lid was down. However, the final Maestoso culminated in a most satisfying ending, the three trumpets heralding the end of a glorious Sunday afternoon in northwestern Sydney.
After approximately 2 hours 40 minutes, the audience had certainly received their money’s worth at a concert where interesting concepts and unique programming were evident.