Welcoming music lovers of all types
The Balmain Sinfonia presented a concert this past Sunday, featuring a program of Romantic favorites. The atmosphere at Macquarie Theatre was one of relaxation and friendliness: groups gathered in the lobby before the concert and during intermission, with drinks and baked goods. Overall, there was a sense of community pervading throughout the proceedings, an important part of any civic ensemble. Free from the constraints of more formal affairs, this afternoon’s concert welcomed music lovers of all types. I came dressed in a jacket and tie, and soon found that I was entirely overdressed.
Acoustics that kept musicians honest
Macquarie Theatre is not a venue designed for live music. The stage is carpeted, and there is soundproofing tiles throughout. This had the odd effect of killing much of the orchestra’s resonance the moment they stopped playing. The normally sumptuous Romantic repertoire was noticeably drier than expected. The musicians soldiered on bravely with acoustics that kept them honest, smoothing no edges and blurring no lines.
Brahms, Dvořák and Mendelssohn
The concert featured the music of three Romantic composers. Personally, I felt that the choice to keep the repertoire to the same period made for a bit of a heavy experience, something lighter could have cleansed the palate at some point, but if you are a devotee of this music, it would have been a dream concert for you. The focus of the concert was the Brahms Violin Concerto, performed by soloist Susie Park. The concert was opened by the Ruy Blas Overture by Mendelssohn, and Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony ended the afternoon.
The Brahms Violin Concerto is hard.
I mean really hard! You wouldn’t know it, though, because almost every violinist learns to master this piece at some point in their careers. Playing it is a badge of honor, and Park’s performance this afternoon was admirable. There were times, however, when it felt like the Concerto was playing her, not the other way around. There was a tendency for her plosive downbows in the first movement to swallow the quicker pitches. There were slight intonation issues in some of the faster passages; it didn’t feel as though one could listen through the entire phrase, except to hear that there were lots of fast notes there. Still, these criticisms are like someone taking issue with one’s choice of handholds as they scale Mt. Everest. Park played with a palpable intensity that was enjoyed by all in the auditorium. As an encore, Park played Bach, accompanied by the raging thunderstorm outside — a truly special moment.
Balmain Sinfonia trivia
The highlight of the program was just after intermission, where the orchestra played a listening trivia game with the audience, where you had to guess who composed a “mystery” piece. Interactive moments like these are rare in classical concerts, and could go miles toward outreach and audience development.
To sum it up
You should go if:
- you like listening to classical music on the radio, and want to start going to concerts
- you want to listen to classical music in a relaxed atmosphere, or find attending more formal events to be intimidating
- you are looking for a social event on a weekend afternoon
You should pass if:
- you are disappointed by the lack of semiformal attire in society
- you are looking for experimental or rare repertoire to listen to