The great passion, verve and artistry of ABO’s Notre Dame

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Choirs, Orchestras

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra | Notre Dame

Feb 25, 2024, Melbourne Recital Centre

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir, joined by actors Matilda Ridgway and Glenn Hazeldine, tells the story of a young civil engineer, who is speeding to Paris for the first time to work on the great Notre Dame, and who ends in a dalliance with Victor Hugo (played by Glenn Hazeldine) and is a witness to the tragic events of the fire of 2019.  

The script is by the award winning writer Alana Valentine, and the music is drawn together from across 800 years by ABO’s co-founder and artistic director Paul Dyer. 

Above the stage are the outlines of the magnificent rose window of Notre Dame and three large church windows which act as portals transporting us across time and space, sometimes focused on the wonders of the building, its details, scenes of the fire, and even (and on loop) scenes of the 1939 Quasimodo played by actor Charles Laughton reveling in the sound of the bells. 

abo 12

Sean Bacon Visual Designer and Trent Suidgeest Lighting Designer were given plenty of license to play for this production, and they did. The visuals were in constant movement, which is both a good and a bad thing at times, but always complementing the action and music on stage. There was a lot going on, musically, theatrically and visually. Theatre, of course is one of Notre Dame’s key functions, the other being its essential function, which is a spiritual one. I think it was a conscious choice of the artistic team, to focus on the theatre and spectacle of the building, rather than its role as the spiritual centre of Paris.

And so we heard Rameau, Lully, Rebel and Marais, who were played with great passion, verve, and artistry. The ABO were in top form and it was a huge orchestra, with horns, oboes, flutes and piccolos. 

Rameau’s Overture to Les Fetes de Polymnie, opened as it does with slow and building chords, which built tension to inevitable climaxes which are like fireworks from the woodwinds. This was all matched by the architectural wonder of the building itself, projected above the orchestra. Similarly the Ouverture of Nais and Musette Gracieuse from Plate were fine choices to accompany various moments in the narrative. 

The narrative was held nicely by Matilda Ridgway and Glenn Hazeldine with chunks of excerpts from the writings of Victor Hugo. The orchestra and choir had some fun playing background extras and adding some corny sound effects. And each time we were at risk of being swept away by the grandness, Valentine brought us back to a human scale, for worry or a laugh. 

Speaking of grand, Lully’s Passacaille from Armide has to take the cake, it’s so regal. And there was a delightful arrangement by Chance of Marais’ Sonneire de Saint Genevieve du Mont-de-Paris scored for full orchestra which included some lovely percussion giving the impression of the bells in the distance. 

The early masters of polyphony were well represented by Janequin’s Au Joly Jesu, Perotin’s Viderunt omnes and de Sermsy’s Tant que vivray. Perotin being the oldest, having lived around 1200 and the others within 300 years of that. Technically, this is some of the most challenging repertoire there is for voice. The delivery was convincing and confident.

The Introite from the Messe de Requiem by Campra was a surprise to me. André Campra was a composer of the French Baroque who sits between Lully and Rameau (so Siri told me). Breathtaking and aetherial, and very well placed in the program in the aftermath of the fire. 

abo 36

For some reason Hildegard von Bingen got a look in with O virga ac diadema, perhaps the only non-French composer in the program. It was heavenly, and led by Astrid Girdis and some of the women from the choir. 

And the final work – a new work by a modern French/Australian composer Hugh Ronazi – was a show stopper, with a long instrumental part preceding the choir so long that I thought perhaps they were standing in front for dramatic purposes only, but then the voices started and I was carried away with the music. 

It was easy to get swept away in the drama and forget that much work has been done to restore the cathedral over the past years, and that the new spire was just revealed a few weeks ago. No doubt Notre Dame will continue to inspire future generations as it did all the creatives involved in this program, as well as those over the past 800 years.

Photo Credit: Nico Keenan

Calendar of Events

M Mon

T Tue

W Wed

T Thu

F Fri

S Sat

S Sun

0 events,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

-

Utzon Music | JACK Quartet

5 events,

Featured -

Reuben Tsang | in recital

1 event,

Featured -

Reuben Tsang | in recital

0 events,

1 event,

2 events,

3 events,

3 events,

5 events,

1 event,

-

Ensemble 642 | The Lyre of Orpheus

3 events,

-

Mostly Mozart | Glass Harmonica

1 event,

2 events,

6 events,

10 events,

12 events,

Featured -

Apeiron Baroque | Shipwrecked

1 event,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

2 events,

4 events,

Featured -

Ensemble Offspring | Avant Gardens I

-

Choristry | Renaissance Gems

5 events,

Featured -

Ensemble Offspring | Avant Gardens I

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

2 events,

2 events,

Featured -

Salut! Baroque | The Influencers

3 events,

6 events,

Featured -

Salut! Baroque | The Influencers

About The Author

Pepe Newton

Pepe is classikON's Managing Director. She is an avid concert-goer and self confessed choir nerd, regularly performing and touring with no less than 5 different choirs to countries ranging from Poland to Cuba over the last few years. Through her board positions in choirs and her role with classikON she is actively involved in the exciting Australian art music scene, including the promotion and commissioning of new Australian music. Running classikON presents a perfect opportunity for Pepe to pair her love of classical music with her ‘real life’ qualifications in business management and administration.

Latest Posts