By Andrea Ko
It may have been purely coincidental that the final MSO Sidney Myer Music Bowl concert of 2018 fell on Valentine’s Day, but they did indeed play on the theme well. The host of the evening took us on a journey through the love stories underlying pieces by Strauss, Martucci, Tchaikovsky and Puccini, and when the music began, we lost ourselves in the art created by the virtuosic soloists and the orchestra itself.
The evening commenced with conductor Benjamin Northey leading the orchestra through a dazzling opening of Strauss’s Don Juan. It is this very opening that has long haunted musicians as we prepare for orchestral auditions. To carve out the multiple runs and jumps in the starting passages, our fingers must rely almost completely on muscle memory. There is no time to pause and ponder. My palms were sweating at the thought of the ripple-effect catastrophe that would ensue if even one note was misplaced. Any attempt at trying to even sing the opening (good luck) will result in deep appreciation for the technical capabilities that the musicians of the MSO possess, and what a fantastic rendition it was. Strauss never fails to create magic through his mastery over complex harmonies, and there was nothing more enchanting than the sight of the orchestra, and the layers of notes as the pink skies melted away in the background.
Special attention must be given to the spectacular soloists, soprano Natalie Aroyan and tenor Rosario La Spina. They both had a strong stage presence and carried with them a regal aura. They appeared relaxed and in character when interpreting the works of Puccini, and this allowed them to easily connect with the audience. Opera is usually a genre I shy away from, partly because it is often sung in a language other than English, preventing non-speakers from understanding the storyline. However, I can confidently state that all apprehensions soon abated once the soloists began to sing. The duo were so captivating that there was no doubting why they had been given the privilege of performing with the MSO. They sang with great power and emotion, and left us all mesmerized. In fact, the entire execution of the concert program did. There was no better way to spend the evening of February 14th 2018.
As an aside, there is often discussion about classical music being difficult to access - it is seemingly “too austere” or “too boring”. Its vocabulary is oftentimes complex and demands high concentration for any chance of interpretation. The musicians in orchestras can feel very distant from the listener, sitting poker-faced on stage in their concert blacks. There is strict concert etiquette that needs to be followed, and seriously, what is that pretentious figure trying to achieve by waving their stick around on the podium? These responses may explain why classical music is facing so many challenges in the present day, with an ageing audience and falling ticket sales at concerts. The genre does not seem to fit well with our thriving pop culture scene, and its diminishing popularity means that younger audiences often do not have the opportunity to come into contact with this type of music.
Fortunately, classical musicians and institutions have begun to notice and respond to these challenges. This annual event allows the MSO to reach out to so many individuals who otherwise would not have spared a second thought to buying an expensive ticket for an orchestral concert. The choice of venue also contributes to the popularity of these summer concerts. Being able to enjoy the open sky at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl contrasts greatly with the enclosed space of a concert hall. The atmosphere is hence more relaxed and allows for chatter, photography and enjoyment of food and beverages whilst being serenaded on a warm summer evening. There is therefore no surprise as to why the MSO Sidney Myer concerts have been running as a huge success for now several years. I shall definitely be sitting in the audience for many summers to come. Will you join?