Kathy Selby and Sydney Camerata – A Little Lunch Music: City Recital Hall, Tuesday 10 May

There is no doubt that “A Little Lunch Music”, the Kathy Selby curated lunchtime series at the City Recital Hall is one of the great successes of the Sydney classical music scene. It has what it takes in the twenty first century: timeliness, brevity, value for money, focus, a touch of education and quality performers, all pushed along by a consummate promoter. That is Selby of course, not so much CRH, although they do their bit. What’s more you can eat your sandwich in the hall if you wish. This should be a great “come along”, but it was pointed out recently that, in fact, few people do munch along with the music. Perhaps this says something for the performances.

Last Tuesday, Kathy Selby presented, and performed in, an all Mozart program by the Sydney Camerata: the KV271 piano concerto “Jeunehomme” and then the KV385 Haffner Symphony, neatly picked to fit precisely into the hour available. It was good programming.

The Sydney Camerata is a small chamber orchestra, established in 2008 by, principally, students from the Sydney Conservatorium, many of whom, according to Artistic Director Mathisha Pangoda, also came through Australian Youth Orchestra programs. According to Mathisha, questioned by Kathy Selby between works, the orchestra is “made up of professional musicians, but is not a professional orchestra”. If, by this, he means they do not expect to make any money, but mostly play for the pleasure of it, then welcome to the club. But he should accept the performance responsibilities of a professional group. There are no excuses.

The performance by Kathy Selby in the piano concerto was well delivered. Beautiful articulation and none of the heaviness with which she is sometimes charged. The first movement cadenza was delightful; she brought out well the changes in moods in both the second and third movements, having set a cracking pace at the outset of the final movement that might have challenged a lesser performer. What then of the accompaniment? The ensemble was eleven strings, two horns and two oboes. Perfect for the purpose, but perhaps not perfect in the execution. The notes were played, the dynamics followed, but in truth the skills of a refined accompaniment were somewhat lacking. It may be hard for a young professional group, without truly experienced and forceful conductor or leader to produce the intuition, sensitivity and warmth that a good accompaniment demands. There are all those boring notes. How to make each one warm or welcoming, intense or expectant? Someone seemed to have suggested playing with no, or very little vibrato. This is probably not a good idea for Mozart. It certainly affects the string tone. There is great mystery at the beginning of the second movement of the concerto. The strings missed this by a wide margin. And the light and shade as the final movement progressed through its stages was underdone.

The Haffner Symphony, with more strings and full brass and woodwind, suffered from similar shortcomings. Nothing wrong with the notes, the intonation and the dynamics mind, but the nuances were lost in part in a quest for speed. The middle movements lacked emotional intensity. There was nothing to notice but the bland presentation of Mozart’s notes. Nothing there to shout: “listen guys, we are good; you have to come and hear us again”.

So, the question must be begged: what makes a chamber orchestra exciting, intense and different? The Australian Chamber Orchestra knows. The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra has a pretty good idea too. What the young professionals of the Sydney Camerata need to consider are the lessons and questions that four of their number received from Pekka Kuusisto at the recent Musica Viva Festival. It is necessary to communicate something different, something intense, perhaps something wild and out of the ordinary. Decide what to do and deliver it with commitment, as if there is no other way. Play like every phrase is life or death. It must be felt by every one of the members of the ensemble, and each must be acutely aware of their fellow musicians in delivering a unique performance. The Sydney Camerata has the basic skills. They just need to ramp them up to the next level. Show their audience they are indeed a professional orchestra to be reckoned with. Even if they don’t make any money.

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About johnofoz

An occasional correspondent, with particular interest in music.
This entry was posted in Chamber Music, Mozart, Music, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kathy Selby and Sydney Camerata – A Little Lunch Music: City Recital Hall, Tuesday 10 May

  1. tishmp says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your review and comments. I just thought i’d take the opportunity to address some of them.

    The first thing that caught my eye was “He should accept the performance responsibilities of a professional group. There are no excuses.” What do you mean by this?

    I’ll correct you as I didn’t say the group is made up of professional musicians. Rather, we have a range of mostly students, freelancers and those on contracts – none of us have full time orchestral jobs. If you mean excuses as to paying musicians- i think there are some pretty good ‘excuses’ considering the lack of financial support we receive, the fact that we are a very young, relatively unknown group and that I fund the ensemble myself – and i’m a 24 year old full time student living off centrelink until I finish my degree. Starting an orchestra in this day and age with no backing or support is no easy task but what started as a meeting of talented friends continues to blossom today and that’s something money can’t buy. Of course we are constantly seeking donations and corporate sponsorship but believe me this is particularly difficult but something we are working hard on- it just takes time.

    In everything we do we try to be as professional as possible and this includes presentation. Sure we all deserve to be paid but every ensemble must begin somewhere and we’ve started from the very beginning on what I hope will be a long journey.

    The experience the musicians get from playing in this ensemble is both educational and rewarding; or else they wouldn’t sacrifice other commitments to be a part of it. I acknowledge your other comments regarding musicality and I will take them on board. We don’t pretend to be the ACO or MCO, nor do we have the slightest financial backing or support to compare. As i’ve stated many times, the aim of Sydney Camerata is to “provide important performance opportunities for emerging Australian musicians.” Tuesday’s concert was certainly a highlight for us all but definitely just a stepping stone in our careers.

    • johnofoz says:

      Thank you for your comment. Make no mistake: your efforts in pulling together a new chamber orchestra should be lauded. No one discounts the problems of such an endeavour. So, do not sell yourself short. Your orchestra is a professional ensemble, notwithstanding the presence of some student players. Students, when they play alongside professionals (your freelancers and contract musicians) are also, at that time, professionals.

      Those who have read previous reviews on this blog will know that, often, the comments are less than glowing. Why review if it is not possible to be honest and to express an opinion? It may be naïve, or alternatively, presumptuous to make criticisms in the hope there is constructive commentary. That is the objective. Perhaps some damning with faint praise may be kinder, but certainly of lesser value.

      This correspondent endeavours, generally, to propose some form of solution. The point of the commentary was that Sydney Camerata plays competently. Nowadays this is necessary, but certainly not sufficient. That is why it is better to suggest the adoption of new approaches, incorporating new ideas, learning from the examples of the Kuusistos, Hennessys and Tognettis of this world. It’s not about money. It is about ideas. Reach for the stars. Then the provision of “important performance opportunities for emerging Australian musicians” will metamorphose into an objective of true artistry. Your audiences will love you for it.

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