What should potential subscribers make of the 2012 Musica Viva programs? Has Artistic Director Carl Vine and his team got it right? Does anyone care? (That latter possibility would be terrible; if nobody cares, then it most certainly is all wrong.)
On balance, the so called International Season displays MVA’s broad spectrum approach: appeal to a wide range of punters, a bit of Baroque (Tafelmusic), a choral group (Amarcord) and otherwise a standard mix of string quartets and piano trio with some violin sonatas (Anthony Marwood) tossed in for good measure. Dangerous, that last thought: no one goes to recitals anymore. Unless they are performed by the biggest names. Isserliss will cut it. So too Stephen Hough. Anthony Marwood should be OK, though. Audiences already know him from his ACO tour in 2009.
But what of the repertoire? It is great that MVA continue their Featured Composer element, without which the programs of their selected artists would surely be devoid of Australian content. So everybody, except perhaps Tafelmusik and Amarcord will play a Gordon Kerry work. It would be disingenuous to suggest Kerry should match Lully and his ilk. Baroque he is not. But he has written a good deal for voice, so hopefully the open door suggested by “…and other composers.” might allow Amarcord to include a Kerry work. Here’s hoping. It must be said that Tafelmusik’s presentation of their Galileo Project, with words in reinforcement of the music, is an enticement. If MVA’s words, “imaginative and theatrical programming” are to be believed, this, apparently, innovative invitation on the part of a Baroque ensemble should not be ignored.
So, OK. The fellow travellers of choral music and the baroque are covered. But what of the chamber traditionalists? There are two of MVA’s favourites coming, in the Takacs Quartet and the St Lawrence Quartet. Toss in the wonderful Diana Doherty with the St Lawrence and you have an unbeatable combination. But what’s the big work? None other than the Mozart Oboe Quartet. How many times have you heard it played? Let alone how many times you have heard Diana Doherty play it. Oh, well. It will sell seats. (Or Doherty, bless her soul, will sell seats. She is a “worth a long walk with peas in the boots” soloist). Gordon Kerry’s Elegie for String Quartet, all ten minutes of it, is included. Thank goodness someone has also thought to program Matthew Hindson’s “Rush” for oboe and string quartet. It, too, fits the criteria for inclusion of Australian works. It runs all of nine minutes.
So, apart from a bit of Kerry and Hindson, there is Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorak. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing to frighten the donkeys.
Then we have some newcomers: the Dali Piano Trio. Perhaps they fit within the genre of “get ‘em now before they are too famous”. Their PR material is, of course, wondrous. Whose isn’t? They have just received a very positive review from Gramophone Magazine for, guess what, Schubert trios, one of which they will play here. But, for a young, high-flying ensemble it is surely a major disappointment: they will play the same program twice in both their Sydney and Melbourne appearances. Ravel and the Schubert Piano Trio No 2 in E flat. Plus, of course, the required Gordon Kerry piece, “Im Winde”. Wow. This Kerry work goes for a full eleven minutes. Better ramp up the rehearsal schedule. In your correspondent’s humble opinion, the inability of a reportedly highly regarded, up and coming, piano trio to come up with an innovative second program is a surprising dereliction. They had better have something really important to say in their Ravel and Schubert. Everybody else is playing these works. All the old stagers have played them. Are Trio Dali really that good? Lets hope so.
One cannot complain about the inclusion of the Takacs Quartet in the 2012 lineup. Nor, when all is said and done, about their programs. Yes, they will play the Ravel and Debussy quartets, great works each of them, if a bit over programmed, but this is tempered with the two Janacek quartets, two rarely heard Britten quartets and of course a Kerry piece (only ten minutes this time). So, good work on the part of icons of the string quartet breed.
The Kuss Quartet is, likewise, an unassailable choice. They have a long and respected history with a strong element of innovative programming under their collective belts. At least their “standard repertoire” selections are not so very standard: Brahms string quintets are not often programmed, and neither are Mozart’s gems of the genre although they do get a bit of airplay by local and student groups. Throw in the less played Smetana String Quartet No 2, a Gyorgy Kurtag work and a new string quintet by Gordon Kerry and these programs look like they might be the pick of the 2012 bunch for the serious chamber music aficionado. All this is made possible by bringing along violist Naoko Shimizo. She needs no other introduction than she is Principal Viola of the Berlin Philharmonic. Perhaps Brett Dean will be seen at these concerts.
So if the above suggests a good effort by the programming police, then so be it. But the same cannot necessarily be said of their efforts for the Sydney 2012 Coffee Concert Series. In a decision that puzzles this observer, MVA has decided to program what is, effectively, a subscription series for the Goldner Quartet. Now, your correspondent hastens to add that, yes, the Goldner are loved and respected in Australia as the best of their breed. We see and hear them at the Australia Ensemble concerts (they sprang from the loins of the AE after all, and are still embedded therein). They are seen in Townsville, the Hunter, at Huntington and at numerous other festivals. MVA even programs them, from time to time, as part of the International Season. This year, for example.
But why change a magical mixture of coffee, cake, wonderful ensemble variety and a varied spectrum of the best of Australian and, occasionally, imported talent, with the Goldner? They have never seen fit to put on a series for themselves. Why would MVA oblige, on their behalf, at a time when the quartet has the capacity to do many things on its own, both here and overseas? I guess we will never know. Sure, there are popular guest artists for two of the series, and one concert with only half the quartet. (The Kodaly violin/cello duo, an old favourite of Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles, and a Bach cello suite). And a couple of interesting works are programmed such as the Frank Bridge Piano Quintet and a couple of Rameau miniatures. But mostly the string quartet works are pretty much standard quartet fare. Perhaps the best construct is to look upon the 2012 series as an experiment. But expect a number of first class Sydney musicians, some young, some mature, to shed a tear for lost opportunities. Perhaps we could all move to Melbourne. Ensemble variety still holds sway there, even if the cakes are a poor shadow of the Sydney offerings.