Sydney Opera House: Can You Amplify This Please?

Last evening Flinders Quartet performed, together with jazz singer Vince Jones, at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House. Obviously, where an acoustic group such as a string quartet plays with an amplified voice, good handling of the sound is most important. Or so you would think.

No problem. The Opera House is Australia’s premier performance venue. Except that when Flinders arrived on Sunday afternoon for a warm up and sound check there was no equipment to be seen. The Opera House staff response was: “Oh, you didn’t order any”. Really? The booking confirmation sheet soon clarified that. So, equipment was hurriedly organised and someone to “do” the sound was found.

Unfortunately that left virtually no time for a sound check. The result was that the audio was seriously unbalanced, the mike placement inconvenient for the performer and the sound guy was so far off to the side he had no idea what most of the audience was hearing (or not hearing). The whole thing detracted from an otherwise lovely performance of works (by Elvis Costello –The Juliette Letters, and Calvin Bowman’s new creation, Curly Pyjama Letters) with words that demanded they be heard.

There will not be the same problem tonight at Melbourne’s Elisabeth Murdoch Hall in the Melbourne Recital Centre. They do their sound properly there.

So, is this just an isolated incident? Well, no. The sound arrangements were pretty ordinary for I Musici a couple of weeks ago on the Bennelong Lawn. Two concerts on the same day both revealed poor audio performance. This means no-one at the morning performance was listening with a view to achieving an optimum output in the evening. Those who attend the Utzon Room Series (I Musici) and concerts put on in the Utzon Room by lesser promoters than the Opera House (Flinders Quartet et al.) deserve better.

How about it, Yarmilla Alfonzetti? As Classical Music Producer at the House it warrants serious attention.


About johnofoz

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

3 Responses to Sydney Opera House: Can You Amplify This Please?

  1. Hi John

    I am compelled to respond for two reasons – a) you have almost spelt my name correctly which is an achievement in itself, and b) I can tell that you are a kindred spirit! I am very sorry to have missed the Flinders gig. I am a great admirer of this quartet (one of our finest to be sure) and I think this performance did warrant more attention from Sydney Opera House. However, one of the ongoing tests for every artist (star or not) is how to cope with difficulties on the day. I have realised after working with hundreds of musicians that the best people usually cope brilliantly, as it seems Flinders indeed did.

    Regarding I Musici, in all honesty I have to agree with you. I had hoped and imagined a different sound, and had placed enormous pressure on our sound staff to produce this under difficult outdoor circumstances. While I was still able to enjoy the ambient outdoor performance, and accept that certain aspects of it would be compromised, I felt disappointed in myself afterwards for prioritising novelty over artistic excellence. I say this because I genuinely learnt something about programming that day, and it is important to keep working hard to improve. Of course, the majority of our audience on the day absolutely loved the performance, the champagne, the view, the bats and the possum…all part of Sydney’s beauty (having just returned from Korea I feel like kissing the ground)!

    Because I do love the Utzon Room (and Sydney Opera house of course) more than my children, I am pretty serious about this and am very grateful for any feedback. Thanks John, keep it coming, and hope to see you at one of the next Utzon Music Series concerts.


  2. johnofoz says:

    Hi, Yarmila,
    Thank you for taking the time to post that considered response. I do apologise for the extra “L”. Spelling anyone’s name incorrectly is an egregious error.

    Make no mistake, I enjoyed the (morning) I Musici concert enormously, helicopters and seaplanes notwithstanding. I also enjoyed the Flinders concert very much, notwithstanding certain issues which were, perhaps, not entirely the fault of the sound system. But then, I have a special relationship with the quartet which results in me being, sometimes, a little hypersensitive.

    I believe the Utzon Room Series and the increased use of the venue by other chamber musicians is a great initiative by SOH. Thank you for your continuing efforts to improve the profile of chamber music at the Opera House.

  3. johnofoz says:

    And here is a review from Arts Hub of the Melbourne Recital Centre concert:

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