MUSIC - CHAMBER MUSIC
is holding its 27th Festival, which is in itself somewhat of
a puzzle given that Sydney is a festival.
This year sees a new artistic director, Brett
Sheehy, steering a fresh course, with no imported grand opera, indeed no
centerpiece at all.
boast is that the Festival will be the biggest ever, or at least since
the Olympic. This boosting of quantity does not detract from the quality
of performers from David Byrne to Theatre
Sheehy’s programme is very Sydney-in-summer, bent towards movement and colour rather than text-based performance. The events are targeted at a demographic whose sensibility, though not confined by age or sexual preference, could be niched as Dance Party.
sole exception to this contemporary temper is the chamber music series
at Angel Place. Viewed against the rest of the offerings, one might well
wonder why chamber music did not go the way of Monteverdi.
years ago, the Kronos Quartet’s ending its concerts with Jimi
Hendrix’s Purple Haze would
have been just right for this year’s mix. Ten years further back and
the Arditti’s rendering of Xenaxis would have been in step with the
informality of the acts assembled for 2002.
Instead of introducing us to the equivalent
newest force in repertoire and performance practice, Sheehy asked the
composer and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival,
Michael Berkeley, to curate six concerts between 8th
and 20th January.
As a result, the Sydney Festival is getting a
conventional, if youthful, British string quartet - the Belcea -
marketed as an “ascendant star”. That they are returning for Musica
Viva in March makes it even harder to see why so traditional an ensemble
got a gig in this style of Festival.
This month they will perform mainstream pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelsohn, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann. This is music to doze off to, a list which would not have excited Pymble in the late 1960s. Even if the Emerson Quartet were performing this selection, to buy a ticket would not be a clear choice above spending the money on any one of a number of companies coming to town.
The empty seats at the five Arditti concerts
during the Melbourne Festival last October are one more reminder that
not even the world’s finest players of contemporary compositions can
draw the crowds. But the relunctance of concert goers to support
anything after Bartok is no excuse for dishing up the same old fare to
those who are incapable of hearing anything not branded Classical or
A Festival is the one occasion when risks
should be taken. One Australian work has been commissioned, and three
others will be performed. To meet the expectation for something a touch
different, Berkeley has programmed three Australian premieres between
the Great Names, in the innocent hope that if you sandwich a
contemporary work between two war-horses then the subscribers will learn
to like what they know they hate. Such contact only annoys.
If we are to get a load of old stuff, why not
insert items from Classical era composers we almost never hear live?
David Periera could supply the extra cello for a Quintet by Anton Reicha,
while Brett Dean could join in one of the quartets where Pleyel called
for a viola to replace the second violin.
Another drawcard would be to present the
traditional in more demanding ways. A series offering nine of Haydn’s
late quarters would advance his claim to be recognised the equal of
Mozart or Beethoven. Alternatively, two nights with his quartets in
D-major would illumine the ways in which he exploited the brilliance of
With Arriaga doomed to be diminished as the
Spanish Mozart, Albrechtsberger could be marketed as Beethoven’s
teacher. If a Michael Haydn were programmed as early quartet of his
brother’s, how many music lovers would spot the difference - or care,
so long as they were never let in on the family joke?