Thanks to a gift from his mum, Llew and I were fortunate enough to attend a Sydney Symphony performance at the Opera House last night, and it was glorious. We had fantastic box seats, and the house was nearly full, right down to an annoying person who kept taking photographs and frankly deserved to be taken out by sniper fire.
It was a wonderful program, kicking off with the Australian premiere of a contemporary composition by John Adams (born 1947), Doctor Atomic Symphony, which we both enjoyed a great deal quite apart from the fabulous name.
Next up was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, which is when our amateur photographer really got the ants in his pants. I think he was angling to zero in on pianist Garrick Ohlsson’s hands flying across the keys. It was a stunning performance – and no wonder, since Ohlsson’s apparently considered one of the foremost exponents of the music of Chopin performing in the world today. He had a large stage presence that seemed to balance well with the delicacy of certain of the piece’s demands.
After a whirlwind intermission, it was time for the evening’s highlight: Beethoven’s No. 5, which neither of us had ever heard performed live before. It’s pretty dramatic stuff, guaranteed to keep even the silver-streaked set awake and on the edge of their seats until after the finale. Cue thunderous applause. What struck us both was just how familiar Symphony No. 5 in C Minor really is – and it’s not just those first four notes, which as the program notes are surely the most famous in all of music. No, I guess over the years we’ve simply heard this piece of music many, many times in many, many settings. But finally experiencing it live at the Sydney Opera House from the comfort of box seats? Well, that was not a bad first, and brought so much that was new to a piece of music that in some ways we knew well.
Our conductor throughout was a very lively man, his dead straight hair a shiny cap forever leaping from his scalp as he danced on the spot every second he spent on stage (I must confess that conductors have always seemed a slight curiosity to me, but I really felt I understood them a bit better after watching this dynamo in action last night), a tireless American by the name of David Robertson. He was dizzying to watch, and it was quite a riveting spectacular in general, watching the members of the Sydney Symphony caught up in the strange phenomenon of being individually lost in the music while simultaneously synchronising as part of a seamless whole. I loved slowly scanning the stage all through the performance, looking from one section to another, studying one musician and then the next, seeing the way one by one they became something so much larger than themselves, and created something that was beautiful to behold as well as to hear.
It was wonderful.