Classic Melbourne reviews 2014

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Published: 12th January, 2015

Classic Melbourne enjoyed its first full year in 2014, and found plenty to pique our interest for stories and reviews. Our faith in Melbourne as a strong community of classical music lovers was vindicated, with plenty of support from musicians and organisations we already knew well and others we encountered for the first time. We found that audiences were proud of the concerts presented. And every performance had its own highlights.

One of these was at a concert by the ANAM Orchestra conducted by Simone Young which began with her heartfelt tribute to composer Peter Sculthorpe whose death had been announced that day. Although struggling with tears when she spoke, Young regained control before raising her baton for Messiaen’s L’Ascension, a work which had suddenly taken on new significance. Whatever the inspiration, all four meditations symphoniques were played from the heart.

Early in the year opera stars – soprano Emma Matthews, mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble, baritone José Carbó held a benefit for fellow Australian Samuel Sakker as he prepared to become a Royal Opera House Young Artist. Their fine accompanist was Raymond Lawrence.

Deborah herself is busy with roles in Australia and Europe (a recent review from Italy describes her “first-class voice [with] its beauty of timbre and volume”). Thanks to Deborah being a regular writer for Classic Melbourne, we also heard about other Australians making it on the European stage, so knew to secure tickets early for Jessica Pratt in Victorian Opera’s production of La Traviata The company lived up to the promise of its curtain-raiser Games of Love & Chance, with reviewer Heather Leviston predicting early in the year that the company was on a very long winning streak.

Heather also found plenty to enjoy in Opera Australia productions this year, commenting “Rossini’s comic opera, The Turk in Italy, would have to rate, at the very least, as one of their most unflaggingly inventive creations”. Tosca was a triumph in the spring season.

Choral music in Melbourne was abundant and varied, with reviewer Peter Williams nominating a polished program based on the Magnificat as a favourite, and noting that newcomer Polyphonic Voices was already “a very professional and accomplished choir”.

Despite losing core funding the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir conducted by Andrew Wailes lost nothing of its audience appeal – nor its energy! Our review of its recent performances of Messiah and Carols spoke of “an exciting wall of sound – and a sense that Christmas was still well worth celebrating”.

New ventures in 2014 included ABC Classic FM’s launch of ABC Classic 2, with the aim of introducing classical music to a new online audience. Australia Octet grew out of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and pianist Stefan Cassomenos introduced contemporary ensemble Plexus to an appreciative Port Fairy Spring Music Festival. The names of pianists Amir Farid and Hoang Pham and sopranos Siobhan Stagg and Greta Bradman continually cropped up in programs – as did other soloists and ensembles too numerous to mention!

The Australian World Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra provided an exciting contact with the wider classic music world. Among Musica Viva’s stellar visitors the Sitkovetsky Trio excelled in its performance of Carl Vine’s Piano Trio, “The Village”.

Melbourne continued to embrace anything and everything from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, while the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra had another busy and successful year, under conductors Andrew Davis and Benjamin Northey – and guests. One was Keith Lockhart, in American Panorama, with the MSO providing the ultimate big-band sound.

The MSO’s long-term and well-loved Concertmaster Wilma Smith retired from the orchestra – but not from performing itself. Opera Australia’s Robert Mitchell said farewell to the operatic stage after 41 years in the spotlight. Richard Bonynge’s visit home to conduct Rodelinda moved Heather Leviston to comment that his “championing of Handel’s music over the last fifty years has enriched our lives and this performance was a reminder of how grateful we should be”.

If we may end on a partisan note, Classic Melbourne’s favourite gig this year was our own launch at St John’s, Southgate, on November 21. It was hosted by the inimitable Andrew Wailes, with Deborah Humble and Raymond Lawrence enchanting with the music of Brahms, Hoang Pham drawing memories from his sensitive performance of Chopin, and ensemble Anja & Zlatna (including Donald Nicolson) showing how well two voices mix with harpsichord and gypsy music.

Fine music is alive and well in Melbourne, let no one tell you otherwise! The evidence is not just in this small sample but the feast of reviews and stories on our site www.classicmelbourne.com.au

We look forward to your visits in 2015!

The picture by Jeff Busby is of Jessica Pratt in Victorian Opera’s La Traviata.