We’re now at the pointy end of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, and for this listener it’s a great pity to think it’ll all be over on Sunday night. We began the week with 16 ensembles, and as of Thursday evening we’re down to 10. Friday sees all semi-finalists performing a work by the teutonic greats, either Beethoven or Schubert. If you can still get a ticket, do so. The Finals on Sunday will see three quartets and three trios, each to perform a piece of their own choice in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall of the Melbourne Recital Centre. By about 9pm the bubbly will be flowing and it’ll all be over for another four years.
In Round 2 we were privy to some extraordinary interpretations from the 19th century chamber music canon. Trio Gaon’s Brahms Op.8 was extraordinary on every level, and the Amatis Trio had the audience in raptures after a blistering Mendelssohn D minor. We heard extremes of interpretation in the French quartet music – Ravel and Debussy featured large for the string quartets, although none in particular were glitch-free. Who would want that anyway? For me it’s the human qualities in this music that convinces. I’m looking forward to the Eliot Quartet’s Death and the Maidentoday at 2pm. A brave choice, but worth it if it comes off.
New to every listener in Round 2 were the commissioned works from Australian composers Paul Stanhope and Holly Harrison. It’s a fascinating opportunity to hear different imaginations of the just dry dots on the page. This is at the heart of musicking, and the enjoyment it brings the listener as we hear the same work played with such freshness and at times, abandon. Holly Harrison’s Balderdash was exactly as intended, a lot of mad fun in the Lewis Carroll sense (from whose literature she draws inspiration), embracing musical absurdities in a digestible way. Germany’s Goldmund Quartett even removed their jackets and went black T-shirts to the amusement of the crowd. Paul Stanhope’s Pulses also revealed a multitude of techniques and places to trip up. His writing explored the pulses of frequency and rhythm, from pizzicati in the strings to chord patterns in the piano. Stanhope also gave the musicians a choose-your-own-ending option, writing two possible endings to bring an element of surprise to each performance. His skill cements him as one of the leading Australian composers.
I’m very clear on who I’d like to hear again – Trio Mosa are interesting and very confident, the Amatis Trio even more so. I am blown away by the Trio Gaon, their playing takes me back to the class of the Trio Jean Paul who triumphed in 1995. We’ll see what happens. As to the quartets, for me the Eliot and Gildas are the ones with something of their own to say. None of them are flash in the pan ensembles either, although we’ll see in a few years which groups stay together (watch for an updated post “Where are they now” on Saturday.)
The audience has been as it is every MICMC – warm, opinionated and enthusiastic. You see the same faces, the chamber music lovers who are prepared to sit for hours upon hours, listening to the same piece multiple times. They wouldn’t miss it. I know how they feel.
The Semi-Finalists are :
The Mosa Trio, Amatis Trio, Trio Gaon, Clarendon Trio (the lone Australian group) and Trio Marvin
Idomeneo Quartet, Gildas Quartet, Goldmund Quartet, Callisto Quartet, Eliot Quartet
Concerts are at the South Melbourne Town Hall at 9.30am, 11.30am, 2pm, 4pm and 7.30pm.
More information about repertoire and tickets here https://musicaviva.com.au/comp/micmc-events/