Classical music lovers will not have to go without cheer during the festive season, writes Matthew Westwood
B ETWEEN Jingle Bells and Advance Australia Fair, there isn’t a lot of classical music worth listening to during midsummer. The concert halls are quiet, the theatres given over to magic shows and musicals.
It’s as if the nation’s violinists, oboists and percussionists collectively have read a giant fermata sign in the sky: the musical symbol that looks like an eye and indicates a long, blissful pause. The conductor has put down his baton and gone fishing.
Listeners who know where to look, however, will not go without cheer. Sydneysiders in particular have abundant musical offerings, courtesy of the Sydney Festival and Opera Australia’s summer season. This guide to midsummer musical sanity also will suggest the best listening to be found on disc, on screen and online.
In his Sydney Festival program, director Lieven Bertels has assembled an array of tantalising shows that might be grouped loosely together as musical theatre.
Imagine Handel’s 1743 oratorio Semele with a choir, period-instrument orchestra and models in Vivienne Westwood punk couture (January 11-15). Or enter the carefully constructed theatrical world of German director Heiner Goebbels, whose Eraritjaritjaka (January 9-13) combines string quartet, philosophical monologue and immaculate stagecraft in what is more an art installation than chamber recital.
One could complete a trio of musical adventures with 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the Sydney Symphony provides the waltzing accompaniment for Stanley Kubrick’s dancing spaceships (January 24-25). A companion concert with Ensemble Offspring (January 1113) will rework Gyorgy Ligeti’s haunting orchestral work Atmospheres — also heard in Kubrick’s masterpiece — for strings, percussion, electric guitar and turntables. (The 2001 movie adventure will be repeated at the Adelaide Festival with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in March.)
The Peninsula Summer Music Festival (December 29 to January 6) is a boutique concert series in the picturesque setting of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The event conveniently spans the New Year’s period — there’s a serenade concert on December 31 — so the party planning can be left in the hands of festival director Julia Fredersdorff.
The music ranges from the bittersweet laments of John Dowland, to jazz, klezmer and Debussy’s fragrant piano music. The centrepiece is a performance by early music ensemble Ludovico’s Band of Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, a little operatic scene in which love conquers all.
A children’s concert on New Year’s Day features the musical menagerie of Carnival of the Animals, with Christopher Lawrence as narrator. The Saint-Saens favourite is also part of the Music Play children’s festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre on January 19.
Unfortunately, concerts of classical music are few until early February, when the Australian Chamber Orchestra goes on the