Saturday 14th March 7:30pm I went to the Russian Romantics concert put on by the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra with a program of Chris Williams Kolam, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major with Anna Da Silva Chen, and Rachmaninov Symphony No.2 in E minor in the auditorium at Ravenswood School for Girls in Gordon (Sydney, Australia) conducted by Colin Piper.
Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic are a community orchestra with a range of talent. I have an older friend who plays cello, her new second instrument, in the section. It's a lovely community and I admire how well they put on concerts. The programs were well written and well designed, and I always appreciate some
free good refreshments in the interval. The ticket entry was pretty reasonable at $15 for students and $30 for adults (managed to get two student tickets even though I'm a student in Germany and my boyfriend isn't a student at all). Normally I wouldn't say this is a reasonable ticket price for an orchestra of this standard, but I understand they need to raise money to get music and pay the conductors fee etc.
It was brilliant to see Colin Piper at the helm of the orchestra and he catered very well to the audience. With a friendly stage presence he gave the audience a little explanation of each of the works beforehand. With a modern piece on the program I always appreciate this because it's unlikely I've ever heard it before and sometimes it's nice to know what to look out for. In any case I'm not the model music student and have sometimes not even heard what may be considered common listening before so I welcome any more personal introduction to the pieces (that is, more personal than the concert program which I often don't have much time to read before the concert because I'm always cutting it close to the wire and almost running late). He held the orchestra together well and instigated some great eye-contact amongst the players. There was a clarity in his conducting technique and yet it still had appropriate energy.
The first piece, Chris Williams' Kolam, I approached with completely fresh ears. I hadn't read the program notes at all, didn't know anything about Kolam and didn't fully understand the explanation of the title given orally by Colin (not his fault, I wasn't listening). Colin had a few of the orchestra members demonstrate some of the sounds that would be heard in the piece and I really enjoyed this. He also said something along the lines of "the tune you'll be whistling when you leave is this: " and had the clarinet play. I was expecting a tune, because generally that's what characterises a tune that I'll be whistling, and the clarinetist played two notes: an A flat leaping up a fifth to an E flat. I am certainly not whistling this now or even directly after. This was a mistake for me by Colin, it is not a melody and the piece itself doesn't really have a melody. It was a piece that was made of sound; the sound of sandpaper blocks being rubbed together, string players tapping the bodies of their instruments, wind players blowing plain air through their instruments. Colin didn't need to try and make it into anything it wasn't. It was a picture piece and evoked some kind of foggy landscape for me. I liked the colours created and thought that the KPO should play more pieces like this. Being neither horrendously technical and yet still effective, it is the perfect sort of music for a community orchestra. My concert-partner didn't enjoy it as much as I did though..
The second piece on the program, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Anna Da Silva Chen, was actually the drawcard to the concert for my boyfriend and me. Anna is a first-year student at the same institution we have both done degrees at: the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She first came into my news-sphere for getting into the finals of the Young Performer's Awards last year. She didn't take out the main prize but it's still quite an achievement to get into the grand final and play your concerto with one of the major state orchestras of Australia (especially seeing as how I had also auditioned and not got through the preliminary round). Overall impressions are that she played very well (and I'll apologise up front for any technical jargon some readers may not understand in the following paragraphs). The first movement started with a shaky opening from the orchestra's first violins, which somehow made Anna's sound when she began very wow. I was super impressed with her contact with the string and consistent sound. I'm a big stickler for a strong concentrated sound and like to hear this in players (no fluffy fluffing around for me thanks! [unless for convincing musical effect of course]). Not long into the concerto did I realise that this was almost her only sound. I started to long for some more lightness in it, some playfulness in certain phrases. I'm no expert on the Tchaikovsky Concerto, having only heard it a few times before and never studied it myself back when I played violin, but I know what I like in music and there was no other side to the coin from Anna. She played the whole concerto rather seriously and I would be grabbing at air trying to find other characters in her musical interpretation. Basically nailing the technical difficulties isn't really enough, and even for me that wasn't achieved because it's through a great varied technique that one can create the level of contrast required for various sounds. Another little critique from me is that when she played repeated phrases, or parts of phrases, they sounded relatively the same. The first time what I thought was an audible passing-note shift for musical effect ended up being there the second time too because evidently that's the only way she shifts to that spot. Some greater attention in her study of the small variations that can be made will transform her playing in the future. Additionally, loving Anna's strong and concentrated sound, it was weaker on the A string. She has an excellent E-string sound and her sound on the lower strings was also well controlled and gutsy, but her sound on the A string was lacking and meant that across long runs that travel from the bottom of the register right up through all the strings to the top of the E there was a loss of energy due to the A string sound. Often this is where it is needed most in order to really crescendo into a climax (I won't go fully into it, but: exponential crescendos).
I do give Anna some kudos/cut her some slack because playing with a less-than-professional orchestra is hard work. It is not rare that the orchestra can't keep up with the tempo required and then what must the soloist do? I could feel that Anna wanted to take some more spritely tempos but the orchestra wasn't able to support her in this. I was happy to hear her stick with them. It's difficult but sometimes at this level you have to go with the orchestra; it's the great orchestras that can go with you when you want. I understand how difficult it must be not to play your ideal tempos and how that must effect your performance and Anna managed this well. However, it did result in some passage work sounding a little study-like. Equipped with a great detaché stroke is almost a shame for Anna because it showcases the fact that her off-the-string stroke is weak. I'm not sure if it was because it wasn't the ideal tempo for her but it definitely called up some memories of Kreutzer studies for me. It was neither light, nor did it have direction or character. I knew that if I was playing up there I would feel much more comfortable with a faster tempo in which to create the lightness more naturally (with the natural bounce of the bow).
Lastly there's an aspect to performance that I loathe to touch on and that is: performance persona. I hate that it is necessary in this world to have on-stage charisma etc etc. To me, for a long time, this was unnatural. In my mind I'm not playing the music for the audience, I'm playing it for myself. I want to produce what I think, what I feel. I understand how silly this is because it is a performance art, and something which we bring to a wider group. I have spoken to performers who live for playing the music for the audience and I know there's a logic to that. The thing I hate is that people go to a classical music concert and say that the performer wasn't "into the music" just because they weren't making faces and rolling around the stage in fits. Having said that, it is important to not hinder your performance through what you're doing physically. Anna needs to work on showing the audience the conversational aspect of music by interacting more with the orchestra. There are passages where the solo violin has difficult filler music and the melody is in another section of the orchestra. It is difficult to achieve but the soloist must play their technical passage-work effortlessly whilst looking and listening to the melody in whichever part of the orchestra it is. As this is quite a heavily fashion-based blog I would also like to mention Anna's fashion choice for the evening. She wore a purple satin-looking dress with some embellishment in the bust. It was fine but perhaps not the finest choice for her figure. Anna is a beautiful girl however she is very slender (not meaning this in a bad way at all!). I think she would do better to wear gowns that are more draped and able to create some body for her instead of satin which showed everything (obviously not belly-pooches, more bony hips). The colour and cut of the dress were very good.
In the end, a solid performance from Anna. Solid in sound that's for sure. She has what it takes to project over an orchestra and the beginnings of a good technical basis but from my perspective she needs to take more care to look into the details. The need for more characters, a greater variety of sounds, and more interaction with the orchestra are what made this performance lack in musical conviction and are the areas in which I think she could improve. At only 18 she has the chance to become very good in the future. I look forward to seeing what happens with her playing through her Bachelor Degree and after.
There was a performance by the orchestra of Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony after the interval but unfortunately my concert-partner and I didn't stay for it (he has a huge test to study for). In any case I was not too sad to miss it because the orchestra didn't have the greatest moments in the Tchaikovsky. The upper strings did very well but I felt the lower strings (celli/bassi) were often out of tune and this is the foundation. When the foundation is shaky it is extremely difficult to build on. I won't comment on the wind and brass. Good effort in any case from a community orchestra! I hope to see more modern pieces like the Williams on their programs in the future.
N.B: I want to just state clearly here that in all reviews I don't think I am superior to the performers in any way, or that I have more knowledge than them, I am merely writing reviews as verbalisations of my perspective and opinion. I do not mean to offend any persons in any review.