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Perth Symphony Orchestra, Mozart by Candlelight
Perth Symphony Orchestra, Mozart by Candlelight

30 October

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Perth Symphony Orchestra continued its tradition of delivering accessible and engaging content for mainstream audiences with latest show, Mozart By Candlelight.

By blending musical styles and bringing together musicians of varying backgrounds, PSO created an experience that was intriguing and at times, moving.

The carefully selected program included works by classical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as well as pieces by three contemporary composers who each contributed to the television series based on Blair Tindall’s book, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music.

Given the marketing push of the show’s risqué elements, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I glided up the mountainous steps to the Perth Concert Hall in my symphony best. Would there be partial nudity? Would a violinist descend to the stage on a giant swing, while fire erupted from the bell of a French horn?

Orator Stuart Halusz

No. It was quite tame and not at all burlesque, although there was occasion for the odd improper snicker as PSO Founder and CEO, Bourby Webster, read passages from Tindall’s book, and excerpts from Mozart’s personal letters were orated with flamboyant flair by actor, Stuart Halusz and his rather large feather quill.

This was the first concert performed by PSO at this premier venue, the acoustics of which no doubt contributed to the fact that this was the best I’ve ever heard them. It’s clear that a substantial effort was put into ensuring that the instruments on stage were perfectly mixed, allowing soloists to sit comfortably on top of the well-blended ensembles. The master volume could have been pushed up slightly but perhaps I’m getting old because I found the subdued volume rather pleasant.

Perth Symphony Orchestra

Most unusually for a classical concert, the audience were invited to take photos and short videos throughout the show. This wasn’t terrible but I do wish there had been a no flash rule imposed, as the flashes behind me became incredibly distracting. Of the show itself, there is little to criticise.

The aesthetics of the evening were stunning. Performers stood on a stage laden with candles, framed by candelabrum, under a looming, polished pipe organ (okay, it may live in the Concert Hall all year round but in this context, it added a heavily stylised touch to the somewhat gothic atmosphere).

Webster was determined with this show to pull back the curtain and offer a peek into the life of the somewhat elusive classical musician. That some of the performers introduced themselves and talked a little about their personal journey was a nice touch. Tindall’s book offered insight into the hedonistic lifestyle of youngsters living in a towering apartment block in Manhattan, where students from the Juilliard School and professionals alike could come together, play for fun, mingle and otherwise cavort.

Mozart was, of course, raucous, but even with his letters, a straight Mozart concert wouldn’t have been as inviting. By blending musical styles and bringing together musicians of varying backgrounds, PSO created an experience that was intriguing and at times, moving.

It struck me that I’ve never before seen an orchestra play standing up. At times I found myself mesmerised by the string section moving in unison, each musician shifting their weight onto a left or right foot simultaneously as their bow drew out the next note.  It was like watching the tide come in. You could be forgiven for thinking it was an orchestrated dance, yet it felt completely natural. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Katie McKay

Soloists Julian Leslie (horn), Kathy Potter (viola) and Paul Wright (viola), the latter of whom also led both of the second act ensembles, offered highly polished interpretations of Mozart and Nyman alike. A few intonation issues notwithstanding, Shaun Lee-Chen (violin) was virtuosic in his playing. Stephanie Nicholls brought new life to the oboe in the Mozart quartet, with a flawless timbre and the sweetest, most precise higher register.

Katie McKay (viola) gave a stirring performance of Nico Muhly’s Etude No. 3. Aside from her playing, the visual of a beautiful woman draped like a Grecian goddess amid a sea of candles was enough to distract from the fact that she was playing to a backing track.

The highlight for me, though, was Helen Shanahan’s performance of Caroline Shaw’s “Is a Rose.” Although written for a classical singer, Shanahan’s choice to bring her own relaxed folk-singing voice to the piece made it a unique and unexpected delight. She was the perfect choice for this piece and she sang it impeccably.

Perth Symphony Orchestra, Mozart by Candlelight
Helen Shanahan with Perth Symphony Orchestra

In summary, PSO’s Mozart By Candlelight was a professional production, well organised and nicely put together. While not overly racy, it was more daring than your run of the mill classical concert that sits behind a shopfront of professionalism, poise and propriety. Visually stunning, a little bit raucous, a peek behind the veil.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra turns nine years old today. Around the Sound would like to take this opportunity to wish them a very happy birthday.

Follow PSO on Facebook for upcoming events.


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