Does it get better than this?

Last night I went to hear the Schoenberg Ensemble perform, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Man, it was good! The sound from this band was extraordinary, their virtuosity had us enthralled. Andriesson’s Zilver, John Adams Chamber Symphony, Kagel’s Divertimento? Farce fur Ensemble, and then Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony op.9, taken at a cracking pace. It was a small audience, but incredibly appreciative. Long extended clapping ensued at the end of each half.

I think the thing that bowled me over the most was the sheer joy of their playing. They were just having such a great old time up there, playing this incredibly technically demanding music, but smiling away, exalting in their own and others’ lines.

Why can’t we see joyous performances like this more often? A colleague I bumped into at lunch today said, “We should remember that this is repertoire for them. They’ve played these incredibly demanding works loads of times, so there is a familiarity there that makes it more possible for one to relax into the performance…”

Ah, true. But then, I am not sure I see other orchestras smiling away as they play the gorgeous melodies and harmonies of Beethoven 6, for example. Which is repertoire performed pretty frequently.I don’t know. Perhaps for a lot of orchestras, playing concerts is just what they do, and it ceases to be special after awhile. Or the audience ceases to be of any great significance. Or they just get tired. Or bored. I don’t know. It’s a privilege, really…. to do that kind of work. Maybe if your life is contemporary music, you have to love it so much to begin with…. and then you just feel compelled to communicate that love.

Maybe it comes down to personalities. I don’t think there could have been a soul in the audience who did not fall a little bit in love with the violist in the Schoenberg Ensemble. Right from the moment she walked on stage she invited us to participate wholly in the music she was playing. She beamed at everyone – the conductor, her fellow musicians on the stage, people in the audience. We couldn’t take our eyes away from her for long. She was bringing out the best in everyone.

I think everyone could do with a shot of that kind of engaging, warm, joyfulness in their lives! Certainly we in the audience were all the better for it. So much so, I am planning to go and hear them again tonight.

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