The Sydney Opera House has been the house of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for almost 50 years. And as it is about to get a billion dollar makeover, the SSO has secured the Sydney Town Hall as a new venue for the next two seasons.
Interestingly enough, the SSO started at Sydney Town Hall before the SOH was purposely built for it and the first subscriptions started in 1936!
However it is not until Eugene Goossens took over that the SSO became fully fledged and became internationally recognised. Here is what the SSO says of that era on their website:
“Following the recommendations of visiting conductor Eugene Ormandy, the ABC built the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to full symphonic strength, collaborating with the state and municipal governments. An 82-player orchestra gave its first concert in January 1946, and Eugene Goossens was persuaded to become the orchestra's first Chief Conductor (and Director of the Conservatorium), beginning in 1947.
Goossens said he wanted to make Sydney's orchestra 'among the six best in the world'. He also said Sydney must have an opera house, and chose the Bennelong Point site. Goossens introduced Sydney audiences to orchestral works old and new, and many were Australian premieres, including Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Australian John Antill's Corroboree. His 1953 EMI recordings were the orchestra's first international releases.
Notable guest conductors during the Goossens years included Otto Klemperer, Rafael Kubelik, and Sir John Barbirolli. Goossens appointed players who were to shape the orchestra's sound for years, notably Ernest Llewellyn as concertmaster. Llewellyn's predecessors included Lionel Lawson, his successors Donald Hazelwood (another long-serving concertmaster), John Harding, Michael Dauth and Dene Olding.
Goossens was succeeded as chief conductor by Russian Nicolai Malko (who died in Sydney), American Dean Dixon, and Israeli Moshe Atzmon. In the 1960s, ABC Director of Music and conductor John Hopkins initiated and conducted the Town Hall Proms concerts, still fondly remembered today. In 1965 the orchestra made its first international tour, including an appearance in the Edinburgh Festival. Noted composers who have conducted the orchestra include Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Witold Lutoslawski, and more recently Thomas Adès.”
The Town Concert Hall is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture and is fitted with a magnificent organ which was the best and biggest in the World at the time.
You can read its whole history here:
The acoustics iof the Hall are legendary and experiencing it myself for the first time triggered the writing of this article.
Granted, I was sitting bang pang in the middle of the third row from the stage and from there I could experience the whole gamut of what audiophiles call soundstage, both in width and depth.
The SSO is a world class orchestra and I have always admired and appreciated their impeccable timing, cohesiveness and articulation. It was on full display both visually and sonically last Friday night!
Starting with a not so approachable piece from Sibelius, En Saga, a so called tone-poem, op.9, "a thematic tapestry where one theme shows a different face-off another, a if, through out, we are looking at a sculpture from different perspectives" as the program reveals, was as great way for the orchestra to get warmed up together on a cold winter Sydney night!
Then we were treated to two of my favourite pieces of music that I have never heard live, the Piano Concerto in A minor, op.16 from Edvard Grieg with pianist Kirill Gerstein a Russian born, now American who started piano at the age of three and who just turned 40, playing fabulously from memory on a Steinway grand piano and the Symphonie Fantastique from Hector Berlioz after the interval.
The amazing thing about this concert hall, together with the virtuosity of the pianist and the orchestra was that every instrument was so articulate and precisely positioned in the sound stage that one could almost read the score by actively listening and watching the musicians performing. There was a particular auditive and visual feast later in the Symphonie Fantastique when the bass section of the strings on our right side were frantically playing pizzicati and a little later the high section of the string section on our left were delicately doing the same.
Not mention the percussionists who were acting devilishly at the back. A real treat!
As a fellow concert goer put it on our way out: "I think I am going to enjoy the next two years"!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.