THE METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA-MET #1 STRING FANTASY @ PETERSHAM TOWN HALL

Above: TMO Principal Flautist Svetlana Yaroslavskaya played the Bizet/Borne ‘Carmen Fantasy’ .  Featured image, TMO Chief Conductor, Sarah-Grace Williams ans TMO Strings at Petersham Town Hall.

Last year the first live concert by TMO musicians post-2020 pandemic silence featured members of TMO strings in a commanding reclaiming of the stage. In stunning expansion from that small group it was the larger TMO strings who began the 2021 Met Concert Series at Petersham Town Hall on Sat February 20. The group charmed, wowed and dazzled us with new repertoire as well as their signature reliable intensity and diverse expression. 

The carefully structured programme allowed the group to be well showcased and speak in widely varied voice. It was complete with a new version arranged just for this ensemble, new works to discover  for the safely distanced audience and a live event with fifty percent Australian content.  

These works by living, treasured and prolific composers of the Australian music scene alternated with lesser-known creatives from the late nineteenth century. Short, dynamic pieces from Elena Kats-Chernin and Paul Stanhope were smoothly complemented by a longer, rarely performed symphony by Danish composer Asger Hamerik which concluded the interval-free celebration of string ensemble music. 

Above : Elena Kats-Chernin, composer of ‘Fast Blue Village 5’.

In true TMO Met Series style the musicians also collaborated with an instrumental soloist to provide a balanced and exciting performance. This inclusion of flute with the strings provided great timbral contrast. It also demonstrated the musicians’ innate and developed skill as guided by maestra Sarah-Grace Williams in expressive conversation as an accompanying body. 

The Met Series 2021 got off to a rocketing start with a powerhouse performance of the expanded string quartet Fast Blue Village 2, now transformed to a meaty work for TMO strings and renamed Fast Blue Village 5. The ensemble’s signature intensity referred to earlier came into its own here in a strong rendering of this music’s edgy, complex rhythm and driven gesture. 

Kats-Chernin’s unique voice shone in TMO String’s delivery of this piece’s variegated and angular forward-pushing force.  As often with this composer, the concentrated thematic concerns yielded a terrific outpouring of many diverse shades of utterance, reflection and resonance. 

TMO principal flute Svetlana Yaroslavskaya joined her colleagues in a focussed and exquisite variation of much-loved melodies from Bizet’s opera classic in Carmen Fantasy. The fiendishly demanding filigree in flautist-composer François Borne’s relentless work was devoured seemingly effortlessly and with Carmen-esque courage  by the virtuosic Yaroslavskaya 

There was a wonderfully intimate exchange full of integrity between flute and the members of each  TMO string family here. Clear,  elegant pacing of phrasing and motivic direction enabled the soloist to deliver the entropy of each theme’s variation with an entertaining easy musicianship. 

Above : Composer of ‘ Morning Star’, Paul Stanhope.

Following from this work was Paul Stanhope’s Morning Star in full string orchestra guise. Resonating with an indigenous melody from central Arnhem Land, the themes delicately tossed across the ensemble in its opening movement were presented in subsequent sections with chameleon characterisations and much energy by TMO string players and maestra Williams . 

Paul Stanhope’s requisite powerfully evocative style was in good hands here as various moods and parts of the expressive narrative were explored deftly by the performers. Such playing carved out  penetrating storylines in the ambient and responsive Petersham Town Hall acoustic. 

This Met Concert concluded with Sarah-Grace Williams and TMO Strings introducing us to Hamerik’s Symphony No 6 – Symphony Spirituelle (1897). This was commandingly delivered, instantly endearing us to the work’s crystal clear late-Romantic period directness.  

This work’s accessible musical effectiveness included joyous sharing of content between the separate string choirs, and a sensibly graded organic development towards several stunning climaxes. The string  sections here bounced extremely well off each other’s vocalisations and  allocated thematic material.  Interacting well was also the assembled talent and passion performance in addition to an obvious  joy in surviving as an arts organisation to make music together live in 2021 and be streamed globally . 

The next TMO event is its Chamber Music Concert #1: The 8 Cellists of TMO. It will include works by Tavares, Paert, Wagner, Fauré, Piazolla Ravel and Led Zeppelin. 

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