Celebrating Beethoven, The Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, Costa Hall, February 22, 2020
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and orchestras around the world have celebrations and themed concerts planned. Geelong's Symphony Orchestra was among the first - the composer’s actual birthday isn’t until December 16 - and this superb concert has set a very high standard for those to follow.
Our orchestra achieved this by doing what it does best. It used no fireworks or gimmicks, just presented two of the maestro’s best-known works simply and elegantly with a couple of star guests.
This allowed the beauty of Beethoven’s music to shine for itself, wordlessly explaining why his works have remained at the pinnacle of world music for more than two centuries.
Because the pieces chosen - his Violin Concerto in D major Op 61 and his Symphony No 5 in C minor Op.67 - though instantly recognisable as Beethoven masterworks, are quite different.
The first is deep and complex, full of variations and style changes, and it’s notoriously difficult to play.
The second, fifth symphony, is perhaps his best known orchestral work because of its signature dum dum dum du-um intro - the WWII era ‘V’ radio signature - recurring in reappearing in patterns and motifs and building to a powerful, majestic grand finale.
It’s a gloriously monumental piece that is uplifting when delivered well, magnificent in the hands of a top-class orchestra. But such a demanding work can make a merely competent orchestra appear embarrassingly wanting.
In this concert, and with those guests, the first work was brilliant; the second - magnificent.
The guests were as different as the works they presented.
They were the internationally acclaimed and universally admired English conductor Richard Davis and multi-awarded, much-in-demand Australian violin soloist, Emily Sun.
He was intense, animated, gesturing. His unique style appeared to be silently pleading his players while moving from an almost predatory crouch position to one miming magnanimous praise. Meanwhile Emily, statuesque in a long glamorous gown, stood unmoving, calm and totally absorbed through her piece’s three minute orchestral intro before joining it, then taking it into different realms in a scintillating 20-minute performance delivered completely from memory. She played mostly with eyes closed, absorbed, swaying and glancing only occasionally at the energetic conductor beside her. But between them - and our excellent orchestra - they produced a divine performance. And Emily’s smile was as broad as Richard’s as they took no fewer than six curtain calls and performed an Elgar showpiece encore.
Following the interval and those signature first two bars, conductor Davis had our orchestra to himself and together they presented a memorable Beethoven’s Fifth that was packed with colour, vibrancy, majesty and class. The strings were, as always, exceptional. The brass was bold and lusty, the woodwind sweet and sublime. The single-person timpani quite literally never missed a beat - and every one was perfect. The packed Costa Hall audience hung on every note and at the finish, applauded long and loud, demanding curtain call after curtain call.
Thank you orchestra, thank you Emily, Richard - and a very Happy Birthday, Ludwig.
- Colin Mockett
The Geelong Summer Music Camp's 40th annual celebration concert.
Costa Hall, January 17, 2020
This concert has for decades started our musical year with a flourish. It’s unchallenged as Geelong’s biggest and most heartwarming music event.
That’s because it routinely takes the 250 young musicians who had attended a week of intensive masterclasses from our region’s leading tutors and put their skills on display in our most prestigious venue.
Historically, the annual concert has many benefits. It not only gives the students a goal for their week of concentrated learning, it allows them the rare opportunity to play in large ensembles under the guidance of top musicians. It also allows them to show their progress to family and friends at a grand yet affordable event.
For the audience, it presents a concert like no other. Its music covers a wide spectrum, from jazz to pop to classical via string and wind ensembles, a choir and a full symphony orchestra. The eight ensembles are organised by ability levels, with a big all-on-stage finale where every member of the camp, plus their tutors cram on to the stage to present a specially arranged finale.
You’ll understand that there’s a huge degree of discipline involved just to get the groups on and off stage but such has been the long experience of the camp organisers that the whole thing works like a well oiled machine.
The above would, in truth, apply to every Geelong Summer Music Camp Concert, but this one was special. Very special.
For its 40th anniversary, this Concert had the theme ‘Celebration’, with every one of the 21 tunes and songs reflecting that motif.
The camp was bigger, with 260 students enrolled, most of whom were returning as regulars. Many of the conductors and tutors were regulars, too. Some were former students who had graduated to musical careers.
But then came a musical masterstroke, for the camp committee had obtained the services of world-renowned Australian trumpeter James Morrison. This was not just for the concert, but for a full weekday of tutoring, too.
This meant that the maestro musician didn’t just turn up to lend his skills to the concert. He worked, then performed with every group and ensemble, even the choir.
So the concert’s opening big band, under the direction of master clarinettist Dave Gardner, started with Life Of The Party then moved on to Duke Ellington’s Caravan which was joined, and led by James Morrison on trumpet and trombone.
Next, the junior concert band, conducted by cool Sally Davis included Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy with James Morrison out front.
The senior concert band was next, with its equable conductor Ed Fairlie presenting four very different tunes including Thomas Moore’s beautiful Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms - with soloist James Morrison on flugelhorn.
Then came the choir, led by vivacious Jodi Townsend, which finished a delightful set with an arrangement of The Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogle Bugle Boy with dance and movement. And there’s no prizes for guessing who provided the trumpet frills.
The senior string group opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto in C for Two Trumpets and Strings with the immaculate unison trumpets played by student camper Thomas Fernee and James Morrison.
The full Symphony Orchestra’s set included Leroy Anderson’s A Trumpeter’s Lullaby featuring James - and that big final number, the Village People’s Can’t Stop The Music, which had been skilfully arranged for 300 musicians (260 students and 40 tutors) by the hugely talented local musician Kym Dillon, had an extra part written in for their star guest. He obliged while wearing his Geelong Cats gift scarf, as you can see from the picture above.
This big happy number resulted in an encore, then a standing ovation from its packed and delighted Costa Hall audience.
And do you know what was a really beaut outcome of this concert?
I can guarantee that this camp, and its concert, will be booked out next year.
In the interim, there will be 260 young musicians dropping in to their conversations… “I remember when I was backing James Morrison in Geelong…’
They had clearly had a magnificent, memorable time - and so did we all.
- Colin Mockett