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Eroica: a dramatic, stand-up performance


There was anarchy at the Town Hall on Friday night when the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presented its last Master Series concert for 2015.

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The performance opened with Testament, a modern piece by Australian composer Brett Dean.  Originally created for the viola (12 of them, in fact), this was the orchestrated version, written in 2008.

The work was introduced by Dean, who was also guest conductor and violist for the concert.  This was his second piece in Adelaide for the week – his Second String Quartet And Once I Played Ophelia was premiered by the Australian String Quartet in Adelaide on Tuesday night.

Testament pays homage to the life of Ludwig van Beethoven in a cacophonous orchestral soundscape.  Moments of Beethoven appear in the piece as a tribute, not a pastiche.  The strings and wind section managed the particular demands of the piece with apparent ease, but  Testament  didn’t seem to be to the taste of the almost capacity Town Hall audience, which gave it only polite applause.

Next came the highlight of the night, Mozart’s heavenly Piano Concerto #20 in D minor, featuring young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor as soloist.

Watching Grosvenor was an absolute joy. He plays with such carefree concentration and mellifluous pianism. Mozart is one of his composers of choice; still only 23, Grosvenor played Mozart in his orchestral debut when he was 11 years old.

The audience’s fulsome appreciation was rewarded with a wonderful encore of George Gershwin melodies.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor.

The rest of the concert was devoted to Eroica, Beethoven’s dramatic third symphony.  Dean had the players standing for this piece, a convention often used by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. This certainly adds a sense of immediacy and energy to the concert experience, but must be rather tiring.  I expect the union would have something to say if it became standard practice!

It was a strong performance – but then came the anarchy.  It began with a camera flash sparking across the auditorium when someone high up in the gallery took an illegal photograph.  This was followed by some over-enthusiastic patrons applauding between the third and fourth movements.  A loud denouncement of “stupid people” was clearly audible in the dress circle.

Then a telephone rang out through the auditorium, and continued to ring  (perhaps a worried husband or wife, given that the concert was now running half an hour over time.)

All in all, this was an impressive performance from the ASO and a good bit of anarchy from the audience.

The ASO presented Eroica on Friday and Saturday at the Adelaide Town Hall. Its next concert is Classics Unwrapped at the Town Hall on Wednesday, November 11. On November 20 and 21 at the Festival Theatre it will share the stage with dancers from the Australian Ballet School in ASO at the Ballet.

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