Adelaide Festival Theatre, June 1
Beethoven’s epic ode to humanity recognises forty years of music making in Adelaide.
It is indeed appropriate that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra chose to present Beethoven’s monumental ode to humanity – the Ninth Symphony – to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that hub of the city’s culture, the Festival Centre. And after the expected speeches replete with personal reminiscences, it was over to an insistent snare-based tattoo which underpinned the local populist composer Graeme Koehne’s Fanfare Festiva – an occasional piece resplendent with his usual wit and Coplandesque sense of space (many were amused by the pizzicato violins, held like they were ukuleles).
In April a panel for Limelight magazine investigated Australia’s orchestras with the ASO coming in second place behind Ashkenazy’s SSO. Not only has the local orchestra’s programming been moving towards such an event as this with finely played Wagner and Brahms of late, from the opening bars of the symphony, there was a sense of clarity and purpose which would have defeated both the hall and the orchestra under earlier conductors. As with his Mahler and Sibelius, Volmer is a conductor who goes back to the score for matters of interpretation and in some ways this light-footed Beethoven was up to date in its approach – streamlined and yet still emotional. For those fans of the Teutonic traditions (Furtwängler, Klemperer et al), there was little of that granite-like sense of structure here; for Volmer there was almost a dance-like sense to the scherzo, whilst the triumphant finale with highly appropriate and effective vocal soloists (Macliver, Russell, McMahon and Bennett) and choir was given over to long singing lines – and all of it was highly appropriate and dispensed with in just over an hour.
Indeed here was a performance which not only showed where South Australian music has come from, but where it can be relied upon to take us in the future.