The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra welcomed two equally powerful forces to the Federation Concert Hall stage: violinist Simone Lamsma and conductor Alexander Shelley. Thanks to clever programming and an outstanding collection of performances, the evening exuded positive energy and authenticity.

Simone LamsmaSimone Lamsma. Photo © Otto van den Toorn

Shelley invited the audience into the spirit of the event with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. Through the short piece, we were introduced to the near-immaculate standard of performance that would continue for much of the night (but for some rogue brass moments, and a piercing triangle thanks to the hall’s acoustics). Shelley’s broad and elegant strokes seemed to evoke warmth in the orchestra, which reflected the joy and optimism of the work.

Headliner Simone Lamsma emerged for the main act: Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor. The Dutch violinist took to the stage with no sheet music and only instinct (and muscle memory) to guide her. The result was an impassioned performance with fervent stage presence. Whether or not it was due to the absence of sheet music and page turns, Lamsma appeared uniquely connected to the orchestra. In the few moments she stole away from her virtuosic passages, Lamsma turned to face the orchestra, continuing to move with the beat and melodies as though making the music herself.

The TSO itself performed as a tight collective – more so than usual, with no individual elements standing out to distract from Lamsma’s music making. She clearly presented herself as an independent force, to which the conductor appeared to respond with great respect – together, they didn’t falter (at least, not in any way that could be observed or worried about) throughout the entire work. To the person who thought to bring together these two artists for this event: well done.

As impressive as the Sibelius was, Lamsma returned for a similarly challenging encore – she announced it as a movement from a Hindemith Sonata. But this was performed without orchestra, and for this reason sounded as empty as the situation revealed on stage: dozens of musicians whose instruments no longer sounded where they once had. While it was indeed a technically demanding and passionately performed work, it carried a sense of showiness that was absent in the Sibelius. Indeed, Lamsma was the perfect performer for that concerto. But it would have served her better to leave us with the memory of this – rather than provide even more evidence of her expert skills, once we were already convinced.

After interval, Shelley conducted the TSO through Brahms’ Symphony No 2 in D, Op. 73. Interestingly, he too did not read from sheet music. One scarcely experiences a symphony in which the conductor is not positioned behind a music stand. Combined with his often-restrained gestures, this performance projected fluidity, calmness, and confidence – and these elements could certainly be heard within the music itself.