Sydney Symphony’s concert ‘Didgeridoo Meets Orchestra’ on Thursday evening in the Concert Hall was an interesting combination of romantic and contemporary music; it was also an appropriate choice of repertoire in the wake of Kevin Rudd’s recent apology to the stolen generations of Australia.
For the first half of the concert the orchestra performed Carl Maria von Weber’s ever popular overture to his opera ‘Der Frieschütz’, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120.
Under the direction of conductor Richard Gill, the orchestra’s performance of the ‘Freischütz’ overture exploited the simple effectiveness of Weber’s music to evoke dark images of the forest. The horn section - despite some split tones at the beginning of the piece - played particularly beautifully and created clear pictures of hunting and huntsmen.
The Schumann Symphony was interesting in that there was no break between the movements - not standard practice for music of this era - and according to the programme notes: ‘there is no opportunity to cough or clap in the wrong spot in this symphony’! Having said that, somebody in the audience did manage to shout out appreciation in an embarrassingly ‘wrong spot’ and this sent a wave of sniggering through the audience. The orchestra nevertheless played with delicacy and commitment and the first violin was particularly beautiful.
Whilst the performance of these two pieces was excellent, the music didn’t seem to overly excite the audience. This can not be said however of the concluding piece of the evening which was an absolute tour de force and resulted in a standing ovation, something I haven’t seen at the Sydney Opera House in a very long time.
Composers William Barton and Matthew Hindson have cleverly combined indigenous and classical music to create a truly fresh and exciting new piece of music. The composition is based on a song Barton wrote at age fifteen whilst living in the ‘Kalkadunga’ country and uses the landscape and culture as its inspiration. Organized into five sections played without pause, the piece has an aggressive opening which leads to the second section and recitation of Barton’s original song and an electric guitar solo. Solos for viola and cor anglais soon follow and the fourth section, evoking the fierceness of the Kalkadunga people, leads to the final section and entrance of the didgeridoo.
The combination of symphony orchestra, didgeridoo, electric guitar and voice is certainly adventurous and the result was simply thrilling. At one point members of the orchestra waved tree branches about to evoke sounds of the bush and despite the comical visuals, the sound effect was wonderful.
The didgeridoo is anything but an unsophisticated instrument and the sounds created by Mr. Barton were miraculous, with the soundscape of the Australian bush and its creatures vividly evoked. The didgeridoo solo went for some minutes and later on an accompanying drum heightened the excitement to fever pitch. With the re-introduction of the orchestra the piece unfortunately concluded and the audience, rising to their feet, erupted into energetic applause. ‘Kalkadunga’ was easily the highlight of the evening and the orchestra, which earlier on had seemed confined by the romantic music, shed its skin and filled the concert hall with a mighty and uniquely Australian sound.
It was wonderful to see the Sydney Symphony join forces with William Barton and let’s hope that Australians will be treated to more collaborations like this in the future; such music truly is a uniting force and an inspiration to people from all walks of life regardless of their age or cultural heritage.
Didgeridoo Meets Orchestra
Richard Gill conductor
William Barton didgeridoo/voice
Weber Der Freischütz: Overture
Schumann Symphony No.4
Barton & Hindson New Work world premiere
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Dates/Times: Wed 2 & Thu 3 Apr @ 6.30pm; Fri 4 Apr 11am