A century ago this weekend, the unthinkable happened to the "unsinkable", and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) joined the large lineup of anniversary commemorations and memorials to honour the 1500 people who lost their lives on that fateful night in the freezing mid Atlantic, and to feed the fascination with this event that has lasted a century.
The ASO strutted its stuff with style after several of the patrons had done likewise in the foyer, dressed in Edwardian glamour with Hats. The program was imaginatively and creatively devised by conductor Guy Noble, and included pertinent readings from survivors and commentators of the time. While these were nicely fitted with the music, their presentation by actors Paul Blackwell and Alexandra Rice was pedestrian in comparison. There were many lost opportunities to match the music with some of the abundant array of visuals and costumery that are available right now, which could have complemented the words and music and brought the whole to an exciting level.
Excerpts from various kinds or water and maritime music made up a satisfying salad of pertinent pieces, excellently executed by the ASO.
Parts of three of the four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes provided perfect backgrounds for the images that must have been in the minds of many audience members as the strains of Dawn, Moonlight and Storm invoked all those phenomena met by Titanic that night. The high pitched whistling strings and flutes contrasting with the brash brass and lower winds portended the disaster that was coming.
Elgar's Enigma Variation VII invoked the gentle swell of the ocean as it bore the magnificent ship from the harbour. Sibelius (Symphony #5, 3rd movement) and Elgar (more Enigma) provided the background for a picture of the toffs in first class clinking their champagne glasses before waltzing to the Beautiful Blue Danube of Johann Strauss Jr. The orchestra revelled in this excerpt, making a much more lush sound than the small orchestra aboard Titanic could have with some 65 fewer players.
More portending from the overture to the ill fated Flying Dutchman gave us a burst of Wagner (with its tiny hint of the opening of Nearer My God To Thee which legend has it that was the last thing played by the orchestra as the ship went down. Of course it was included in the program.)
There was party time with Alexander's Ragtime Band, peaceful calm with more Peter Grimes before the storm of panic and tragedy and death. The final works were excerpts from the memorial concert given in the Royal Albert Hall soon after the tragedy: Sirs Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, Edward Elgar and Arthur Sullivan were all there, so we heard fine renditions of Chopin's Marche Funebre, Sullivan's Overture in C and Elgar's Nimrod Variation.
A populist concert such as this is a laudable offering from this fine orchestra, broadening its audience beyond the somewhat elitist regular concert goers. However, the value of playing excerpts rather than full movements or minor works is debatable. All audiences deserve to be pleased and possibly titillated, but they also deserve the full picture. We finally did, however, get all of the Blue Danube: truncated in the first half, and the remainder as an encore (to cheer us up after the tragi-drama of Nimrod).
All in all this event was well worthwhile, and its audience numbers demonstrate the value of reaching out to as wide a public as possible. Conductor and orchestra are to be congratulated and encouraged.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presents
TITANIC ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
Conductor Guy Noble
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre
Date: Friday April 13 2012
Bookings: BASS www.bass.net.au