Live Review: The Musician Project Orchestra

BY BEN NIELSEN

 

The Musician Project Orchestra
Works by Brahms and Nielsen
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, 21 June

 

At the very first Musician Project Orchestra concert, the opening notes of Bruckner’s fifth symphony signalled the realisation of a risky dream. The three founders, Daniel Dean, Sam Torrens and Max McBride, had brought together some of Sydney’s leading young orchestral musicians simply for the purpose of making music. Almost a year later, the orchestra reassembled on the stage of Verbrugghen Hall with a program of Brahms and Nielsen.

This is not merely a raggedy bunch of post-pubescent music students. The 90 instrumentalists possess a youthful energy as well as an unexpectedly high calibre of musicianship. Given its performance, the Musician Project Orchestra might become the best alternative to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s discontinued Sinfonia program.

There was little time to ponder the orchestra’s ability because, with an upward flurry of notes, soloist Xenia Deviatkina-Loh demanded every ounce of the audience’s attention.

Some believe that Brahms wrote his concerto not for the violin so much as against it. Despite the work’s fearsome technical demands, young Deviatkina-Loh seemed quite content performing by memory. She gave a generally sturdy performance, even though it was bookended by rickety multiple stopping and rhythmic passages of the first and final movements.

Accompanied by enthusiastic applause and the thunder of the orchestra’s stamping feet, Deviatkina-Loh returned to the stage to give multiple bows.

Before lowering the baton on the first bar of the next work, guest conductor Max McBride turned to the audience to declare the work an Australian premiere. While that might not be entirely true, the orchestra certainly offered a rarely performed treat: Nielsen’s third symphony.

As with much of his later works, Nielsen’s third symphony embodies a fascination with the human spirit and the philosophical idea of the life force. It begins with an intoxicating carnival theme, followed closely by the peaceful extended melisma of the baritone and soprano soloists in the pastorale. The work eventually concludes with the aggressive sparring of the strings and brass.

Sibelius unjustly overshadows Nielsen, even though his compositions are equally worthy additions to the 20th Century Scandinavian canon (this reviewer cannot pretend to be unbiased, though, considering we are practically of the same stock).

The biggest disappointment of this performance was that the auditorium was barely half full. Music-loving audiences should be throwing money at the Musician Project Orchestra; it offers an exemplary listening experience and an important training ground for young musicians.

 

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