Live Review: The (Australian) Carnival of the Animals

An environmental spin on Saint-Saens



The (Australian) Carnival of the Animals
Music by Camille Saint-Saens, new poem by Bradley Trevor Greive
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Federation Concert Hall, 23 March


One doesn’t expect to see owls, rabbits, and a pig outside the Federation Concert Hall box office.

But such was the case when the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra breathed new life into Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.

The venue was in celebration mode from the word ‘go’ – children flocked to see a real pig in a pen, while a fashion parade and competition took place on a small stage. Music-loving kids dressed up as their favourite animals and winners included a snake boy and two brother owls.

Things scarcely settled down once the crowd moved into the hall ready for the show to begin, and reliable TV personality Richard Morecroft announced the pre-Carnival works. First was Hollywood-esque Bobsleigh by Eric Jupp, which opened with flutes in a flurry and old fashioned string lines. LEDs lit the wooden soundboard in a fitting gold, though turned a more dramatic red for the following work Roar by Tasmanian composer Maria Grenfell. After a whipcrack in the opening, the work eased into a joyful world-music feel with maracas and muted trumpet, and then a jungle drum beat that saw several heads in the orchestra bopping along.

Further serving the kids of the audience was The Waltzing Cat by Leroy Anderson, the strings showing warmth through their audible ‘meow’s. His Western-style Chicken Reel followed, before Fucik’s Entry of the Gladiators marked the entry of The (Australian) Carnival of the Animals.

Two pianos were set up on stage, taken by Karen Smithies and Jennifer Martin-Smith. The talented Marc Taddei conducted with spirit and charm fitting of the night (though was positioned in such a way that he appeared to sit on one of the pianos, at times – the stage setting was certainly tight). This Australian take on the work saw the world premiere of a suite of poems by Tasmanian writer Bradley Trevor Greive, paying homage to our national animals. As Morecroft read from the poem: ‘Every living thing is worthy of our celebration’, we saw a range of graphics portraying creatures beautiful and bizarre, with two big screens set up above the orchestra.

The audience was educated about Swift Animals (The Emu’s Crazy Legs): ‘Only two speeds – fast and faster. To try and stop might spell disaster’. The slumberous koala, which sleeps 20 hours a day, was paired with the grotesque blobfish – eliciting a slow and heavy lament from the strings and a piano (and a few ‘eeew’s from kids and adults alike).

The Happy Heavyweight (The Dugong), which Greive labeled as ‘the epitome of plus-sized pride’, saw the melody plod along in the double bass. We heard Psycho-esque screeches from the strings to represent the all-hearing bilby, while a clarinet tooted to portray the owl. The video and piano line descended into the sea to reveal the mysterious coral reef in God’s Aquarium, with a fluttering flute signifying the rapid tiger beetle. Cleverly, the white snake was paired with scales weaving across the pianos.

Though the music was Saint-Saens’ original, Greive sends a powerful environmental message as he revisits the classic work for a new generation. As he sums up: ‘Lets save Australian animals…it all comes down to me and you’. Thanks to this concert, I am sure some children will have found a new respect for our native creatures.


Learn about the Carnival of the Animals in 5 fun facts here.


Image of Bradley supplied. Credit: Ken Scott.

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