By Sarah Malcher
On Saturday night I had the opportunity to see and hear The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) performing at the Balmain Town Hall. This was my first experience of TMO, and as they performed series four in their current season, I regretted that I had missed the first four series earlier in the year.
For those who are unfamiliar with TMO, it is the new incarnation of the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, which was launched in 2009. They cite one of their main philosophies as seeking to break down ‘traditional barriers’ that keep people away from classical music concerts, and focus on making their performances both accessible and intimate. By staging the performance in smaller venues such as Balmain Town Hall, where the ratio of orchestra members to audience is much smaller, they succeed in establishing a relationship with the audience that is often lacking in larger, more formal venues. During the intermission, the musicians mingled with their listeners and afterwards everyone was invited to share post-concert drinks of champagne. Such ways of enacting their philosophy, which encourages people not only to listen to classical music but to share their ideas and thoughts about music, is what distinguishes TMO and is one of the reasons why I think they deserve to succeed in their mission.
The program itself was enjoyable, both for the audience and the orchestra who clearly loved what they were playing. Throughout the night, conductor and artistic director, Sarah-Grace Williams, confidently led the orchestra and took the audience along with her for a delightful evening of beautiful music. Saint-Saëns’ Tarantella was a fantastic opening piece to capture the audience’s imagination, and both Svetlana Yaroslavksaya on flute and David Rowden on clarinet played with assurance and expressiveness. Brahms’ Serenade no 1 in D major was also handled well, although the standout for the night was the performance of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Building of the ghostly ‘halo’ effect of the William’s composition was achieved through the separation of the strings into sections that build upon and echo the theme, with these string sections physically separated and placed around the room with the audience between them, creating a surround sound experience not usually encountered in more conventional performance spaces. Considering that the work was composed to be played and heard best in a cathedral, the acoustics of the Town Hall served the music well.
The only thing that really detracted from the night was the lack of heating in the venue itself. Fortunately, most people including myself came prepared with scarves and coats, and slightly chill air is a small price to pay for such an intimate concert experience. I will definitely be attending the performances of series 5, and encourage everyone to experience this format of musical performance at least once. I suspect that once will not be enough.
For more information, visit http://www.metorchestra.com.au/