In the formal surrounds of the Government House Green Room, Tiffany Ha discovers music good enough to make her forget her troubles.
Music on the Terrace: Schubert & Friends (Soiree Series), Music on the Terrace ·
Government House Green Room, 20 June 2021 ·
When I arrived at Government House in my gumboots and raincoat, passing through manicured gardens and two security checkpoints, I realised my mistake: I was underdressed. In a fluster, I hurriedly refused the offers of the very accommodating service staff there: cloakroom, champagne, canapés? No thank you, not for me. There seemed to be an absurd number of attendants for a concert of maybe 70 attendees. As I sat down in the ornately decorated Green Room, in front of three imposingly large paintings of members of the Royal Family, the woman next to me commented to her companion “Oh, look, a young person”. I sunk into my seat and tried to make myself as invisible as I could (but not before taking a few snaps for Instagram).
I felt a little more comfortable after artistic director Fiona Campbell’s welcome, in which she said, “If I had it my way, we’d plonk the piano in the middle of the room and have couches and cocktail tables all around”. I felt even more comfortable once the performances began, which were nothing short of exquisite.
Violinist Akiko Miyazawa had the audience swooning with her brilliant, expressive tone, her masterful control of phrasing and her assured ensemble leadership. Miyazawa and violist Elliot O’Brien opened the program with a delightful rendition of Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G major (KV. 423), setting the historical and musical context for the rest of the program.
I loved Jonathan Bradley’s two solo piano performances: Schubert’s much-loved Impromptu in G-Flat (D. 899) – a piece so technically demanding that I developed RSI while learning it – and Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major (Op. 118, No. 2). Bradley played each piece with earnestness and restraint, never going overboard with rubato, always allowing the beauty of the melodies to emerge. He certainly captured the essence of this style that is rooted in classical form but yearning to break free into more authentic emotional expression.
Tenor Paul O’Neill was a star, performing two of the 600 (!) lieder Schubert wrote in his lifetime. O’Neill’s take on The Erlking was inspirational. He fully embodied the four characters of the narrative, changing timbre, articulation and physical expression seamlessly and convincingly. His sound-production was so effortless, his singer’s formant (that overtone, or high-ringing frequency that allows singers to be heard clearly over large ensembles in large spaces) was off the charts. I was incredibly moved by his performance of Nacht und Träume, which requires astounding breath control and is set precipitously on the male passagio (the ‘break’ in the voice where chest register can easily ‘flip’ into head register if your technique is not on point). The tenderness and vulnerability of O’Neill’s voice gave me goosebumps.
Between pieces, local composer Lachlan Skipworth offered beautifully-crafted, insightful commentary about Schubert’s creative process and his influence on the classical tradition. This was a nice touch, giving me something to listen out for, and deepening my appreciation of the music.
As this was a concert that was supposed to be a relaxed soiree “in the spirit of friendship” I would have loved to learn more about the performers themselves: their rehearsal process, “behind the scenes” anecdotes, why they liked performing particular pieces. I felt incredibly out of place there, and as a young-ish musician myself, I related much more to the people on stage than the people in the audience. The music was great though, and made me forget I was attending a concert about friendship… with no friends.
Pictured top: violinist Akiko Miyazawa and tenor Paul O’Neill impressed with their expressive performances. Photo supplied
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