A lament for two outsiders

11 June 2022

WASO’s double bill of Elgar and Bruckner is the ideal escape on a rainy Perth night, writes Varnya Bromilow.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto, WA Symphony Orchestra with soloist Daniel Müller-Schott ·
Perth Concert Hall, 10 June 2022 ·

So, when you’re at the orchestra, which instrument is the one you fantasise about playing?  Is it the lure of the shiny brass objects?  Does the lone wolferism of the percussionist call out to you?  

For me, it was always the cello.  At one point in the 90s (of course it was the 90s) I went so far as to take lessons, but my gross motor inadequacies conspired with my raw musical ineptitude: it was a total failure. These days, I just listen. 

And so it was, on a rainy Friday night when a packed, largely maskless audience turned out to hear the WA Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Elgar’s Cello Concerto under conductor Asher Fisch.  

The work ranks highly for most cello freaks, but it wasn’t always so beloved. When it premiered in 1919, Elgar’s co-conductor used up most of the London Symphony’s rehearsal time preparing Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. By all accounts, Elgar’s concerto came across as a bit of a mess. This was salt in the wound for our man Elgar, who was already struggling with poor health and a reputation as a jingoistic composer of music that only appealed to the English. This perception can be attributed to his most famous work, “Land of Hope and Glory”, composed during the Boer War and subsequently wheeled out during pretty much any moment of national anxiety.  

Elgar’s struggle for relevance is neatly reflected in his personal struggle for acceptance in class-obsessed Britain. A self-taught composer in a field crowded with academics, Elgar was a Catholic in a society heavily skewed in favours of Protestants. It’s fascinating to reflect on – the man who created perhaps the most traditional, patriotic anthem of its time was, essentially, an outsider. 

WASO conductor Asher Fisch with cellist Daniel Müller-Schott (lower right) and members of the orchestra. Photo: Rebecca Mansell

The man at centre stage for WASO’s performance on Friday night, and the first international soloist to join the orchestra since 2020, was German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.  The fellow is a big deal, and not just because of his lustrous boy-band hair. Over the past year he has performed with many of the major European orchestras, as well as in the United States, Singapore and Australia. He has an expressive, passionate style that leaves him looking slightly spent after each movement. Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a central piece of the cello canon and Müller-Schott has doubtless played it 450 times, but you’d never know it from his euphoric energy.

The concerto is a piece of gorgeous torture. You know when you’re listening to your favourite song and there’s this astoundingly sublime bit so you spend the rest of the song hoping to hear it reprised? Elgar’s Cello Concerto is very much along these lines. If you don’t know this work, I beg you to go and listen to it now – you’ll know exactly the bit I mean because it’s precisely when my Dad leaned over to me and said, in rapture, I love this. He had never heard the piece before. (And, if you dig it as much as I do, then you should check out Hilary and Jackie, a 1999 film about wunderkind Jaqueline du Pre, renowned for her ripping rendition of Elgar).

Post-interval, we were treated to Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3. While Elgar created music so familiar that they quickly become instant classics, Bruckner was the kind of composer who had people leaving concert halls en masse. Seriously, we bemoan the lack of contemporary manners, but when did you last attend a concert where everyone left in protest at the radical nature of the music? This was the reception his symphony met back in 1877.  

To be fair, his symphony does sound startlingly contemporary – the driving rhythms and honking trumpets, punctuating a bed of almost Glass-like melancholy sweetness. It was fantastic and actually had me wishing I was timpanist Alex Timcke, rather than the cellist for once.

As my Dad remarked on our way back out into the rainy evening: What better way to spend a soggy night?

Elgar’s Cello Concerto will be performed on 11 June 2022. WASO also presents “Last Night of the Proms: A Classical Spectacular” on 24 and 25 June 2022

Pictured top: Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott with the WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Rebecca Mansell

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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

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