The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Keys to the City Festival sees the orchestra return to the Sydney Town Hall, the ensemble’s home until the Sydney Opera House opened in 1973. A piano festival with Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein and the SSO’s outgoing Chief David Robertson, it’s also a test run for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which will see the orchestra based in the Town Hall while the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall is refurbished. There were, perhaps inevitably, some teething issues – a bottle-neck had the audience queuing up the steps minutes before the concert was due to start – but it’s a warm, lively acoustic, and a colourful, folkloric program showed off orchestra, soloist and venue to great effect.

Kirill Gerstein. Photo © Marco Borggreve

Sibelius’ early tone poem En Sagawas a case in point, from quietly shimmering strings and the luminous entry of the winds to the grandeur of the SSO basses, this was a rousing, multi-hued account. The Town Hall certainly gives the orchestra a different flavour – the string sound is rich, but the winds sometimes get buried in the tuttis, while the blazing trumpets and trombones, perched...