Festival of Voices “slightly unusual concert,” proves to be just that.

Federation Concert Hall, Hobart

9 July, 2014

Conductor Brett Kelly was not half wrong when he described Two Choirs as One as a “slightly unusual concert.” The two ‘choirs’ were the TSO Brass & Percussion and the TSO Chorus, and with some musicians positioned on stage and others in balcony seating, I was unsure of what to expect from the outset. Unfortunately, though, the evening did not necessarily leave me pleasantly surprised.

The performance opened with Giovanni Gabrieli’s ‘Canzon Duodecimi Toni’. Though regal and proud, the higher tones of the brass ensemble were stolen away by the acoustics of the hall, and changes in dynamic equated to occasional booms of sound. These acoustics posed further issues in Thompson’s Pueri Hebraeorum, when the choir members who sang from the balcony faced toward the stage rather than directing their singing at the audience, creating a wash of sound lacking in definition. Despite this unconventional staging, the benefit of placing half the choir upstairs and half on stage was that it was visually appealing and sent the music soaring in unusual directions across the hall.

After the Thompson, the beginning of what seemed like endless reshuffling of musicians and choristers around the stage occurred. The musicians on the balcony stood up and left, and a single drum opened Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary to announce the full choir’s re-entry onto the stage below. Here, the two groups did indeed honour the concert’s title in moving as one. As they did so, they marked a turning point for the rest of the concert which certainly increased in energy through the following works – and especially after the interval.

The second half commenced with an all-brass arrangement of Wagner’s prelude to the Mastersingers of Nuremberg and was followed by Takemitsu’s Garden Rain. However, the latter piece didn’t start before the enormous white tuba mute sparked unrestrained giggles from the audience, which even resulted in a full blown round of applause – to which tuba player Timothy Jones responded with a tasteful bow. With this breaking of silence, conductor Brett Kelly addressed the audience to explain the Japanese work as intending to replicate the sound of rain. Coloured lights throughout the piece contributed to the mystical atmosphere, while the brass players showcased their talents through impossibly quiet and high notes. The music evoked the pitter-patter of rain between these extended tones and eventually resulted in an inevitable downpoor.

Lauridsen’s reliably beautiful O Magnum Mysterium saw the choir return with voices pure and clear. As if overwhelmed with emotion, chorusmaster June Tyzack signalled for the large group to take a full step forward as they neared the climax of the expressive work.

The overworked stagehands were at it again for the DiLorenzo – and this time they were applauded for their time spent shuffling chairs and stands and, unfortunately, shattering the momentum. The powerful Rescue and the Battle of the Red Dragon sent excitement soaring through its strong accents and sheer volume, and was followed by the contrastingly majestic first movement of Rutter’s Gloria – which deservedly had the choir smiling ear-to-ear.

With texts supplied in the program, the audience had the chance to sing along with the chorus to The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune, and Kelly was suddenly the conductor of many hundreds more singers. I can’t say the concert was a great success, nor did it necessarily pair the two ‘choirs’ of the TSO Chorus and the TSO Brass and Percussion particularly tightly. Poor staging choices could perhaps have been made more efficient if the program was shuffled around instead of the musicians themselves between every song. But regardless, the performers of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra were certainly in their usual fine form, and the evening was a good spot of fun to add to the Festival of Voices.

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