The Red Shed, Hobart Brewing Company, Macquarie Point
November 23, 2018

The TSO Live Sessions are an initiative that began in August 2016, and are still going strong. They were initially an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic and bring in new audiences to experience what the TSO have to offer. Two years on, they have proved to be so much more than that. They offer an informality that is rare for orchestral concerts, allowing audience members to eat their dinner and have a drink whilst listening. And listen they do! The level of attention was impressive, and the enthusiasm overwhelming. A lesson, perhaps, for those who think classical music concerts need to be heard in an esoteric bubble.

TSO, Live Sessions

For the players, it’s an opportunity to perform in a less stressful environment, and a chance for tutti players to shine. Individual players can take responsibility for crafting the performance in a way they rarely have the chance to do in the larger orchestra. On the evidence of Friday night, Tasmania is very lucky to have such a wealth of talent throughout its sections.

The concert was presented by William Newbery, and his words were perfectly pitched for the audience – a blend of interesting facts, musical knowledge and humour that was of interest to regular concert goers and newcomers alike. I have been a musician for 40 years, but William’s introductions were new and interesting to me.

They opened with Warlock’s Capriol Suite. Written in 1926, it is a throwback to music of the Renaissance period. It felt as if I had time-travelled − in The Red Shed, with its rough and ready decor and convivial atmosphere, I imagined this is how such music would have been enjoyed in its own time. It gave me fresh insight into a well-known work.

The fourth movement of Mendelssohn’s famous octet was performed with only eight players, but again it was a whole new listening experience, as the performers all had microphones. The clarity this gave was remarkable. It’s a notoriously difficult movement to balance and important entries can often get lost in the texture. I heard everything, and once again marvelled at the quality of the TSO string players, who achieved such polish and technical excellence.

Another first for me was the music of Finnish composer and folk musician, Arto Järvelä. Famous in Finland, he is little known elsewhere, which is a shame because his music was outstanding. With some notable solos from violinists Edwina George and Chris Nicholas, and a stunning duet between Edwina and bass player Aurora Hope, it was a showcase for players and composer. Aurora went on to reveal unexpected talents as a jazz player with a joyous pizzicato contribution to the Gershwin set.

Unexpectedly, the absolute highlight for me was the Impromptu for Strings by Jean Sibelius. A quiet piece, I expected it to be swamped by the chatter from the bar next door, and to perhaps not hold the audience attention as much as some of the livelier, more arresting numbers. The music worked its magic though, and outside distractions faded into insignificance as one beautiful phrase followed another. The ending was a moment of heart-stopping beauty equal to anything I have experienced in a more formal concert hall.

Over the years, classical musicians have experimented with many different styles of concert presentation. The pressure to become more appealing to a wider community is always there. The TSO Live Sessions have succeeded so well because they have brought the orchestra into the community in a way that celebrates what musicians have to offer the world.