Last week, Sydney Camerata commemorated its third anniversary with a concert they called Metamorphosen,which culminated in the eponymous work for 23 strings by Richard Strauss.
The resonant intimacy of North Sydney’s Independent Theatre was well suited to the size and sound of this ensemble, which chameleon like re-configures itself to adapt to what is being performed.
Opening the concert with Frank Bridge’s 3 Idylls for String Quartet was the Sydney Camerata String Quartet comprising Freya Franzen and Clare Miller, violins, Neil Thompson, viola and founder of the ensemble, cellist Mathisha Panagoda. Their technical and musical talent is undisputed. But this was an especially informed performance because earlier this year, several of the musicians travelled to Aldeburgh, on the east coast of England, home of Benjamin Britten to participate in the workshops run by the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. In fact, this year, the entire Australian string contingent of the Britten-Pears orchestra was made up of Sydney Camerata players. Immersed in ‘Brittenalia’ , the programme focuses on workshopping the music of Britten and of those around him.
Frank Bridge was Britten’s very first composition teacher, long before Britten went to study at the the Royal College of Music in London. The two had much in common – they held similar political views, they were both pacifists, and they both played the viola. When Britten and Peter Pears set sail for Canada in 1939, Bridge saw them off and presented Britten with his own, fine Italian viola, wishing them not only bon voyage, but bon retour as well, since Britten and Pears were finding the prevailing social atmosphere in England uncomfortable. Bridge, then aged 60, died two years later without every meeting his protege again.
Concert Master of Sydney Camerata, Liz Gormley, then took the stage with guest artist and Associate Principal oboist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Shefali Pryor and ripieno Camerata section for an energised performance of JS Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV 1060.
Fulfilling their mission to nurture the development of Australian composers, Sydney Camerata formed themselves into the unusual mix of a septet with mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley, conducted by Luke Gilmour, to perform Andrew Howes’ ‘3 Pieces after Yeats’. Howes is a graduate of the Conservatorium High School in Sydney, and is presently studying composition at the Royal College of Music in London, on a full scholarship.
Finally, the climax of the evening with Strauss’ Metamorphosen. This epic and poignant symphonic poem is resplendent with Strauss’ endlessly cascading phrases and brocade of harmonies. It was written in 1943 as a testament to loss – his own advancing years ( he was to die 2 years later) and the devastation of German culture during World War ll. Strauss was particularly distraught by the bombing of the Bavarian National Theatre, home of the State Opera, where Strauss himself was principal conductor from 1894 to 1898. It was also the venue of the premiere of his opera Capriccio, and of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, The Mastersingers and Die Walkyrie.For Metamorphosen, Sydney Camerata was augmented by several fine young musicians from interstate.
There was a palpable sense of personal loss and anguish in their playing as the ensemble dedicated their performance to violinist Richard Pollett who was tragically killed in a road accident earlier during the week. The 25 year old, was a finalist in the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards last year and was a friend and mentor to several of the players.
Sydney Camerata is no average 3 year old. In 2010 the core ensemble won the Music Viva Award for Chamber Music; they have made recordings, run their own concert series and perform regularly with other ensembles. With their abundance of talent, innovative programming, ambition and ability to work at full pace, it will be a pleasure to watch them mature.