Review / Lucy let down by unprepared youth orchestra

Share Canberra's trusted news:
Lucy Sugerman… best musician in Llewellyn Hall last night. Photo by PETER HISLOP

AS Canberra Youth Orchestra finished tuning up in Llewellyn Hall last night, a shocked audience member turned to me and said: “Surely they can’t be happy with that?”

Those words return to me now as I write this very difficult review.

Lucy Sugerman is rapidly becoming one of Canberra’s treasures – a sweet-voiced, high-school girl who put this city on the map when she became a 2017 finalist on “The Voice”. Not only is Sugerman a talented singer-songwriter, she is also a competent player of violin, piano and guitar. This was her first performance with an orchestra.

She deserved better.

The last century of music history has seen a blurring of the lines between concert and popular genres. Don Banks and Igor Stravinsky incorporated pop-music elements into their orchestral writing and, from the other side, bands such as Kiss and Metallica have produced very successful concerts with orchestras.

But this kind of fusion cannot work when an orchestra treats popular music as a soft option, failing to respect the artistry and complexity of the genre.

Conductor Leonard Weiss is a fine young musician who this reviewer has championed many times, and will no doubt continue to champion, but his preparation of this concert must be called into question.

Even before the opening bars, it was clear that this repertoire was not being taken seriously. Issues with tuning were not adequately addressed and plagued the entire first half.

Other orchestral issues such as timing and balance indicated insufficient rehearsal time. It begs the question of whether such little care would have been given to a concert of Brahms or Beethoven.

Neither orchestral work by John Williams was played credibly. The opening “Raiders March”, from the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, suffered from poor intonation and an apparent inability to keep in time.

Weiss was seen visibly struggling, trying to hold the orchestra together in passages that failed to reach the level of a church fete band.

As a youth orchestra, this is not the fault of the players. The inescapable conclusion is that this concert was not properly rehearsed.

The disappointing orchestral playing was only highlighted by non-musical “special effects” – the brass section donning Indiana Jones hats, for example, or the flashing lights in David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Devices like that can be very amusing if the music is played well – but when it isn’t the effect is tragic.

Lucy Sugerman was every bit as charming as we have come to expect. Beginning with her now well-known cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, she revealed a mature and expressive vocal capacity.

Throughout the performance of her original songs, including “I Understand”, “Young, Sixteen” and “Believed”, she displayed confidence and showmanship. In a two-hour concert she was never once out of tune, never once out of time. She was the best musician in the room.

She deserved better.

Despite Weiss’ lofty notes on orchestration in the concert program, the scoring and balance was consistently poor. In the Bowie song, particularly, there were moments where the orchestra totally drowned out Sugerman. Fortissimo passages were bombastic not elevated. The effect was crass. Seeing Sugerman rendered virtually inaudible at her microphone, one reflects on how a properly directed orchestra does not overwhelm unamplified singers in opera or oratorio.

Without Sugerman’s strong performance, this concert would have been disastrous. Everything, except her, was unprepared. The demeanour of the orchestra was far closer to that of a hired backing band than an ArtsACT-funded organisation.

“Surely they can’t be happy with that?”


Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleSocials / At the 40-year reunion of Watson High Year 10, Ainslie
Next articleWoman trapped in Florey car smash


  1. I don’t believe Lucy Sugarman was that great, maybe only when compared to the performance of the orchestra. She lacked depth and range in most of her songs and didn’t vary much until her later songs. As for the continued strumming and tickling the ivories when she spoke we found that annoying to the extent that maybe she didn’t have enough material to fill a set. The orchestra has been on a slide for the last few years with audience numbers only bolstered by guest performers. It is a shame to see the Canberra Youth Orchestra quality and class slide especially after fifty years experience. One more concert for the year, hopefully we see improvement.

  2. Lucy Sugarman was the reason I attended on Saturday night, and I will be returning. Not in spite of the orchestra but because of it.
    I have seen Lucy live before, Everyone should, I agree she’s a Canberra treasure. Of course she sounds different with classical accompaniment. I was impressed by ALL the talent on the stage.
    Some of these musicians are finishing year 12 and managing rehearsals when they can, some looked more like primary school students!

    Oh to have the talent and commitment of just one of these musicians for any facet of my adult life!

    Thanks to Lucy and Leonards collaboration, he and his orchestra have a new fan. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what these talented Canberrans keep bringing. Well Done Canberra Youth Orchestra.
    From where I was sitting, it was a fantastic night out.

  3. We’re you at the concert? I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it certainly did not deserve such vitriol. Mean spirited nonsense.

Leave a Reply