Symphony orchestra shines without an audience

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CSO plays The Organ Symphony.

Music / “Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, ANU, March 16. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

DURING a time of firsts for many musical groups around the world, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed its first ever concert for a virtual audience on March 16.

Saint-Saëns “Symphony No 3” in C minor is a concert hall favourite. From its subtle beginning to the rousing finale with organ overwhelming everything, few pieces of symphonic music can shake listeners in their seats like this piece does.

In the video of the concert, titled Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, posted by the CSO, the strange eeriness that accompanies the opening as the conductor Nicholas Milton steps out to an empty Llewellyn Hall then bows to an audience who are not there, could be a scene from a science fiction movie.

Joseph Nolan on organ.

With the strangeness of that aside, it was soon down to business for Milton and the players of the CSO and Joseph Nolan on organ.

One of the beauties of seeing a concert live-streamed or on a video, is that viewers get to see the close up interactions and directions between the conductor and the players. Watching the subtleties, forcefulness and accuracy of musicians up close is an immensely revealing experience.

Hearing the music from an orchestra in a concert hall is one thing, but seeing the effort, joy and pain of a musician up close as they perform shows the power that music has on those who create it.

The CSO performed like it was any other concert. They gave a high-class rendition of this massive work. The brass and percussion had a lot to do, and they sounded out with accuracy through their distinctive playing. The volume that the CSO generated was astounding. Even on top of this massive sound, the woodwinds cut through in a dynamic performance.

Nick Milton conducts to empty house.

This piece of music has it all. With a large orchestra, a piano for four-hands and organ, and the clear and powerful orchestration, and that final movement that has everyone singing or humming along, is the sort of music that keeps people coming back whether performances are given in a concert hall or online.

The electric organ, built by the Allen Organ Company, which has stops and sounds like a pipe organ, was amplified through speakers at the back and above the stage. Nolan gave it his all, especially in the final movement. The timpanist Louis Sharpe said, that sitting in front of one of the speakers for the organ was as loud and pulsating as the real thing.

Whether audiences distract or inspire players in an orchestra is hard to tell. Through the closeup view of the players in the CSO, they never relaxed in producing the finest sound even without an audience. And, after watching this performance several times, which is something people can’t do in a concert hall, the sound quality was maybe better than a live experience. Being able to hear the softest pizzicato and having the option to turn it up as loud as people want at home, is a real plus for online concerts.

After this exuberant experience, one has to wonder though, is this type of concert the beginning of something new, or the end of a long tradition.

The concert can be accessed at then enter “Canberra Symphony Orchestra”.

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