The Sydney Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra returned to the concert hall this year in full force. 85 aspiring musicians assembled to perform to a sold-out and tangibly excited Verbrugghen Hall. Clarinettist Olivia Hans-Rosenbaum remarked on “how exciting it is to finally play to a full house.” A powerful brass fanfare heralded the opening of Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture. Even from the back of the hall, the audience could feel the energy on stage as the orchestra, from first desk to last, weaved through the many themes melded together in this highly descriptive work.
Moving back to create room for one of the Conservatorium’s highly coveted Faziolis, the Orchestra prepared itself for Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto in F minor. Soloist Annie Ma, winner of the 2020 Piano Department concerto competition, took to the stage for the highlight of the night. Ma navigated the supreme technical challenges of the concerto with elegance and an astounding musicality. With every gesture, she directed the ensemble, working in tandem with the conductor, Roger Benedict, to command every moment of rubato in perfect unison with the orchestra. The final movement, a show piece that highlighted the composer’s Polish heritage, began with a delightful rondo which saw Ma literally dancing off her stool with interjections of col legno from the strings. Her performance, in its astounding virtuosity, was met with two curtain calls and back-to-back standing ovations.
The orchestra returned in force after intermission with Brahm’s rapturous second symphony. Having taken a back seat in the Chopin, the orchestra more than made up for any lost spotlight with this powerful performance. The symphony concluded with an extraordinarily powerful ending. D Major rang out through the hall as all 85 musicians gave absolutely everything they had in the final phrases, bow hairs frayed, trumpets called and drums pounded as the concert drew to a dramatic close. Principal Horn Simon Jones remarked after the concert that he “got to the last movement and was like, fucking go for it.” Evidently, they fucking went for it.
As far as opening concerts go, the SCM Symphony Orchestra’s first program of 2021 was a huge success. The combination of a sold-out hall and a stage overflowing with musicians conjured memories from a pre-COVID era. This energy fed the orchestra as they spared no effort in creating what will be remembered as one of the most exciting concerts of the year.