Friday 10th August

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s return to their newly refurbished home at Hamer Hall was grand to say the least. With a packed house and a sense of celebration, the opening night concert showcased the hall and its new acoustics through a diversity of music and creative ideas.

Rather unusual though it is for an orchestral concert to begin with a solo work, let alone one by a living Australian composer, Ross Edwards Water Spirit Song for solo cello was indeed an inspired choice to highlight Hamer Hall’s stunning acoustics. David Berlin played with sensitivity and flair, though possibly a little erratically at times, and each detail of the cello’s meandering line was clearly audible.

Thomas Ades’s Polaris which followed tested the hall at the other end of the sound spectrum, comprising a full orchestra with brass positioned strategically around the balconies. The effect was stunning, as orchestra and hall alike coped effortlessly with the timberal variety of this ambitious work. Conductor Markus Stenz’s understanding of Ades and his music was clear, and he demanded energy of the orchestra throughout. While the visuals created by video artist Tal Rosner were beautiful in their own right, they were a little superfluous to the music on such an occasion, adding an additional level of clutter when none was needed.

Finally, Gustav Mahler’s mighty Symphony No. 3, together with mezzo-soprano Petra Lang, solo posthorn and two choirs, took its place as showpiece of the evening. This is a stunning work, but also one on a colossal scale, and may have pushed the concert out a little too far for some audience members. Nevertheless, Mahler does save his most poignant until the end. While the opening movement would indeed be hard to surpass in terms of¬†majesty¬†and length, the fourth and fifth movements with choir and solo voice were at once stunningly dramatic and perfectly blended. The sixth and final movement, which could easily have dragged, instead lifted to a new level, with Stenz and the orchestra thoughtfully caressing each and every note.