Some orchestras and classical ensembles have begun trialling small-scale performances in concert halls, giving hope that someday soon we may see a resumption of normal concert life. Notably, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra began doing this weekly from 5 June, playing one-per-part chamber works at the Perth Concert Hall and digitally broadcasting these. Meanwhile, arts and entertainment venues around Australia are increasingly optimistic about being able to reopen in September.
However, until a great many questions concerning public safety in confined performance spaces are answered, the present lull in normal concert life must continue.
One way of making good of it, though, is issuing past recordings; and some organisations have been giving this serious attention. To this end we look here at what the Australian String Quartet, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Opera Australia have been doing.
Before lockdown occurred, the ACO released an epic three-CD set, Beethoven, in January. It comprises Symphonies Nos 5 and 6, the Violin Concerto in D major (with Richard Tognetti as soloist-director), the ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto (with Tamara-Anna Cislowska), and other mainly works that the ACO recorded between 2007 and 2019. With so many Beethoven concerts cancelled during this 250th year since the composer’s birth, it is one landmark worth celebrating.
More recently, a wonderful film that features the ACO has been made available for general viewing. This is Mountain, a collaboration that the orchestra made in 2017 with screen director, Jennifer Peedom. Viewable for subscribers to the Australian streaming service Stan, it pairs spectacular footage of mountaineers trekking through the Himalayas with music of Pärt, Sculthorpe and Tognetti himself, amongst other composers. Mountain forms a companion to Reef, a film the ACO made in 2012.
The ASQ has for some time been involved in a project to record new works for string quartet by Australian composers and make them available to worldwide audiences on streaming services. Called Australian Anthology, it began in December 2019 with a recording of Paul Stanhope’s Second String Quartet. The series sped up this year in April and May with two further releases, of Joe Chindamo’s String Quartet No 1, Tempesta, and Lou Bennett’s Jaara Nyilamum. These are recordings the ASQ made before the lockdown – which saw its players physically separated across two states – violist Stephen King and cellist Sharon Grigoryan in South Australia, and violinists Barltrop and Francesca Hiew in Victoria.
Due out next are Nigel Westlake’s String Quartet No. 3, Sacred Sky, and works by Kate Moore, William Barton, Stephen Pigram, Anne Cawrse, Ross Edwards and James Ledger. Australian Anthology can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon and Deezer.
ASQ is presently calling for donations to help them commission more Australian composers through a program it calls ASQ Encore. In this initiative the group says it will commission up to 10 Australian composers to write miniatures for string quartet, which will be performed on tour and recorded. David Paterson and Kate Neal are two composers who have been commissioned so far in this program.
Meanwhile, Opera Australia has gone an extra step in launching its own free online streaming service, OA | TV: Opera Australia on Demand. Accessible on its own website, it makes available a clutch of wonderful past OA productions. These are Madama Butterfly, Aida and Turandot from the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour series, and two great productions from the archives featuring Dame Joan Sutherland – Lakme (1976) and Lucrezia Borgia (1977). OA’s next plan is to make this on-demand service accessible on portable devices using iOS and Android operating systems.