Orchestral Manoeuvres in…Sydney

A couple of months ago, I mentioned in passing to Mr Collier that I had never seen an orchestra live. After his initial shock, he booked us in to see the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House. He wanted something suitably large and impactful for my first experience, so Beethoven’s Third Symphony concert was selected as the ideal opportunity.

Last weekend we took ourselves up to Sydney, and I was inducted into the company of those who have had the pleasure of experiencing the music and spectacle of a symphony orchestra in person.

But first! A trip on the ferry over to Watson’s Bay so that I could also visit Doyles on the Beach for the first time. This fabulous seafood restaurant has been around in one form or another since the early 1800s and is one of those institutions that people travel from around the country to visit. This part of the weekend was definitely a labour of love for Mr Collier since he is allergic to shellfish and does not eat fish. Thankfully there was a solitary steak offering on the menu!

The fresh-from-the-bay seafood was to die for, accompanied by a lovely dry Chardonnay.

A walk along the waterfront to let our food go down before getting back on the ferry allowed us to watch people enjoy their watercraft and stare in disbelief at the super yachts that cruised by from time to time.

There were some interesting characters at our hotel. This furry guy kept track of the time as we came back to get ready for the show.

We walked the short distance from our hotel to the Opera House, skirting the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, and enjoyed the Moreton Bay figs that were just begging to be climbed along the way. No, we didn’t climb them…not in our fancy clothes…we have some decorum!

This was my first up-close view of the Opera House! I have always thought it a beautiful building, but seeing it up close was something to behold. So many people were just enjoying the vibe of the area, too.

Taken from the deck of the Opera House as the city began to light up for the evening, and the party boats doof-doofed around the harbour with their cargo of happy revellers. We stood in this spot again a little while later during the concert intermission and watched a group of about six young women who appeared to be celebrating one of their number, all dressed to the nines and taking selfies with the Bridge as the backdrop. Giggling and teasing each other, they were taking photos of themselves for a good twenty minutes solid. They were having such fun and being so joyful; it was hard not to smile along with them and wish that I had had that kind of confidence and lack of self-consciousness to enjoy snapping photos of myself and my friends with abandon. We also watched guests arriving in suits and cocktail dresses for a wedding reception and, eventually, the bride and groom. What a glorious location for such a celebration. Sydney is such a pretty city.

And so to the concert! The concert hall itself was a feast for the senses even before the program started. The woodwork and panelling were warm and soothing against the vibrant pink of what looked like flower petals suspended from the ceiling and the seating. The cacophony of the musicians starting to take their places and warm up their instruments and fingers built my anticipation. I love watching people do what they are passionate about!

The evening’s programme included Claude Debussy’s Four Preludes, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, played by guest artist Vikingur Olafsson, and, of course, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op 55 Eroica. Olafsson’s performance was remarkable. He has such a delicate but dynamic playing style! I wish our seats had afforded me a view of his hands as he played. (Here is a video of his Tiny Desk Concert during the pandemic. He played the first Bach piece as his encore.)

Beethoven’s symphony blew me away. From the soft and gentle passages to the full voices of the instruments in the crescendos … ah…bliss! I had goosebumps! The difference between listening to a recording of these pieces and hearing them in person is night and day. The mellow warmth of the combined strings and physical interaction with the sound bath and vibration moved me and left me unapologetically teary. You simply cannot replicate that in a recording.

Unsurprisingly we are booked in for two more concerts in the coming months — The Music of John Williams (lots of movie themes) and Elgar’s Enigma Variations (I will have a hard time sitting still in this one … Pomp and Circumstance anyone? I will have a tiny Union Jack tucked in my purse for full effect. Nimrod is sure to have me crying).

All in all, a wonderful introduction to the world of live classical music.

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