Audience in embryo

May 23, 2016 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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It doesn’t take much imagination to look over the aging sea of regular Sydney Opera House orchestral audiences to know that in 20 years from now the tide could have gone out – never to come back in, writes Fraser Beath McEwing.

Fraser Beath McEwing

Fraser Beath McEwing

That’s why any attempt to encourage children’s interest in classical music in general and the Sydney Symphony in particular are to be applauded. I took my eleven-year-old grandson to a concert last Sunday called The Composer is Dead, in which actor/comedian Frank Woodley took on the dual roles of narrator and inspector in a musical whodunit. The orchestra played music written and arranged by American composer Nathaniel Stookey with words by Lemony Snicket.

Woodley was a convincing and hilarious inspector as he searched among the various orchestral groups looking for the villain, exposing the individual instrumental sounds as he did so. Regular assistant conductor of the SSO, the youthful Toby Thatcher, conducted the performance and entered into the banter as the search progressed. Tchaikovsky’s Eighteen Twelve Overture was used in the score, with the handclaps of the audience taking the usual role of the cannons.

In the end, the conductor was found to have murdered the composer, evidenced by the number of dead composers that have gone through his hands. But there was redemption too, when it was acknowledged that conductors and orchestras brought them constantly, if fleetingly, back to life by performing their works.

In addition to the hour long show in the concert hall, members of the orchestra were stationed in the northern foyer of the Opera House to demonstrate various instruments. The horn player showed one of his prize possessions, an old trumpet which he’d purchased on eBay for five dollars. I think that impressed my grandson even more than the sound it could make.

The concert drew a well-supported house, with plenty of kids, many of whom, like my grandson, had never previously heard a top class Symphony orchestra play. One performance won’t turn them all into future concertgoers of course, but at least the grain of sand is now in the oyster.

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels. and a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.

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