Clerici was going to swap his bow for a baton: Music review by Fraser Beath McEwing of a phantom concert

June 23, 2021 by Fraser Beath McEwing
Read on for article

Covid wiped out tonight’s concert, much to my disappointment.

Umberto Clerici

I was looking forward to visiting the Recital Hall and absorbing the music. Since it is doubtful that this will be a postponement rather than a cancellation, we are left to hear the music recorded on YouTube or one of the many other online sources of classical music. And for those fond of past technology, there are CDs, cassettes tapes, reel to reel and vinyl.

Here’s some of the stuff I might have written.

Popular cellist, Umberto Clerici, abandoned his chair and picked up a baton for last night’s concert in the Sydney City Recital Hall. I hadn’t seen him conduct before, although I note he’s had quite a few gigs in this role. I’ve always enjoyed his cello playing.  Apart from outstanding tone and technique he visibly gets stuck into it, physically living the music he’s playing. I wondered if he’d be as emotive when conducting.

Clerici is on a familiar trajectory from accomplished instrumentalist to conductor. To name just a few who have gone before: Ashkenazy, Rostropovich and Bernstein. Even Vaughn Williams, who did quite a bit of conducting, used to blow a mean trombone. The question is, which path to choose? I guess it depends upon how much the crowd likes your conducting. Clerici is feeling his way.

This concert was part of the Classics in the City series held in the Sydney City Recital Hall which offers excellent acoustics but not such excellent floor space for musicians or patrons.

Fraser Beath McEwing

The concert was scheduled to open with Jacques Ibert’s Hommage a Mozart (Rondo). I imagined this brief, jolly piece written in 1956 as being suitable incidental music for a football match (sorry Jacques). It certainly doesn’t try to imitate Mozart, perhaps more capturing his spirit, with some attractive passages for flute and other wind instruments.  For the record, Jacques Ibert (1890 -1962) is classed as a neo-classicist composer. His career included directorship of the Paris Opera and director of the Academie de France for 23 years. He is regarded as a front-line French composer.

Mozart’s Piano concerto No. 17 (written in 1784) was one of 21 that the composer created to play at concerts himself. Rather than fistfuls of chords or jackhammer double octaves, it typically calls for single note dexterity and clarity as well as a trill like an alarm clock. And I that’s what solo pianist, Daniel De Borah, would have delivered. De Bora is a Queensland pianist with an impressive performance record who now heads chamber music at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. We can probably thank covid for giving world-class Australian musicians like De Bora an opportunity to shine – or potentially shine anyway.

Incidentally, the theme of the third movement, in variation form, was supplied by Mozart’s pet starling, with royalties paid in birdseed rather than ducats.

The pointy end of the program offered Schubert’s Symphony No.5 in Bb major, D.485.  Here, Franz was a bit light on forces, since this symphony gives the clarinets, trumpets and timpani an early mark at intermission. The lighter equipped orchestra probably adds to the oft-expressed opinion that this symphony sounds like Mozart. That’s not surprising, since Schubert had a declared passion for Mozart’s music. There are catchy themes throughout the symphony that, in isolation, bring a smile as they flick in and out of the memory.

SSO Sydney City Recital, 23 June 2021 – intended

Fraser Beath McEwing is a pianist, commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation which assists talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of five novels and a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home. A body of his work can be found on



One Response to “Clerici was going to swap his bow for a baton: Music review by Fraser Beath McEwing of a phantom concert”
  1. Sue Davis says:

    I too was looking forward to the concert, the second one, tomorrow night. I can confirm that Clerici’s conducting is as emotive as when playing the cello. In early May, he conducted in place of Donald Runnicles; Schubert, Lieder selections and Mahler’s Symphony NO 4. Umberto lives/feels the music.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.