It may be a reduced orchestra and a smaller audience but the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s return to Llewellyn Hall on 25 and 26 November will be momentous for an arts community laid waste by the fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its first mainstage performance since recording Saint-Saëns without an audience in March, the CSO will perform Matthew Hindson’s The stars above us all, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, a selection guided by the demands of coronavirus restrictions.
It will also be the debut with the CSO of new Brisbane-based principal guest conductor Simon Hewett, who has had to improvise this year after being cut off from his engagements in Europe.
After moving his family to Brisbane from Europe in January, he had been expecting to travel back and forth over the next few years but the pandemic put paid to that.
Fortunately, he landed a position he had always wanted, with the Queensland Youth Orchestra.
”I count myself incredibly fortunate that I’ve found a position in Brisbane that is fulfilling and rewarding working with young musicians,” he said.
But the CSO is going to be the first time back in front of a professional orchestra since lockdown.
Hewett says both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky can be performed with a smaller string section, and the musicians will take a little time to adjust to the spaced-out staging of the orchestra.
”You can’t rely so much on what you hear. You have to be very much aware of people’s body language and so on,” he said. ”The further spread out the orchestra is the more the delay between sections of the orchestra that are a long way away from each other. I’m sure the musicians in Canberra will deal with that.”
From the conductor’s point of view, it will be no different to performing in an opera house where there is an orchestra pit and performers 30 to 40 metres away on the stage.
Hewett has performed the 7th Symphony four times and the Rococo a couple of times.
”The 7th is one of most popular Beethoven symphonies, a very rhythmic and energetic and a joyous piece,” he said. ”It pairs very well with the Rococo which is Tchaikovsky in his most Mozartian mode.
”It’s a good example of how the Russianness of Tchaikovsky is really blended with his western European outlook.”
Hewett is looking forward to working with cellist Julian Smiles for the first time.
The Hindson evokes memories of singing his music when he was a student in a choir in Brisbane.
”I remember meeting him way back then. I don’t think we have seen each other since so it’s going to be nice to have a chat to him,” Hewett said.
It is also a nice fit with the rest of the program.
”The first thing that I thought of when I saw the title and listened to the piece was the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th when the chorus sings ‘Do you sense the Creator, world. Seek Him above the canopy of stars’, and I think this piece will be a nice kind of hopeful, comforting, emotional piece for the audience to enjoy after what’s been a very difficult year,” Hewett said.
A theme echoed by CSO CEO Rachel Thomas.
“We look forward to ending an incredibly difficult year on a high note,” she said.
“Everyone at the CSO is so excited to be returning to Llewellyn Hall – musicians, staff and board members. Llewellyn Hall is our musical home; this is a very important moment, and it’s particularly special to be able to share it in person with our audience.”
These concerts, and all concerts into 2021, will be delivered in line with ACT Government restrictions, including requirements related to audience capacity, socially distanced seating and cleaning protocols.
For Live at Llewellyn, every second seat in Llewellyn Hall will not be sold. The CSO urges all patrons to stay informed and follow ACT Health guidance.
CSO: Live at Llewellyn commences at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, 25 November and Thursday, 26 November.
To learn more go to the CSO website.