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Sibelius 2

Andrea Gillum

MSO played a dramatic and intimate program of favourites with Associate Conductor Benjamin Northey at the helm.
Sibelius 2

'Melbourne Town Hall with its magnificent wall of organ pipes'. Photograph by Matt Irwin via MSO.

The Melbourne Town Hall with its magnificent wall of organ pipes provided a stunning backdrop to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Sibelius 2. The program with its two well-known Beethoven pieces and Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 leaned towards the themes of war and peace, distress and joy. In the end though, it was, as many programs that have Beethoven in them are, about the triumph of the human spirit over all of this. A theme that perhaps we could take comfort from in our current political climate.

The orchestra set the tone for the evening with the dramatic start of the Coriolan Overture. This moody piece is only nine minutes long but manages to convey a depth of emotions that the MSO handled deftly and with great skill. As our conductor for the evening, Ben Northey commented ‘it mirrors the torment of Beethoven himself.’

When Stefan Cassomenos strode out onto the stage without hesitation to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 we knew it was going to be something special. Beethoven’s last concerto is full of passion and despair. It was written around the time Napoleon invaded Vienna and also when he had lost almost all of his hearing. All of this Cassomenos brought to life - he commanded the performance from the moment he sat down. But he also rocked it, he sat on the edge of the piano stool, almost hovering and he didn’t just play the concerto with his fingers he inhabited it with his whole body - there was jumping, triumphant leaps and stamping of feet. Not only can you not play this kind of music well without engaging with the emotion of it, but you also can’t listen without feeling it either. 

The title piece of the evening Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 is both a soothing and disturbing piece. It is claimed to have been a commentary on the liberation of Finland from Russia. The MSO delivered a particularly sensory atmosphere, from the eerie rumble of brass and timpani to the repeated melody or motif that was so cleverly catchy I found myself singing along in my head. For an encore we were treated to Sibelius’s Valse Trist, which provided a dreamy end to a dramatic night with its twinkling lightness and gentle melody.

The Melbourne Town Hall initially felt a cavernous, almost harsh space but the orchestra drew the audience very much into the middle of the performance. This intimacy was encouraged by conductor Ben Northey who spoke between the first two pieces, explaining the program as a favourite of the orchestra’s and lavishly describing some of the more emotional sides of the music. As a major orchestra the MSO managed to make the evening feel very personal. Surely this how the human spirit triumphs during difficult times.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Sibelius 2

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Ludwig Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op.62

Ludwig Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat, Op.73

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Benjamin Northey conductor

Stefan Cassomenos piano

Melbourne Town Hall

11 May 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Andrea Gillum is a creative and professional writer. She often writes on the themes of identity and belonging. She is particularly passionate about the interaction of music, memory and place.