Chamber music supergroup assembled for Mozart’s momentous Gran Partita

Performing chamber music requires musicians of the highest calibre – sensitive, intuitive and virtuosic. Omega Ensemble searches Australia to discover these musicians and bring them together on one stage.
Chamber music supergroup assembled for Mozart’s momentous Gran Partita

Photo credit: Keith Saunders

Sydney-based Omega Ensemble have been described in many ways: as ‘all-stars’, a ‘supergroup’ or as Australia’s ‘chamber music rock stars'. For their upcoming Grand Mozart concert at City Recital Hall in Sydney, the Ensemble has scouted the country for 13 of Australia’s most notable wind musicians, including principals from many of the country's professional orchestras, for a concert performance of Mozart’s epic ‘Gran Partita’ Serenade for winds.

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‘We’ve got some phenomenal players performing with us on this occasion,’ said Omega Ensemble’s founder and co-Artistic Director, clarinettist David Rowden. ‘This is a work that demands musicians of incredibly high calibre and we found no less than 13 of them from all over the country.’

How does an ensemble manage to secure the top players for each concert, which differ greatly in size and programming? Rowden explains that while it takes coordinating, musicians invariably jump at the chance to play with the Ensemble, eagerly taking leave from their existing engagements with orchestras around the country for the chance to play with them.

‘I generally find with these incredible chamber music works, when the opportunity comes up to perform in sublime concert venues like City Recital Hall, musicians drop everything and make it work,’ he said.

INTIMATE PERFORMANCES AND MUSICAL CONVERSATIONS

While the rare opportunity to play with peers on an epic work like 'Gran Partita' is part of the attraction, the intimacy and sense of connection fostered by chamber music is also a factor in musicians’ keen engagement with Omega Ensemble.

Former Principal Oboe with the Adelaide Symphony, Celia Craig, who has just returned to Australia after engagements with the Malaysian Philharmonic this month, said chamber music engenders a genuine sense of intimacy among the musicians.

‘The experience of working together with like-minded musicians, on our own – that is, without a conductor, so that the musical personalities involved will be literally shaping and investing in the music – that makes for a truly engaging performance,’ she told ArtsHub. 

‘The joy of actually looking at your colleagues and responding to them makes for a true musical conversation! The intimacy of playing directly opposite your clarinet, bassoon and horn colleagues and having the luxury of eye contact, whereas orchestrally, they sit in rigid rows behind you, and somehow have to make music together without any eye contact or body language: all interpreted through one person at the front with a baton.’

Book Tickets to Omega Ensemble’s Grand Mozart concert

PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

The close friendships that develop between the participating musicians speaks to the intimate magic of chamber music, said Rowden.

‘Because it is much more of a personal experience, you develop lasting personal relationships,’ he said. ‘That makes concert programming much easier as I have a broad range of talent and expertise to work with.’

Australian violinist Alexandra Osborne, who currently sits as concertmaster with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, will also join Omega Ensemble for a performance in July.

‘Alexandra and I were in a youth orchestra together when we were 16 and we’ve just kept in touch as both our careers took us in different directions and to different hemispheres,’ explains Rowden. ‘She’s returned to Australia to perform with us twice in the past year and will be back again this July. Alexandra is one of of Australia’s most accomplished musical exports and it speaks to the essence of our Ensemble’s mission that audiences at home have the opportunity to hear her perform, even while she is based in the US.’

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In-demand American composer Nico Muhly also met Rowden as a student during a collaboration between the Royal Academy of Music and Julliard School of Music. In between his premieres with the Metropolitan Opera and top North American and European orchestras, he will also travel to Sydney in July for the premiere of a new work commissioned for Omega Ensemble. ‘These are all personal connections that enrich being a professional musician,’ Rowden said.

MUSIC FROM HEAVEN

Written originally as music to be performed in 18th Century homes of those wealthy enough to commission it, the 'Gran Partita' Serenade was intended almost as party music, to be played for ambience. Mozart, however, was never one to stand in the background, and this 40 minute multi-movement epic almost dares the listener to tune out. The result is ‘a major and fascinating significant work for wind instruments,’ said Craig.

‘There is a style, an aspect of solemnity in the choice and number of instruments used – those basset-horns, which Mozart often used in relation to Masonic events – the bass line, the long structure of the vast movements: it’s an epic piece which contains some of his most compelling music,’ she said.

‘It feels so ceremonial, this work, as if you are part of something large and serious. My personal favourite 'Gran Partita' movement is the slowest one: like a huge wheel turning and what feels like two angels dueting above with the oboe and clarinet dialogue. Gorgeous.’ 

Rowden too delights in the work’s rich texture and beauty. ‘You’ve got the double bass, you’ve got the bassoons, the four horns, the two clarinets, two basset-horns, the oboes – it’s just really skilfully crafted and it’s an incredible work to play – and very powerful as well, emotionally,’ he said.

‘In the famous film Amadeus, Salieri describes Mozart’s writing as “the voice of God,” and really in that adagio movement, it is quite heavenly – it really is quite sublime.’

Omega Ensemble perform Grand Mozart at City Recital Hall, Sydney on Tuesday 9 April. Bookings and details at www.omegaensemble.com.au/events/grand-mozart

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Twitter: @richardthewatts