REVIEW: Bach by Candlelight | Perth Symphony Orchestra

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Perth Symphony Orchestra‘s little sister Perth Chamber Orchestra rocked our Bachs off at St. George’s Cathedral on the last winter’s night of the year. PSO aims to make classical music accessible to everyone, and their Bach by Candlelight event made light work of one of Baroque music’s heavyweights. Infused with fun, frivolity, and most importantly food, a few of J.S. Bach‘s most famous ditties made the last night of the City of Perth’s Winter Arts season a good one.

With the price of a ticket came a complimentary glass of wine upon entry as well as a bit of catered nosh at each of the half-hour intervals to sweeten the deal. The evening was hosted by beloved Perth actor James Hagan, who donned a period costume and a German accent to portray the revered composer. In between pieces, he gave us little historical snippets about the life and times of Bach, ad libbing, delivering a joke or two, and interacting occasionally with the audience as he walked up and down the aisles.

But of course the main reason to gather in the red brick cathedral was to enjoy the music, and Perth Chamber Orchestra couldn’t have made that easier to do. Though the acoustics presented a bit of a challenge, with the finer, richer edges of the ensemble’s sound being slightly swallowed into the air above them and somewhat whisked away into the wings, the music was still beautiful and beautifully played. The program featured three sections of three pieces each; animated graphics were projected on the cathedral walls, and various lighting states helped to create a bit of dramatic ambiance.

Highlights included the opener, Toccata & Fugue in D Minor played by Stewart Smith on the cathedral organ; the Prelude for Cello in D Minor performed by Sophie Curtis which was quite evocative and melancholy with accompanying falling snow projections; and of course the two well-known works, Air on a G String, with a colourful, smoky jazz rendition by saxophonist Jamie Oehlers, and finally the lively Brandenburg No. 3 to close. In a special encore treat, the ensemble performed a new world-premiere work composed by Melbourne jazz pianist and composer Joe Chindamo, based on an 18th Century sonata by Scarlatti.

Patrons are allowed, and even encouraged, to share their concert experiences on social media (as long as they stay quiet and respectful) during the performance. Some didn’t hesitate to pull out their smartphones for mid-concert snaps and updates, and though there was the odd flash photo taken, this didn’t present too much of a distraction.

Overall, the evening was an excellent divertissement in one of Perth city’s most attractive spots, and this experimental populist approach to Bach was an end-of-winter’s delight.

For the next experiment in classical music by Perth Chamber Orchestra, Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst…And Bjork, visit the PSO website here.

CICELY BINFORD

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