Perth Symphony Orchestra brings Mozart by Candlelight to Perth Concert Hall

Classical strings blend seamlessly in a lush chorale; two soloists swap phrases in intense conversation over dense harmonies.

Close your eyes to see tuxedo and ballgowns; open up to see jeans and hoodies.

It’s the dilemma of orchestral musicians trapped between divine musical moments and the nitty-gritty of life, a world captured in microcosm at Perth Symphony Orchestra’s midweek rehearsal.

“Mozart’s music often represents the sacred — lofty thoughts come through the music but then the profane side comes through,” concert master Paul Wright explains. “But mostly so it can ‘stand up in court’.”

The violin-viola player leads a chamber ensemble in a mix of classical and contemporary repertoire inspired by raunchy book and TV series Mozart in the Jungle, the kiss-and-tell by American oboist Blair Tindall.

“Why, I thought, did I bother with an answering machine?” Tindall writes. “Between Sam and my former oboist boyfriends, I got hired for most of my gigs in bed.”

Mozart, too, had his moments.

“The goal of the concert is to demystify the life of classical musicians a bit and provide a view of who makes up Perth Symphony Orchestra,” conducting fellow Kate Milligan says.

Musicians will share anecdotes reflecting on their relationship to the music.

“We’ll also complement those stories with read excerpts from Mozart’s correspondence, constructing Mozart as more of a full person,” Milligan says. “Mozart was quite cheeky in many of his letters!”

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Camera IconPascale Whiting and Paul Wright lead Perth Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart by Candlelight. Credit: Tom Greble

The humour is also present in his music, especially the Sinfonia Concertante which concludes the night.

Wright on viola and violinist Pascale Whiting lead the piece in a duelling duet.

“Mozart had it in for the violinist when he wrote this, he wrote fiendish passages to make him pay,” Wright grins. “But the viola part is much easier.”

Oboist Stephanie Nicholls has a similar story about Mozart’s quartet for oboe.

“Mozart wanted to show what it could do,” Nicholls says. “And he had a player called Friedrich Ramm who had tickets on himself – so he showed him!”

It’s a dazzling display of virtuoso playing over a warm blend of violin, viola and cello.

It’s also an all-too-rare showcase for the oboe, a view Tindall and Nicholls share.

“We get all the great melodies in symphonies and some pretty decent tunes in opera,” Nicholls says.

“But not any in chamber music, which is crazy because in the Baroque era [before Mozart] oboes get all the best.”

The concert, Mozart by Candlelight, opens with Mozart’s well-known Horn Concerto played by Julian Leslie.

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Next is a WA premiere of Nico Muhly’s Etude No.3 featuring violist Kate McKay, fusing contemporary and classical themes.

“We’re hoping that will bring something flash to the program because that’s solo viola and electronics,” Milligan says.

“It’s optimistic, quite endearing, quite lovely.”

Another contemporary piece follows in Caroline Shaw’s Is A Rose, a song made famous in the Mozart in the Jungle TV series.

Classical form meets folk idiom as Helen Shanahan’s questing soprano drifts high over strings by turns pulsating and pizzicato.

“Will we still tune our violins, will we still sing of roses?” she intones.

The oboe quartet runs to the interval before a second half broached by Michael Nyman’s Trysting Fields, a work led by Wright and violist Kathy Potter, inspired by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, which closes the night.

“I love that classical music and musicians are incredibly ‘human’,” PSO founder and CEO Bourby Webster says. “Their precision, poise, and discipline often means people perceive classical music and musicians as terribly ‘proper’ — which any of us in the industry knows is just not the case. We are like anyone else, with as many flaws and scandals as we have triumphs and achievements.”

Founded in 2011 to create professional engagement for freelance musicians in Perth, PSO starts a new chapter amid the pandemic in a partnership with Methodist Ladies College, launched this week.

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Camera IconMethodist Ladies College launches the partnership with Perth Symphony Orchestra.

Webster says the idea grew from the MLC alumnae among PSO ranks and having hosted the “Women on the Podium” program at the school in August this year.

“The program assists in developing female conductors, a rarity in the world of orchestras, giving them access to international faculty, so to be able to inspire girls whilst still at school is just fantastic,” Webster says.

MLC principal Dr Marie Perry says MLC and PSO’s shared objectives mean more than the college being a “space for hire”.

“This partnership provides opportunities for our young musicians to see a professional orchestra at work, to meet and work with internationally renowned conductors, to be invited to play with the PSO from time to time, and for members of the PSO to join our ensembles too,” Perry says.

“It also gives MLC’s girls very real exposure to the business expertise that scaffolds the success of every arts organisation.”

Mozart by Candlelight is at Perth Concert Hall on Friday, October 30. Doors and bar from 6pm, concert 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Email: [email protected]

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