Stepping down a semitone at a time starting from Spohr’s E Major, seeming to gravitate to the famous Tchaikovsky sextet in D Minor, this group of young musicians brings quite an ambitious program. Despite some uneven playing of the first piece, they became stronger and stronger to give a very satisfying take on the last.
The Sydney Omega Ensemble, as fairly young musicians, though with three members of the SSO’s wind section, in no way without experience, with help from the non-profit Ars Musica Australis, enjoys commissioning and playing new pieces from young Australian composers. They do so in many of their concerts, taking the tactic of mixing them in a program with traditional composers, rather than the all-together contemporary music festival approach. Even if the new pieces are only short, it obviously adds variety for the audience and players and fills in some of the difficult gap between conservatory student concerts and festivals and the commissions of more established composers by Musica Viva (for new chamber music) and the SSO, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Ballet, etc. for new orchestral works, the orchestral works usually coming from the same handful of Australian composers. So it is a valuable little institution David Rowden, the Ensemble’s artistic director, founder and clarinetist, and company have run over the past few years.
In the interstices of the Sydney Opera House, between the Opera Theatre, the famous steps up to the podium and the stage door loading dock, is the Utzon Room looking out to the east over Sydney Harbour. Jørn Utzon redesigned the former “reception room” with a mind for its use for chamber music and recitals (he also redesigned the Western Colonnade to welcome theatre goers into the playhouse theater, though unfortunately not the Opera Theatre itself). The Utzon Room magically feels at once like a natural sandstone cave and a modernist version of an English drawing room. It is cozy, long relative to its depth and ceiling height (though not at all cramped being about 3 meters high) with plate glass windows about the height of a person stretching the length of the room facing east, looking across Wahganmuggalee (Farm Cove) with the Botanic Gardens, the sandstone ledges by Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the industrial iron architecture of Garden Island navy base behind. Opposite the windows, along the other length stretches Jørn Utzon’s tapestry Tribute to CPE Bach, its islands of clear and vivid secondary colors complement the pale gray cement ceiling beams which hold up the Opera House above. These beams run the length of the roof, sloping at the end right to the floor, supporting the outside steps, gradually tapering and changing shape as they do from decahedral to rectangular. The musicians stand in front of the window, facing the tapestry which no doubt has a strong favorable effect on the acoustics. Thus the room, also seeming, like a sandstone cave, much older than it really is, has more than its fair share of atmosphere and gravitas, especially for a Sydney concert hall, and could risk overshadowing its musicians in a way, for example, the City Recital Hall at Angel Place could not. The acoustics are very clean and balanced across the spectrum, contributing to the clean, lucid, rounded sound of the ensemble and although the view of the Harbour shows constant maritime activity, no noise gets through the windows, even when an enormous cruise ship floated by (albeit under tug) or one of the hooning speedboats which give joy rides to tourists.