A Musical Valentine

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Saturday 14 February 2015


In the height of Melbourne’s summer festival season thousands converged on the lush outdoor amphitheatre that is the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Young and old came with their finest picnic wares, boutique cider and bottles of wine for the first of three Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concerts ‘A Musical Valentine’.

Oh and it was free. And it was BYO. That’s right, BYO any food, drink and picnicky stuff you wanted as long as it wasn’t glassware, knives or hard-cased eskys. You could even bring your own chairs if that was your thing. And if you left anything behind, it was available to purchase.

Our own Sidney Myer created these concerts in 1959 in an effort to share his passion for outdoor music and foster a sense of community. Melbourne is fortunate to have a world class act perform for free in a public arena. It’s lucky, and by the early arrival of the crowds, it knows it too.

Gates opened at 4pm and by 430pm there weren’t many prime viewing spaces left on the lawn. By 630pm the only spots were along the sides at the top. If not at capacity, it must have been close.

It was a balmy Melbourne evening, the skyline of the city framed the awning of the stage as the sun sank slowly. The atmosphere was festive, celebratory even. Small children ran about the grassy aisles packed either side with bushy beards and high-waisted shorts. Twinkly-eyed silver-haired couples lazed back in fancy padded folding chairs, their spiked wine glasses nestled beside them in the grass.

Being Valentines Day the selection of romantic classics was apt. First the MSO charmed us with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, then Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe – both stories of star-crossed young lovers. The power of the orchestra in full flight is something to behold even to the most hardened metal fan. The music rode on waves of sensuous lullaby and then crashed into troughs of melodramatic turmoil.

After a well-timed interval to allow us to stretch our legs and empty our bladders, inspiring soprano Emma Matthews performed the mildly erotic songs of Strauss. The finale was a medley from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – an opera about an African American couple in 1920s South Carolina. Coming from a more contemporary era, the familiar songs added a little toe-tapping jaunt to close the night.

The audience were respectful and appreciative throughout. As the sky darkened and wine bottles were drained, no one got loud and rowdy, no one was overheard retching onto the well-trodden grass. It felt to me, as I ate my last cheese scone and dribbled the remainder of my shiraz into a plastic cup, that Melbourne knew it had something special here and it was going all out to enjoy it.

This concert offered a great taste of a live orchestra. But you didn’t need to be into classical or know the music to get the most out of the night. It was the perfect event to catch up with mates, enjoy some food and drink, and soak up the summer festive vibe – all accompanied by our own world class Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

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