Choral Contrasts: the Poulenc Gloria and Mozart’s Requiem at the Sydney Opera House

I gave my gig-going a shot of class last night with a classical performance at the Sydney Opera House.

It was the second of three nights called Choral Contrasts. The performance was in two parts: first was French composer Francis Poulenc’s mid-20th century Gloria, and the second was Mozart’s famous (and controversial)Requiemin the traditional Süssmayr completion (Mozart dies whilst writing the Requiem).

Both pieces were performed by the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir, with David Zinman conducting.

It was all pretty magical. Both works have religious bases but they really couldn’t be more different. Poulenc’s Gloria is a joyful, celebratory ode of praise, while Requiem is a solemn goodbye to earthly life. Each piece was deeply touching. You really can’t go past Mozart, though, for being mind-blowing, even if someone else finished it for him.

Both works also obviously share choirs as major elements. I like choirs: the human element adds emotion and connection, even when the lyrics are in Latin. And the Philharmonia is larger than I’d expected. I liked the guest soloists the least. They were very good singers, for sure, but the symphony and the choir were what I wanted to hear, and were enough for me. The skill and co-ordination required for so many musicians to perform together so well still amazes me.

They were very touching, very emotional performances.


Sydney Festival: 41 Strings

Last night was another Sydney Festival event: 41 Strings, an orchestral piece by Nick Zinner, guitarist of the rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, based on Vivaldi’sFour Seasons. I know that’s a lot of cultural references to take in at once, but bear with me.

It was at the Opera House. It started with a drum piece, IIII, created by some of the drummers that also perform with Zinner. It’s also based on Four Seasons. There were a couple of dozen percussionists and two synth players, all arranged in the round. And my god, it was a thundering, impressive bit of playing. The rhythms weren’t super complicated – I imagine that would be hard with such an ensemble – but they were mesmerising. There was a lot of heavy crunch from the synths, of the sort that the Brooklyn bands have been producing in the last couple of years. It was cool and heavy and jubilant and compelling. I loved it.

Then came Zinner, his 40 other stringed accompanists (including a large contingent from the Australia Youth Orchestra) and a few drums. The four pieces were a blend of classic and contemporary – the lead guitar unmistakable Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound – and none were dull. In reflection perhaps it could have had more slow, quiet pieces. But it was certainly a big, lush sound, and one that was easy to engage with.

I liked both pieces, but I think that IIII affected me more. There’s something about that many drums, that much booming rhythm, that affects me primally.

Neither work instrumental work overstays its welcome; the whole show was over in 90 minutes, including an intermission. But that worked for me. Any longer would have devolved into stuffiness.