Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), 23rd May

by Jennifer Bryce


When I was growing up, Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’ was still rife. It was believed that if you wanted to excel in the arts you had to study overseas. Now, in the old South Melbourne Town Hall, there is an academy where talented classical musicians can finesse their performance under the guidance of internationally recognised artists. It is a place to come after completing undergraduate studies in classical music performance. Students have been drawn from all over Australia and New Zealand.

Just as the old North Melbourne Town Hall has been converted into an arts performance space, so the South Melbourne Town Hall has been transformed by this academy. The managers try to encourage community involvement and locals are welcome to the various recitals and master classes (for a nominal charge of $5.00 – sometimes free) as well as attendance at bigger concerts such as this.

This concert was conducted by Adam Chalabi – a violin soloist trained in England, Switzerland and Germany. He has been concertmaster of Orchestra Victoria and head of strings at ANAM, before taking up a position at the University of Queensland. He seemed to be highly respected and very popular with the student performers. The string playing throughout the evening was superb.

I enjoyed the first item the most; Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No 1 (1921). This is chamber music for twelve instruments – not necessarily all playing at once; the percussion includes a siren. Three of the four movements are very boisterous and often irreverent, including snatches of dance band music of the time – apparently Hindemith sometimes played in bands to supplement his income. As I listened, these snatches of themes reminded me of how Mahler used fragments of music from bands he passed in the street. Although I can find no authoritative support for this, it seemed to me that the second movement was sending up the main theme from Handel’s ‘See the Conquering Hero’, Judas Maccabaeus. The one slow pastoral movement is described as a quartet. It is: three wind instruments and the fourth, one note from a xylophone (or was it a glockenspiel?).

The other item before interval was Mozart’s Cassation in G Major, composed when he was thirteen. I’m pretty sure I had never heard it before. The music was typical of the livelier movements of Mozart , including a couple of minuets and a march. Cassations were apparently composed for outdoor performance. Chalabi led this (and the next item) with his violin, rather than waving a baton, a practice that was quite common, I believe, in Mozart and Beethoven’s time.

After interval we heard Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. The ANAM director told us over drinks that this was apparently Beethoven’s favourite symphony. It was composed at a dark time in his life, but it completely belies this mood, being full of jokes and playful repetition. I was, however, a little disappointed in the wind playing. There is an important motif that keeps recurring in the first movement – a staccato quaver on an upbeat – and I felt they played this sluggishly, dragging the crisp tempo back. Just a slight flaw in what was otherwise a vibrant performance.