Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


A plea for rational discussion

I would urge all who are campaigning to ‘save’ the TSO and who are condemning Mr Strong to do their homework.
Around the world orchestras are changing direction and this is because in the arts, as in all things, nothing lasts forever.

For example, the concept of a modern state-funded orchestra is relatively new in the rich history of classical music.

When Mozart and Haydn composed in the 18th century, they wrote for private ensembles funded by patrons.

In the 1930s the NBC created an orchestra for the brilliant Arturo Toscanini – once Toscanini retired, that orchestra lapsed.

In recent times, consider groups such as Claudio Abbado’s adventure with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra – the Italian maestro’s creation and idea.

In our own country, the Australian Chamber Orchestra plays Beethoven and Schubert symphonies with a small group

Furthermore, consider this – chamber orchestras can play the repertoire of larger ensembles, particularly with 38 players as is suggested by Strong. In fact, there would be little (Mahler and Shostakovich definitely) that the TSO now plays that it could not play with 9 less players, and there might be a good deal more that could be played more authentically with a slimmed down ensemble.

In our own country, the Australian Chamber Orchestra plays Beethoven and Schubert symphonies with a small group.

And the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which has just over 40 musicians on its books, will play Brahms’ 2nd piano concerto in May this year – this is a work of depth and resonance requiring a big sound.

Or take the repertoire of the stellar Academy of St Martins in the Fields, directed for many years by Neville Mariner, or the Prague Chamber Orchestra that Australian Charles Mackerras turned into a truly great orchestra, period. Or I Musici di Veneti or the Scottish Chamber Orchestra or and the list goes on.

There is nothing magical about having over 40 musicians in an orchestra.

Finally, while the TSO is an excellent small orchestra, it is not regarded as one of the world’s best as some are claiming. The Academy of St Martins in the Fields, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Prague Chamber Orchestra, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra fall into that elite category.

The TSO is a fine band

That’s why they attract conductors of the talents of Claudio Abbado, Paavo Jaarvi, Sir Neville Marriner and one of best violinists around today – who I had the privilege of hearing in Sydney a number of years ago, Joshua Bell.

The TSO is a fine band – in fact this month the prestigious Gramophone magazine has given a tremendously positive review of the orchestra’s latest offering of Moscheles concertos with Howard Shelley. But let’s not gild the lily by making it something it’s not.

If you want to be properly informed in the current debate and not simply ridiculous opportunist and negative like Lara Giddings, Eric Abetz, Rene Hidding and petty city burgers then you might care to look at Norman Lebrecht’s When the Music Stops on the changing fortunes of classical music. Or if you prefer, and Lebrecht can be a bit on the pessimistic side, read critics like the New York Times’ Anthony Tomassini.

But remember the words of the great recently turned octogenarian Pierre Boulez who has assumed control of the Chicago Orchestra from Daniel Barenboim – orchestras must always re-invent themselves otherwise they become brittle and conservative.

I would be delighted to talk with anyone seriously interested in the future of music in Tasmania and to point people in the direction of developments in the classical music world globally – there’s a lot happening and much of it good.

But conservatism and knee-jerk protection of the past is not part of the good news.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Greg Barns

    March 21, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    In answer to Mr Lovell’s request for some information or insights on repertoire let proffer the following:

    A greater focus on the American minimalist movement of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams and Terry Riley;

    In that vein, the extraordinarily accessible woks of the American Alan Hovhaness;

    Perhaps a breaking up of the orchestra for a concerts of small chamber pieces of the barque era – Telemann, JS Bach etc

    The 20th century German repertoire of Hindemith, Berg, Webern and even Kurt Weill;

    How about the TSO has a composer in residence – the Seattle SO does and Samuel Jones, for example, has turned out some terrific pieces.

  2. Jason Lovell

    March 21, 2005 at 4:14 am

    Thanks for that Greg. Now, the repertoire??

  3. Annick Ansselin

    March 20, 2005 at 11:37 am

    Off course the TSO and the SSO compete. They play the same music and they compete for the same pot of money, as do the other Australian SOs.

    I have attended some very mediocre concerts from the SSO over the years. On that point, Donald Hazelwood once commented privately that having to play the same concert 6 times to indifferent audiences made it difficult for the musicians to give an inspired performance.

    I would think that SSO and TSO are more like different varieties of apples. Different characters, but essentially the same species.

    By the way, your description of the TSO as a band, which reads as some sort of putdown, can also apply to the SSO and any other SO. The word band refers to any instrumental ensemble larger than a chamber ensemble or orchestra. However, in common usage, it usually refers to a combination of woodwind, brass and percussion with perhaps a double bass if it isn’t a marching band.

    I am not sure what point you are trying to make when declaring the TSO is a band.

    Is it to imply that the TSO does not function as a symphony orchestra, and therefore should not be funded as such. Surely not! Is it that in your eyes, or should I say ears, the TSO does not perform well enough? If so, that is a subjective assessment, and very much open to debate.

    I still do not understand why it is so important to you that the TSO be downgraded?

    Is it not more important that we keep our talented, highly trained and highly skilled musicians who give us so much pleasure?

    Isn’t it more to the point that as a civilised, educated, sophisticated and wealthy nation (as Australia likes to think of itself), our taxes can support the small number of symphony orchestras we have in the country, including the TSO?

  4. Greg Barns

    March 20, 2005 at 10:12 am

    I can assure Annick that I had no involvement in the drafting of the Strong report and have never met Mr Strong.

  5. Greg Barns

    March 20, 2005 at 7:42 am

    For the record my association with the WASO was between 2001-2003. My association with the SSO is ongoing. The SOO and the TSO are apples and organges – they do not compete. One is a full scale symphony orchestra, the other a small orchestra.

    Also , for the record, my other arts interests include a directorship of Viscopy and a directorship of NAVA and participation in fundraising for an Alfred Deakin Library at Deakin University in Victoria.

    I write CD reivews for The Mercury and this year have contributed pieces on classical music and jazz to the Financial Review and Limelight magazine.

  6. Annick Ansselin

    March 20, 2005 at 7:41 am

    I am puzzled why Greg Barns supports the Strong report so strongly and unquestionably? Was Mr Barns involved in the drawing up of the report?
    Is there some hidden agenda here? Is there some undeclared conflict of interest?

    My opinion is that Mr. Strong was asked to do the review focusing on ways to decrease the federal government’s financial support. The federal government is a firm believer of user-pay and if Tasmania cannot pay the 47 musicians, then it does not deserve to have them. Nothing to do with quality of performance and other aspects of the role of the TSO in our community.

    Just how much money will the government save by sacking 9 musicians? When it is ready to spend $billions on warfare, the salaries of 9 musicians pales into insignificance.

    The TSO can improve I am sure, and I agree with Mr Barns that there is a paucity of chamber music in Tasmania. However, the TSO it is an excellent small symphony orchestra. It does compare well with international orchestras. Its recording history is impressive. But such a judgement is so subjective! Still, I do have a solid musical education, and my judgement is not entirely naive. However, I do know what I like and what I do not like to listen to.

    Mr Barns maintains the TSO does not take up the challenge of modern music. This is not true. Furthermore, I would like to say that much, but not all, of the modern repertoire is painful, atonal, lacks melody, structure and other features that makes music enjoyable to me. Does that make me old fashioned and conservative (equating narrow)? Probably. Still, I will not spend money for the privilege of listening to a composer’s experiment. My experience of concerts where this has happened, is that I am not alone. The concerts which focus on the modern repertoire are often very poorly attended. People vote with their feet. Forcing an orchestra to play such music will not bring me to the concert. Terrible music can be played extremely well, but it is still terrible music.

    Orchestras respond to the music, the conductor, and the audience. I attended concerts all over the world, including places Mr Barns mentions. I have listened to electrifying performances and I have also been at concerts where the orchestra has been very oh hum indeed. It happens everywhere, especially when orchestras have to play the same concert many times (in large cities). Oh by the way, I have yet to attend a concert in London, Vienna, St. Petersburg, or in the US, where there is much of the modern repertoire presented. There may be one piece, sandwiched between two other works, and usually played just before the interval. Management there also seem to know what an audience will accept!

    Funny that.

    The TSO has a very enthusiastic and appreciative audience, and you can see the musicians enjoy playing the music. Is that a problem?

    The age of the audience? Well that’s a fact of life! Many, but not all, teenagers and young adults have different entertainment priorities and enjoy different music. Judging by the thumping coming out of cars, pubs and pop concerts, I prefer to leave it to them. The TSO has concerts for young people. More could be done, I am sure, but this needs support from thye community (schools, home), as well as money. I find it very interesting that in Hobart quite a number of children attend concerts anyway. More than in Sydney and overseas. I bet the pricing of seats is a major factor. Thank goodness the tickets are still affordable here.

    Does the TSO need to reinvent itself? What is meant by reinvention? Rather a broad word I would say. Well I expect that the management tries very hard to plan programs that will attract sell out performances. The TSO works very hard at continually improving itself. Reinvention eventually means to go back to the beginning. The repertoire could be expanded to include more chamber music. But, it does not mean the TSO has to be degraded as a consequence. Of course the repertoire will shrink if the number of musicians is reduced. Please tell me, from which sections will the musicians be sacked? It isn’t as if the various sections are overwhelmed with large numbers of performers.

    Rationalisation of orchestras is taking place worldwide, but the countries where this is happening have dozens of orchestras (if not more)!

    We have one symphony orchestra in Tasmania, let’s keep it that way. I would much rather see my taxes support music and the arts, then buying war-making hardware. Notice how much money we ares pending on these helicopters?

  7. Andrew James

    March 19, 2005 at 4:08 am

    If Mr Barns was more careful in his research he might have realised that the TSO performance of Mahler’s fifth symphony in late 2004 was actually augmented by a considerable number of players from the Australian Youth Orchestra.

    This is a regular practice and will probably continue to happen for emergency replacement musicians in the future. If the government is willing to sack local musicians yet continue to import players from interstate how will that contribute to cultural life in Tasmania?

    Mr Barns may be aware of current small chamber orchestras challenging our perceptions of classical music performance, but he does not mention the huge number of state funded orchestras that exist in Europe. A long standing tradition.

    If Mr Barns is so concerned about the future of classical music in Tasmania, why doesn’t he advocate the continued funding of the TSO in addition to the creation of a small contemporary chamber orchestra? A cross-pollination between the two would surely increase and contemporise classical music in Tasmania.

    Think outside the square Greg!

  8. Jason Lovell

    March 18, 2005 at 6:12 am

    As a young man my potential appreciation of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra was cruelly cut short by the appearance of Blake’s Seven on Friday night’s. I can well remember my parents and I shuffling our feet, somewhat bored, before fleeing the Odeon when we realised what we were missing one cold Friday night. Sorry to those who love it, call me a philistine if you like, but live classical music just ain’t my scene. Blake’s Seven on the other hand …

    However, for my own edification I wouldn’t mind a few answers regarding things TSO about which I know nothing:

    1) Greg Barns has focused on the need for the TSO to increase its repertoire and also supports its proposed reduction to a chamber orchestra. But (apparently … I dunno) the reduction in numbers will automatically reduce their available repertoire.

    So – will the repertoire be reduced? If so, why? If not, why not?

    2)Mr Barns has associations with the WA Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. These two organisations may well directly benefit from a cut in TSO funding as the Australian orchestral funding pie isn’t changing, merely the size of the pieces each state may be given.

    Do these associations, for a person suporting a funding cut to the TSO, bring any conflict of interest with them?

    Again, I dunno.

  9. Naomi

    March 18, 2005 at 4:32 am

    Natasha Cica has written a beautiful opinion piece in the Herald (18/3) which sums it up for me. She writes of the moments of transcendence gifted to Tasmanian children by the TSO, and also gifted to Tasmania adults.

    Like her, I grew up with the TSO and the Odeon, and always felt a sense of pride that our orchestra was able to cut it with the best (if not be the best), and attract the best. That we were able to develop incredible composers and conductors at home, and then attract them back after stellar careers – such as Peter Sculthorpe. That TSO recordings were seen as world standard. That our Odeon was the best recording space created in the world in its time.

    If it costs a little bit of state money to keep that going, all the better. There’s just not enough public money to run it, and not enough of a tradition of corporate or personal philanthropy. Our state is so poor that we can’t even fund our own footy team, so surely we need some help to keep the arts going.

    And why does change always have to mean down-sizing?

  10. Greg Barns

    March 17, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    Mr Ross’s plea for me to shut up should be condemned by all who support freedom of speech!

    Chamber orchestras and small orchestras are often interchangeable terms in the music world. At 47 players the TSO is only a shade larger than the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, for example.

    I suggest Mr, or is it Ms Ross, tone down the aggressive rhetoric and garbled reasoning, if it can be called such, and oepn his or her mind to alternative points of view.

  11. Andi Ross

    March 17, 2005 at 4:44 am

    Why is Greg urging US to do our homework?

    The TSO has never been promoted as one of the world’s greatest CHAMBER orchestras (though Greg is clearly confused by this, given that he cites a string of CHAMBER orchestras in his example) but the TSO is clearly regarded as one of the world’s great SMALL orchestras.

    But it doesn’t need to get any smaller. Rita Hunter in her heyday loved to work with them and clearly the comments of Matthias Bamert (guest conductor of the TSO on Friday March 11) are from the horse’s mouth. He told the audience (I paraphrase) “Canberra may well know how expensive it is to run the TSO but Canberra does not know the orchestra’s worth”.

    We don’t need the TSO to be made the TCO. What we do need is sufficient support for the Arts in Tasmania so that we can at least have a FULL Musica Viva program and have the Australian Chamber Orchestra back on the agenda.

    But the Musica Viva and ACO issues are clearly business funding issues and, if we don’t have an audience here to support these two organisations and we don’t have federal and/or state funding to assist them bring musicians here, then at the very least let us not see the undermining of the TSO and all the attendant issues (such as the loss of teachers in this town) that would go with a downsizing.

    Why don’t you shut up Greg? Your piece was full of self importance (who cares whether or not you had the ‘privilege’ of seeing Joshua Bell play in Sydney … lucky you to be able to afford to travel to the city with the busiest musical life in Australia).

    Your piece adds nothing to the musical life of Tasmania. Anyway, as it turns out, looks like the TSO (and the other state orchestras headed for a downsizing) are to be ‘saved’. So some better heads than yours have done their homework.

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