Eight Cellists in a Special Gig

Independent Theatre, North Sydney;  Sunday 31st September 2018

Eight members of the Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) sneaked away from the mainstream yesterday to ‘wow’ an already expectant audience in a very special ‘gig’. From Bach to Led Zeppelin, Ravel to Metallica, they showed the mellow versatility of this lowest-pitched, second-largest stringed instrument.

Introduced, tongue in cheek, by leader John Benz as “the most important part of the orchestra”, Ezmi Pepper, Caroline Hobbs, Paul Taylor, Steve Meyer, Zenith Chae, Nick McManus and Julienne Guerbois took the stage for an uninterrupted program beginning with two of American 20th century composer Brian Kelly’s Spanish compositions. The first ,a short atmospheric piece, provided a fitting introduction to the second which conjured the busy bustle of a village market. Motifs intertwined, slow over fast, as the musical interpretation of the scene unfolded.

From Kelly, they moved to JS Bach and Rousseau, their baroque compositions showcasing the depth and flexibility of this instrument, the moods it can inspire, and the energy and emotional concentration it demands of those who play it, whether it be the quiet, pensive final notes of Rousseau or something more upbeat … like Led Zeppelin’s 1975 classic rock hit, Kashmir, where the faster pace, taut pauses and climactic crescendo highlighted the amazing adaptability of the instrument and the musicians.

From ‘heavy’ Rock they moved on to Ravel’ gentle Pavane for a Dead Princess. Here the melancholy of the cello was most evident, the softer, more intense notes merging tenderly with the whisper of the plucked strings.

Shostakovich’s waltz, Suite for Variety Orchestra raised the tempo again – and beautifully demonstrated the various voices of the cellos, the lovely interaction between the performers, and their obvious joy in this stirring mid-twentieth century tribute to waltz-time.

Less cheerful was Wagner’s Pilgrim’s Chorus from the opera, Tannhauser, but this too showcased the emotional control required to create the poignant images and tension in this song where penitent pilgrims praise the peace of God’s mercy.

A little different were the musical messages in Metallica’s 1991 hit, Nothing Else Matters, which once again emphasised the energy of the musicians – and their control, especially in the last lingering notes.

Percussive tapping set the pace for the final item in the program, a tango by Argentinian composer by Astor Izola, the cello a perfect instrument to invoke the sultry atmosphere and precision movement of the dance.

Called back to the stage twice, the group performed a bopping little piece composed by the group’s own Caroline Hobbs – and a rocking reprise of Kasmir that left the audience asking for even more.

The next concert by the Metropolitan Orchestra will include Elgar’s Cello Concerto, featuring a solo by Ezmi Pepper. Sarah-Grace Williams will conduct the concert on Saturday 27th October in the Eugene Goosens Hall at the ABC Centre, Ultimo. Check TMO’s website for information and availability of tickets.