Terrace Proms reviewed by Neville Cohn St George’s Terrace

Terrace Proms

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Various foyers
St George’s Terrace

Sun 19th Oct, 2003



Can there be a drearier thoroughfare than St George’s Terrace on a Sunday? In summer, when the wind is still, its buildings radiate heat ­ and when stiff breezes blow down the Terrace, it’s like a wind tunnel.

Apart from folk emerging from the Chifley on the Terrace or going into or out of church, the highway is deserted on 51 Sundays of the year. But for the last six years, there’s been one Sunday of the year when the Terrace comes to life in a way that is diametrically different to all the other Sundays.

On this day, the foyers of the palaces of commerce that line the CBD’s premier thoroughfare are thrown open for a day-long musicfest. It worked – and worked well – as, for a few hours, grand vestibules were host to throngs of music lovers instead of the more usually encountered streams of people either entering or leaving the foyers on matters of commerce and the law.

On that single Sunday, these entrance halls become intimate concert venues where internationally respected artists and some of the city’s best musicians offer an eclectic range of performances.

There was a carnival atmosphere, with marching bands and marching girls and throngs of school-age musicians taking part in a variety of ensemble endeavours indoors or on the pavements.

For those on modest budgets, many of the events were free of charge. Internationally acclaimed artists and the best of the city’s own gave performances at impressive levels of expertise that catered for many tastes.

With much of the Terrace blocked to traffic and handed over to the people, many made the most of strolling along and across the roadway as they pleased. There was a very real, almost tangible, air of excitement about the proceedings. People enjoyed being on the Terrace – and cafes and restaurants in the immediate vicinity did a roaring trade. An ABC-TV documentary on the Proms (made in the late 1990s) brought Perth priceless publicity around the country when it showed that the city was far from being some provincial backwater.

Now, due to diminished funding, the Proms, the brainchild of emeritus professor David Tunley (who has laboured for years to raising the profile of fine music in the city) is imperilled. The signs of its decline were apparent in the very limited pre-publicity (due to very limited monies for the purpose) and the much reduced number of performances for the same reason.

Music festivals, small or large, don’t just happen, even if much of the behind-the-scenes and front-of-house work is done by volunteers. Funding is their lifeblood, not least to publicise the event. And because advertising was so limited, few people knew the Proms were on. As is the way with the arts in the 21st century, subsidies are essential. Professor Tunley believes that triennial funding and corporate sponsorship are needed to enable the event to be planned well in advance.

As an inveterate concertgoer (as are many others), I look forward each year to this event. And if, due to insufficient funding, the Proms fail, everyone loses. But if there is appropriate funding to enable the Proms to continue, it will almost certainly become an established tourist attraction, the like of which may well be unique in national terms.

Even though there were fewer events than usual, standards, for the most part, were as high as ever.

Classical guitarist Craig Ogden accompanied his wife Claire Bradshaw in songs by Purcell and Schubert. Another singer of distinct promise is young baritone David Thelander, of the Australian Opera Studio. Accompanied at the piano by Michael Schouten, Thelander communicated strongly in lieder by Mozart, Schubert and Schumann.

In the vestibule of London House, which is one of the most beautifully appointed on the Terrace, Paul Wright (violin), Darryl Poulsen (horn) and Anna Sleptsova (piano) did wonders in a trio by Charles Koechlin. In the same venue, Cathie Travers (accordion) and her Equinox ensemble played Piazzolla as if to the manner born, Preludio No 9 given the stamp of distinction.

At nearby Forrest Centre, Elisa Wilson and Mark Alderson sang with customary enthusiasm in a semi-staged version of Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret. Tommaso Pollio at the piano did wonders in bringing the piano reduction of the full score to life.

Also at Forrest Centre, young cellist Louise McKay, playing excerpts from Tchaikowsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, took top honours in the inaugural Janet Holmes a Court Terrace Proms Young Classical Performer of the Year Award. The adjudicators were Graham Wood and Jack Harrison.

© October 2003

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