With social distancing policies introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in early March, hundreds of performances across the country were cancelled or postponed, creating a barren landscape for the Australian theatre, comedy, music, and dance scenes. The uncertainty has been devastating already but the changing circumstances have pushed some creatives into reimagining their art form. For the concert series Selby & Friends, a re-jig of the Let’s Get Personal program has taken advantage of the endless capabilities available in online recording and broadcasting.
Pianist Kathryn Selby was joined by friends from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, violinist and concertmaster Andrew Haveron and co-principal cellist Umberto Clerici, for a concert of the greats Mozart, Beethoven, and Dvořák. Performed live and recorded for audiences to enjoy in a video format, the concert is accompanied by a discussion with the performers about the selected pieces for additional information in lieu of a printed program.
The opening piano trio was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Trio No. 3 in B flat major, K. 502” which brought the concert to a bright skipping start with the familiar rhythm of the Marriage of Figaro. This rhythm was echoed from Selby’s piano on to Haveron’s violin with an almost breathy quality in an easy and smooth transition between the instruments of the trio. From this light start, the piece became heavier with a more serious and complicated tone in the second movement with a slow piano and drawn-out string sequences. The strings’ reverie was broken up beautifully with Selby’s reflective, moving miniature solos.
It only makes sense to include Ludwig van Beethoven’s version of a piano trio along with Mozart’s so the concert shifted in the second piece to Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 1 No. 1”. The first movement began with quite a pretty toing and froing in the rhythm that hinted, at moments, to the brasher drama expected of a Beethoven piece. In the second-half of the movement, in particular, the piano picked up a jovial melody that gets played with and tossed around until the end in an intriguing divergence from the heavy drama.
In the third movement, the piece doubled-down on the back and forth in the first and increased the intensity until the movement felt akin to a rollercoaster with rapid changes to direction from contrasting rhythms and unexpected turns. After such a lot of playfulness in the earlier movements, the fourth seemed to race toward the closing with a big flourishing finale.
After expecting a big Beethoven piece, the selected Antonín Dvořák “Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 ‘Dumky'” made the previous piece feel reserved. Over the six movements, the trio took the audience on a twisting and troubled emotional journey that only reached a semblance of clarity in the final moments. Clerici’s cello opened with a strong, whiny quality that, when joined by Haveron’s wailing violin, formed a mournful and strained movement which unexpectedly broke into a very uncomfortable near-jig. It painted the picture of a pained psyche at a loss, with disconcerted thoughts and desires struggle to be heard.
Later movements including the second and fourth continued the difficult tone of the first but with a fuller, move emotive sound that only built in intensity through the piece. In the final two movements, the discordance solidified into a clearer concern which appeared like an unsatisfactory relief to the troubles beforehand.
For three piano trio pieces played by the same performers the tone of each was remarkably different and concluded on a distinctly sombre note despite the quality of the playing.
There is no pretending that a video recording can replace the thrill of a live performance. On the practical level, your experience of the sound is entirely dependent on your available technology but there’s also that something special about being together that the performing arts community thrives on and is irreplaceable. With these restraints in mind, the quality of the Let’s Get Personal recording is exceptional. From the graphics, to the extensive content in the Behind the Scenes video, to the intimate shots of the playing (especially watching a close-ups of Selby’s fingers rolling along the piano keys), Selby & Friends has provided a wonderful alternative to their season’s suspension.
Additionally, the concert format is much more accessible in the online recording as a ticket purchases you unlimited viewing access to watch, pause, or replay at your leisure and amongst the other items on your schedule. This innovation not only gives the regular audience their musical fix, but opens the doors to other audience members, as well.
Until we have a clearer idea of the future of the performing arts in Australia, it’s these kind of initiatives and formats that allow at least a semblance of the revival of this vibrant arts community and they should be supported and enjoyed with the same enthusiasm as live performances.
Let’s Get Personal is available to watch from May 2nd – 12th at the Selby & Friends website