Adelaide Festival. Somewhere fleetingly. At different times. 5 Mar 2021
Of all strange places for an intimate classical music encounter - Adelaide Oval?
Other people’s reports of 1:1 Concerts have indicated leafy, romantic locations. I was expecting some place verdant.
I suppose, with the sprinklers arcing over the preened green of the playing field, one could call that finely tended Adelaide Oval lawn as verdant. In its way. But it is not what one had envisioned.
To attend these one-on-one Festival concerts, one is met and guided to the secret location of the day. They change, as do the musicians. No one will have quite the same experience. It is one audience member and one musician. One at a time. I am not a music critic but this piece of programming promised something irresistibly “else”. I felt privileged to get a ticket.
So, my guide is an Adelaide Oval volunteer called Trevor, a charming retired headmaster of the Roseworthy school. Along the cool eaves of the eastern side of the oval, he leads me. We talk of how cricketers speak of the Cathedral End of the oval even though the Cathedral is no longer visible, while footballers call it the "northern end". As a pioneer female footy columnist, I remark that it was ever the scoreboard end. And Trevor tells me that the grand old scoreboard, still in use, has been there since 1911.
And, suddenly, there we are, under that famous old Federation scoreboard.
I am introduced to Hannah from the Festival who runs me through the 1:1 ground rules. Phone off. This is a non-verbal encounter. You will not speak to the musician. The musician will not speak to you. No clapping, either.
And now we will go up some stairs.
Hannah leads me up some slightly alarming metal stairs out the back of the scoreboard. And then up some more vertiginous stairs. Suddenly, we are inside the scoreboard. It is a most interesting enclosed space into which daylight streams cautiously through cracks and a narrow slit of a window looking out onto the bright expanse of oval.
What a mysteriously handsome old room it is with its knotty old floorboards silken with wear over its century of use.
Huge coloured plates bearing numbers are on the walls and on the floor.
A young man sits with a cello in a squared space among the numbers.
Hannah indicates my seat opposite him and withdraws.
He gazes at me and locks eyes. He is not, not smiling. His expression is placid, inscrutable. I let go of my big “hello” smile. Try to find a reciprocal expression. I wonder how he is feeling about this? The idea is that he, in locking eyes with me, will somehow sense the sort of music which suits this stranger. I wonder what he sees in me. Could he discern that I adore the cello? I grew up on Pablo Casals. I love deep, mellow musical tones and retreat from shrill or strident tones of voice and instrument. I also adore Baroque music and despise atonal modern composition. As my uncle used to say, “she loves a baroque bun and a cup of rococo”. These are my meditations as we sit there eye-to-eye.
His face is beautiful, sensitive and intelligent. It reminds me of the young Philip Lehmann from the Barossa.
We seem to be sitting there in silence for an aeon.
Then, he raises his bow and begins to play, oh such lovely low notes. And I can study the strings, vibrations, fingering and, oh yes, his musical intensity and expertise. This anonymous cellist is highly skilled. And, as he thrills me with some lovely baroque snippets, he starts to improvise and show me what the instrument can do, what less conventional sounds it can make, indeed, how shrill it can be if one teases it thus. As he plays with the high notes, I find that I have slipped involuntarily into a defensive posture. He does not seem to notice. He is engrossed with his instrument. And he coaxes even more exotic sounds from it before moving into some modern score which seems familiar but I can’t identify. Finally, another bit of virtuoso strings-manship after which he puts down his bow and looks into my eyes again. Just a nod. That’s it. Performance over.
I put my hands together in a motion of thanks and rise to find Hannah right behind me ready to lead me back into the daylight.
I am asked to fill in a form giving my impressions of the experience. My brain is a shambles of unready.
Hanna delivers to me a note from the cellist. His name is David Moran. My program was Bach, improvisation, Britten, improvisation. Ah. I’ve never liked Britten.
But I did so very much like David Moran and that weird and wonderful place.
So, what did I think?
This 1:1 encounter has been altogether other-worldly. It has been a joy of extraordinary incongruity. My senses are soaked and unsettled by the voyage of musical history; from traditional classical to contemporary. It is a bit like the scoreboard itself, more than a century of changing styles.
I wished I could have taken a photograph. What a sight it was, the cellist in the belly of the scoreboard among yesterday’s excitement of its boards of numbers.
But I realise that the image is indelibly committed to mind’s eye. So rare, unimaginable, and utterly unrepeatable. Mine alone. I tuck it away to treasure for ever.
And I bless the Festival for this extraordinary gift.
When: At Different Times
Where: Somewhere fleetingly