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Review: Australian Brandenburg Orchestra's Notre Dame at the Melbourne Recital Centre

Updated: Mar 1

Review by Mish Graham

The Melbourne recital Centre is a stunning venue and makes you feel like you could be deep under the earth in a Cooper Pedy art gallery. The acoustics in the space are so rich that the sound seems to surround you, making this the perfect venue for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra's Notre Dame. The stage is set with an orchestra, 30 or so strong. At the back of the stage, a projection in the shape of a stain glass window carries us through varied images that project the narrative and loss of during the Paris fire of Notre Dame.

Beautifully expressed through poetic prose, vivid orchestral arrangements and heavenly vocals, the spectrum of human emotions were portrayed in a brave and innovative way. Using humour and melody to draw us in, it is a beautiful journey worth taking. We follow, like a linear- anchor, the story of an Australian engine who arrives at the Notre Dame the same day as the fire occurs. As they unexpectedly experience the fresh excitement, curiosity, mystery, shock, horror and utter brokenness of that day. 

The storytelling of such a historically impacting event is a huge feat, so the light and shade of the performance was comforting. The musicians were undone in their wardrobe and reminded me of the violinists from the Titanic, as it was going down. Perhaps these all were witnesses to the flames and so took to their instruments furiously, in order to swiftly get the grief out of themselves. Sometimes art is all that there is; all that makes sense to us. 

Every moment was intentional, from the dynamic relationship of the actors to the 1923 clips projected onto the stain glass window of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story of the old bells and how the hunchback he loved them, combined with the beautiful ringing of these bells right before us was enthralling. 

It is less than a month that I was in Paris standing before the Notre Dame. I has seen it as it was but visiting this year was the first time viewing it since the devastation. Somehow this show seemed strangely personal because of my connection to Paris. The way it stands now, all efforts are going toward mending and healing. Mending the building and healing the hearts of the people. All I can think about coming away from this performance is how we, as humans, become so attached to architecture. Of course, in our minds we know “it’s just a building” yet somehow at the same time, it is so much more than that.

For me, this performance was far more cathartic than seeing the building for myself. I think that’s because in that hall I had the time and space to grieve it. I was not looking at the seemingly empty sadness of tourists on a ramp in Paris, trying to take photos of the scaffolding around the building. This performance felt more about the people, the stories, and the community because the pain was explained and unpacked and expressed through Symphony. Maybe this is the best way to express grief. 

Image Supplied


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