Review: Starry Starry Night at the Utzon Room

By Hamish Stening


The world of classical music is full of barriers to entry both for listeners and performers. Because of this, it was lovely to see an independent company have access to the Opera House’s historic Utzon Room and provide a sweet evening of easy listening to a crowd normally priced out of Opera House performances.


Andrew Kennedy (clarinet), Anna Rutkowska-Schock (piano) and Andrew O’Connor (baritone) designed and performed an unconventional yet easy-to-listen-to program ranging from Schumann art songs to a Brahms sonata to a rearrangement of Don MacLean’s “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)”. Though tone and intonation were early concerns, as the performers settled, the music did improve.


O’Connor’s voice was at times inconsistent and much better suited to English than German, but his voice was rich and made sure to tell a story with each song. He brought sweetness, darkness and humour to Bennett’s takes on classic nursery rhymes, and brought the necessary crispness yet sensibility needed for Eric Whitacre’s “Night Camp”.


Rutkowska-Schock interacted well with the other musicians, but at times struggled to make the piano sing. Chords often did not have the weight or warmth the composers had hoped for and frequently phrases lacked direction. That being said, there were moments of genuine beauty, they were just too far and few between. It is never easy to accompany singers or clarinet players – to sound beautiful in your own right without overshadowing or overpowering the other musicians – but I would have loved for the piano to be more assertive: to soar when it had the opportunity to; to dictate the emotion and tone of songs as its polyphony and fullness better allows.


Ultimately where this concert unravelled was its price point, which at $58 plus an $8.50 Opera House booking fee, is over-priced for the quality of the performance.


Kennedy should be commended for putting together this concert and making music more accessible, but his clarinet playing was not quite up to the standard hoped for going into the concert. There were issues in tone and pitch, and it felt as though he was constantly fighting with the music. That may sound harsh, but at this price audiences members could see one or two SSO concerts, and so I have to compare Kennedy to Sydney’s very top musicians, a tough feat.


Overall, this concert was sweet and quaint, and fantastic for those just getting into classical music or looking for some easy listening. It probably wouldn’t have satisfied the ultra-purists, but that also wasn’t really whom the concert was aimed at. If you have never seen the beautiful Utzon room Hourglass Ensemble’s next concert

(https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on/classical-music/2019/everything-i-touch.html) may be the perfect opportunity to do so, and if you do want to start seeing classical music concerts, this may be a good starting point for you.


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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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