Australian Chamber Orchestra with Tim Freedman of the Whitlams

2003 National Concert Season, Australian Chamber Orchestra
by Carolyn Hughes

One of the joys of going to a classical concert is the people watching. After the experience of trying to park the car and make it to the Concert Hall on time (tip: allow 90 minutes), it was a ‘who’s who’ and ‘who’s that?’ in the foyer with lots of coiffured people in designer clothes and tasteful jewellery, and a few who clearly were into the “dress-down” style in old cargo pants and singlet. There will always be some with no sense of occasion.

Fashion policing over, and time to take my seat. Well, I took someone else’s seat. A lovely lady offered me the spare seat next to her because it was better than the one I had. Bless. And so began a lovely evening in the company of strangers. There was a gruff gentleman behind me who was somewhat bewildered as to who exactly Tim Freedman was. He also had doubts about the coupling of Freedman and the ACO as a way of exposing classical music to a larger audience. He was a bit like the churlish voiceover that accompanies the Eurovision Song Contest. However the woman beside me gave me approving nods and was glad of the combination of ACO and Freedman, despite being 70 if she was a day. As for me, I surprised both of them by saying that I was there to see Tognetti and didn’t know much about this Freedman fellow. I thought that Freedman was going to have to be really good to be a match for the ACO. I mean, this wasn’t the Big Day Out, it was the QPAC Concert Hall, where serious stuff happens.

All hush. Tognetti walks on stage, all in black, apart from the blond hair, upstaging even his 1759 JB Guadgnini violin. He likes the light and he likes it lime. Tognetti strives for excellence and his solo is totally captivating, delicate and intense. I was enraptured for the first half of the program, and one of the delights of a relatively small orchestra is being able to look at and appreciate each member for what they have to give. While there was no doubt Tognetti led the orchestra, Helena Rathbone on Principal Second Violin was also very good, as was Emma-Jane Murphy on Principal Cello. Maxime Bibeau on Principal Bass had a beautifully rich sound, which was regrettably somewhat lost in the second half.

The pieces chosen for the first half went together well, none of them dominated, all were enjoyable. Tognetti’s arrangement of Paganini’s Deviance (on Caprice No. 24) was sharp, as was Szymanowski’s String Quartet No. 2 Op. 56. As always, the arrangements and execution were interesting, alive, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

After a refreshing vodka lime and dry at the bar during interval, it was time to see Freedman step up to the challenge of joining the ACO on stage. I wouldn’t be in his boots for quids. After all, Tognetti is just as much a star, with all the charisma of any leader of a rock band, even more. Will there be room for two onstage?

Freedman arrives to thunderous applause. My bellicose gentleman companion wryly observes “Oh yes, that’s what they’re all here for”, and undoubtedly Freedman’s name on the program did draw in people who love The Whitlams.He is witty and has an obvious rapport with Tognetti, and the two have an odd chemistry that really works.

No Aphrodisiac never sounded better with Tognetti’s orchestral introduction and arrangement, and Freedman’s vocals started at just the right time in just the right timbre. Kate Kelly, off the new Whitlams album, Torch the Moon, is truly memorable. Freedman’s lyrics are poetic without trying too hard, and have a natural and relaxed feel that complemented the music. Out the Back, also off the Torch the Moon album, benefits from an arrangement by Peter Sculthorpe, which I found exciting, likewise for Ease of the Midnight Visit, which was funny and sad.

By the end I thought that Freedman and Tognetti were oddly complementary. Freedman’s sad songs are given more breadth and depth, and his easy voice goes over them and into the string accompaniments charmingly. But I still couldn’t keep my eyes off Tognetti. The sheer exhilaration with which he moves with the music and his playing was no match for Freedman sitting at a piano. I thought more than once that a man of Tognetti’s talent and beauty must surely have made a pact with devil. However, I am assured he still has both his soul and his first-born, so I can only assume that his gifts are god-given and refined by his own efforts.

John Adams (composer of Christian Zeal and Activity (1973/76)) from the first half of the program writes that “Whenever serious art loses track of its roots in the vernacular, then it begins to atrophy”. Neither the ACO nor Freedman risk atrophying – they are both artists who move with ease between classical and contemporary music, because they take both equally seriously. The woman beside me agrees that it is important to combine the two, for the artists as well as for the audience, even if the fellow behind us was appalled at the appearance of the drum kit and thought the whole thing “dreadful” and “if these people are seeing classical music for the first time they won’t be back”.

The gentleman behind me was wrong. When I walked out of the Concert Hall, what I wanted to hear more of was the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and I will definitely be back.

Tim Freedman meets the ACO
Director Richard Tognetti

Arvo Pärt (arr. Tognetti) Fratres
John Adams Christian Zeal and Activity
Paganini/Tognetti Deviance (on Caprice No. 24)
Szymanowski (arr. Tognetti) String Quartet No.2
Freedman No Aphrodisiac (arr. Tognetti)
Darwin Song (arr. Denholm) Cries Too Hard (arr. Denholm)
Kate Kelly (arr. Denholm)
Breathing You In (arr. Denholm)
Out The Back (arr. Sculthorpe)
The Ease of the Midnight Visit (arr. Sculthorpe)
Buy Now, Pay Later (Charlie No.2) (arr. Dean)