Opening Gala 2022 (Australian Digital Concert Hall)

The streaming service formerly known as Melbourne Digital Concert Hall recently reinvented itself as the Australian Digital Concert Hall, a smart move that really shows just how central to the Australian arts they are becoming. Their work over the past two years has been absolutely outstanding, with an impressive roster of artists playing under the MDCH (now ADCH) banner in 2020 and 2021, and (that part is important!) always with a flawless audio experience and video. It was their opening gala of 2022, with live audiences at the Athenaeum Theater in Melbourne and, of course, streamed online for audiences across Australia – for example, I was watching from sunny Brisbane. With an interesting and diverse program that demonstrated how ADCH can work for all kinds of ensembles, this opening gala was an unequivocal success.

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Donald Nicolson (harpsichord) and Laura Vaughan (viola da gamba) at the Australian Digital Concert Hall 2022 Season Opening Gala. © Albert Comper.

After a brief word from ADCH co-director Adele Schonhardt, the actual performances began. Laura Vaughan (viola da gamba) and Donald Nicolson (harpsichord) came out on top, who sure know how to make this reviewer happy – start with a track with my name on it. Naturally, John Playford Paul’s steeple is a beautiful piece, with Vaughan’s upbeat melody developing into an exploratory set of variations on the two players’ original melody. Vaughan and Nicolson’s ensemble work is equally impressive, and watching them interact is half the fun. Then there were works originally for two prawns by Tobias Hume, which are lovely little oddities and still with typically odd titles. Here, Vaughan and Nicolson tweaked a pair of pieces that felt like a balm to recover from the onslaught of 2021 – My hope is rekindled and My joys are coming – in a compelling new gamba and harpsichord format. Their series concluded with an anonymous series of splits on Greensleeves, which again showcased both their tight interaction and virtuoso playing.

Leon Fei, an ADCH Next Generation artist, then took the stage for two movements of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major BWV1006. the Loure was well shaped, although I think some of the sentences could have breathed more, while the following Roundel Gavotte had a delicious flow to the dancing sixteenth notes.

Leon Fei performing at the Australian Digital Concert Hall 2022 Season Opening Gala

Leon Fei performing at the Australian Digital Concert Hall 2022 Season Opening Gala. © Albert Comper.

Finally, members of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra arrived for Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet Souvenir from Florence Op. 70. It was an incendiary performance, with every player seemingly giving at least 110%. The opening Allegro con spirito movement fired like a cannonball and maintained the same momentum throughout, while the long, flowing melodies of the next Adagio had an almost tactile richness. As much as I love the first two movements, it’s the (incredibly Russian) last two that stick in my mind – I’ll be whistling the melody of the last movement for days. Both of these movements were, once again, superbly executed, with first violin Natalia Harvey’s clear and crisp direction keeping each entry tight and crescendo well controlled.

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra performing at the Australian Digital Concert Hall 2022 Season Opening Gala. © Albert Comper.

If I had one extremely minor criticism, it’s that when streaming, there’s a real dead sense to switching performers, since you end up watching a stagehand come and go (I guess that’s is much less awkward in person). Perhaps a brief ADCH title card could come into play for those home at those times? Yet that tiny bit of remark takes nothing away from such a well-designed and diverse program that has demonstrated just how well the ADCH platform can work for chamber, solo, and large ensembles.

In the end, it was an evening of upbeat performances that celebrated what could (hopefully) still be a better year than the last. A fabulous start to the year for ADCH.

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