Concert review of Sydney Symphony Orchestra


The audience were buzzing last night as they exited the Concert Hall of Sydney Opera House, highly satisfied with lots of wonderful things to say. It was an almost full house with high school students joining the regular crowd and tourists for a concert from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Many great comments were about the return of guest conductor from Sweden, Ola Rudner. A tall, slim figure brimming with energy and humour, Rudner didn’t mess around, striding onto the stage and launching straight into the music for which the orchestra was well prepared.

They opened the program with a piece not so frequently heard nor recorded but one which should be far more frequently so. Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” is a medley of 5 localised folk tunes. Galánta was a small area based around a train stop between Budapest and Vienna where Kodály spent his childhood and his father was the station master. Kodály remembers during those early years a famous Gypsy band whose passionate playing highly influenced him. Decades later, as an established composer, he was inspired by an Hungarian folk song book which brought back for him all those wonderful tunes from the Gypsy band. The pieces were of the “verbunkos” style. These are very masculine and designed to inspire young soldiers using slow, powerful rhythms for the senior officers, then fast paced, flashy, syncopated rhythms for the younger men to demonstrate their strength and virility.

Conductor Ola Rudner concert reviews in Sydney Australia
Guest conductor Ola Rudner with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra August 2023

Conductor Rudner squeezed every tiny scrap of passionate emotion out of the orchestra through his interpretation, using his full physique and facial expressions. You could see the musicians enjoying themselves and rising to the occasion, sometimes even physically off their chairs. There were some magical phrases for French horn, then oboe and flute with glockenspiel. The clarinet was especially highlighted simulating the traditional woodwind instrument, Tárogató, which would accompany soldiers off to war.

There were lots of syncopated rhythms and another moment of magic where the orchestra rises to a wild crescendo then stops mid-flight. This might be written as a pause but Rudner held it until all remnants of the echo had dissolved in the concert hall before moving on. Fantastic! The audience gave bold applause as the conductor bounced off the stage allowing the crew to reset.

They were making way for world class horn player, Stefan Dohr from Germany. Dohr splits his time between Principal horn for the Berlin Philharmonic and travelling the world performing as a concert soloist across Europe, UK, Canada, America, Asia and the Pacific. His work was the Horn Concerto No. 2 by Richard Strauss. It’s a curious piece, written in Vienna during the depths of World War II despair yet, feeling light and humorous. Apparently it all fell out on the page within a week or two, perhaps formed in the subconscious beforehand.

The work begins with strong clear notes for the horn and the strings in the background mulling around. In comparison to the bold Gypsy rhythms of the previous piece, the Horn Concerto composition felt messy to begin with but soon settled down to a more luscious orchestration. There were parts where the horn was playing so very softly and the violins even softer. Great credit to all players involved, gentle and loving as a lullaby. The third “Allegro molto” movement became as skittish as a kitten bouncing around, telling us a story like a child, then rising in a joyous celebration to close. Dohr had many curtain calls for his marvellous performance.

After interval, the full orchestra was in attendance for the title piece of the concert, Dvorak’s wonderful Symphony No. 7. Written in his middle years, Dvorak held a strong intention to make a symphony great enough to move the world. First inspiration hit as he was in a train station in Prague (nice little link with Kodály) watching a festive train arrive from the east of Budapest. It was filled with people coming to attend a concert supporting their push-back against the political oppression they were dealing with at the time. As a true patriot he felt compelled to support this push back himself and found, like Strauss in the previous piece, the music poured out with the first movement completed within less than a week.

The four movements carry the audience on an emotional journey zig zagging between drama and calm, sometimes deep underground, other times soaring through the sky. The whole woodwind section had plenty to do with particular emphasis on, once again, the clarinet and flute. Rudner felt like he was very familiar with the work, enough to push the tempi around adding further richness to the experience. The crowd adored the concert as a whole and many curtain calls were demanded before they finally calmed down enough to leave.

This concert will be repeated 20 August 2023 as a matinee at 2pm. Head down to the Sydney Opera House and get yourself a ticket. It’s a five star concert.


Dances of Galánta  1933 – Zoltán Kodály

Horn Concerto No. 2  1943 – Richard Strauss

Symphony No. 7  1885 – Antonín Dvorák

Featured Guests

Conductor – Ola Rudner

French Horn – Stefan Dohr

What’s next from the Sydney Symphony?

More about Ola Rudner

More about Stefan Dohr

More about Kodály’s Dances of Galánta