A Scandalously “Inappropriate” Show to Remember

Interview by Sandra Buol

Pulp: You call it the “most daring concert yet” – what’s so special about this upcoming show of the Ensemble Apex?
Sam: As a new ensemble, we are working hard to establish ourselves in Sydney’s arts scene – and I believe this upcoming show will be the first performance of Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin by a student group in Australia. The music we will be presenting is challenging from both a performer and audience perspective, and while it is not necessarily “avant-garde”, it is however quite confronting at times with lots of extremely loud sounds and gratingly dissonant moments. Furthermore, it's no easy task to stage a ballet, especially with a tiny budget, so we are taking a big risk tackling this rarely performed 20th century ballet, as it will push both the musicians and dancers to their limits, as well as test our audience. By programming this I wanted to push the boundaries and bring Sydney a concert like no other – I hope the risk is worth it! Finally, this is a unique opportunity to see Bartok's music with dancers, as it is often performed as just music alone. 
Pulp: There will be live dancers on stage and the production is in association with the Sydney Dance Company. How did the idea for such a concert come about?
Sam: I was very fortunate to have attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts where I was lucky to have met the incomparable Nelson Earl. Nelson is a complete artist – not only a stunning dancer, but also an incredible actor and a damn fine electric bass player. I believe during his HSC he was one of the very few people that received the highest award for all three disciplines. Since forming Ensemble Apex in 2016, I have always been interested in creating interdisciplinary projects as a way to attract larger, more diverse audiences to classical music concerts. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I remember talking about The Miraculous Mandarin with Nelson almost two years ago – I think we are both shocked and excited that it’s just around the corner now!
Pulp: Both “Salome” and “The Miraculous Mandarin” caused quite a scandal when they premiered and even today the announcement contains a warning for younger viewers. What’s so “inappropriate” about this music?
Sam: Well, both works deal with quite heavy themes. Bartok’s Mandarin was banned after its first performance due to its content, which focuses on the seduction and manipulation of a young girl. Bartok’s music explores the notion of the primal human instinct. A huge orchestra with a big brass and percussion section elevates the larger parts of the music to a new level, so the sheer orchestral force paired with a confronting storyline makes for quite a memorable work. From a dance perspective our choreographer Nelson Earl says: “There is no scandal without the music. It forces its way into the room and has its way with you. It’s heated. And the choreography is defined by the artists I have chosen.”
Salome’s Dance comes from Richard Strauss’ timeless opera, Salome (based on a play by Oscar Wilde) and occurs just before the climax of the opera’s drama. Often this section of the opera is wildly erotic as Salome performs for King Herod. Musicologist Derek B Scott sums the music and action of this dance up beautifully when he writes, “the eroticism of the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ is encoded in the sensual richness of a huge orchestra, the quasi-Oriental embellishment of melody, and the devices of crescendo and quickening pace.”
Pulp: Also quite unusual: the concert is sponsored by Young Henry’s Brewery and there will be a complimentary drink for guests – is this an attempt to make chamber music more accessible for a younger audience?
Sam: As young musicians, we want to share our love for ‘classical’ music. Sadly, classical music often seems be seen as a symbol of status and wealth. My colleagues and I believe that classical music is, and always has been for the people and we want to break down the stigma attached to it. Our partnership with Young Henry’s helps to entice a wider demographic of concert-goers, and hopefully hook them on what is some really fantastic music. 
We think both pieces will be stirring for our audience and we can’t wait to share them with you.

The Miraculous Mandarin and the Dance of Seven Veils, 17 August, 19.30–21.30, Lower Town Hall, 483 George Street.
The concert is sold out. However, Ensemble Apex is offering fans of Pulp the chance to win tickets to this event. All they need to do is email ensembleapex@gmail.com with their full name and contact number.

Pulp Editors