Music review: Hidden Thoughts I: Do I matter?, Southbank Centre

MSO’s Hidden Thoughts season is celebrating music’s ability to tell stories that move and inspire us.
Hidden Thoughts. MSO. A white woman with long straight greying hair and glasses is looking slightly up and to the right with a big smile. She stands in front of a wall covered in wooden boards and wears a leather jacket.

The 2024 Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) season celebrates stories and the Orchestra’s ability to bring them to life. Katy Abbott’s series Hidden Thoughts is being presented throughout the season, boldly bringing private thoughts into the public arena. The first in the series, Hidden Thoughts I: Do I Matter?, programmed alongside Richard Meale’s Incredible Floridas, invited reflection on what it means to hear dark or absurd thoughts aloud and how they can bring audiences together.

The text of Hidden Thoughts I was a libretto curated from answers to an anonymous survey created by Abbott, asking women to share their hidden thoughts. Before entering the theatre, the audience was invited to submit their own, which were also incorporated into the show that day.

This resulted in a powerful performance, filled with trepidation from the audience, who perhaps feared their own thoughts would be read aloud, and awkward laughs as embarrassing internal monologues were turned into something powerful by MSO and the vocal ensemble, The Consort of Melbourne.

MSO percussionist and curator of Hidden Thoughts I, Rob Cossom, skilfully led the MSO chamber musicians. Anne-Marie Johnson on violin/viola was particularly impressive, with an undeniable presence and clear connection to the libretto.

They were joined by The Consort of Melbourne on vocals and bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor, who shone with a bass line specifically composed for him.

Chamber musicians occasionally joined in the vocal work, perhaps in an attempt to further integrate the vocal ensemble and chamber musicians. However, this resulted in a disjointed sound and uneven quality, particularly with microphones only on The Consort of Melbourne.

While there were deeply moving parts of the performance, the program comprising both Hidden Thoughts I and Meale’s Incredible Floridas felt unconnected, with the beauty of Abbott’s piece at odds with Meale’s abrasive and avant-garde work.

Despite this, the execution of both pieces was exceptional. In Incredible Floridas, the musicians captured the intensity of Meale’s composition, while allowing the audience to find order in the otherwise chaotic score.

Overall, Hidden Thoughts I managed to showcase the power of music to celebrate all kinds of stories, from the mundane thoughts of a chin hair to reflections on the shame women often feel about their own bodies and living with regret.

Read: Exhibition review: Mac Hewitt, Ellen Giannikos, Andrew Anka, Anthony Jackman, Gerard Russo, SOL Gallery

With the next instalment of Hidden Thoughts to be presented on 1 August 2024, audiences of Do I Matter? are sure to wonder if their own hidden thoughts will be incorporated and turned into something beautiful.

Hidden Thoughts I: Do I Matter?
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with The Consort of Melbourne
Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre

Composer: Katy Abbott
Composer: Richard Meale (Incredible Floridas)
Conductor: Leonard Weiss

Curator/Percussion: Rob Cossom
Musicians: Anne-Marie Johnson, Michelle Wood, Taryn Clarke, Philip Arkinsall, Louise Breen
Vocal ensemble: The Consort of Melbourne

Hidden Thoughts I: Do I Matter? was performed at Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre on Sunday 21 April 2024. Hidden Thoughts II will be performed on 1 August 2024.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.