24 January 2012


We’ve reached the last day for this year’s Australian Youth Orchestra Music Camp. For the students, the mood must be lively and tinged with just a touch of sadness at parting, but there are still a full afternoon of concerts, from three orchestras, all recorded and one broadcast live to ABC FM. Farewells and tears can wait. I feel the mood of the music is getting lighter and more accessible. It’s not a change that I prefer, but so be it. More on that for the later concert. The afternoon, though, is interesting and varied.

The Nelson Cooke Chamber Orchestra played the first two pieces. First was resident composition tutor Iain Grandage’s Wild geese (2011). It’s an evocation of the Catalpa Rescue, the 1876 escape of six Irish Fenian prisoners from the then British penal colony in Western Australia. It’s quite short and unsettling piece, starting pregnant with expectation and proceeding through massed attacks and imploring strings. Then to Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia no.4 in C minor (1821). What a prodigy he must have been. This work was written at aged 12 as a compositional exercise and only published in 1959. This is a mix of baroque and classicism: contrapuntal lines ending in long unison segments; a pensive and aristocratic middle movement, and a final movement with some fabulous deep lines of bass and cello, then to finish with the whole ensemble playing ornamented lines in unison. Enlivening for musicians and audience.

The Bishop Orchestra followed with an unconducted performance of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni (1787). This work moves between D minor and D major to convey the story of the seducer Don G. I heard it as argumentative and enticing in various parts, which fits the story of lust and retribution. One description was the “terrors of the sinner’s life” although there was quite a deal of pleasure mingled in there, too, and this remains a light an enticing piece and certainly not in the realms of the Russians. The orchestra ended with smiles and a certain confidence, so obviously they enjoyed the performance. The Bishop then welcomed William Conway to conduct Bartok’s Hungarian Pictures (1931). This is the Hungarian folk tradition entered into the classical repertoire. Interesting for its use of alternative tonalities, like the whole tone scale and pentatonics which each appear here. There are butterflies and pastoral scenes; there is busy-ness and the unsettled harmony of the whole tone scale; there are huge crescendos and bustling strings; there is lushness and bouncing rhythms and bows; there are dances and transcribed folk melodies. Modernism through reversion to arcadia.

After the interval, we retired to the Llewellyn dress circle. You’ll see the different views in the pics here. I’ve seldom seen it much used, but it was the haunt of the musicians at the AYO events. The experience is hugely different from the front rows. In the front rows you share the experience with the performers: everything’s intense and local; the sound surrounds you and changes directions with different instruments; you see some musos and miss others. The dress circle is the experience of the critic and recording engineer. The sound is more unified and gathered, less intense and immediate, quieter but perhaps purer. The view is all encompassing, so you see the back rows of the strings and the brass and woodwinds and they all become identifiable and more part of the experience rather than just tones emanating from out back somewhere.

So this is how we heard the Alexander Orchestra for the second Mozart overture of this concert, this time to the Marriage of Figaro. This is well known music, of course: easy to comprehend, eminently lyrical and masterfully structured. But bigger was Schubert’s Symphony no.8 in B minor, his Unfinished symphony. The first two movements were completed, but the third, scherzo, movement was left unfinished. I remember it especially for the sorrowful bass theme starts the work and recurs in basses and other instrument. The Alexander finished the night with Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks. It’s a jovial and light-hearted series of settings - jumpy, tricky, whimsical and somewhat naughty – that resolve (almost) at the end with Till’s death by hanging. Mmm … folk tales can be anguished.

So ended the penultimate concert of the AYO music camp series. The Nelson Cooke Chamber Orchestra was led by concertmaster Mats Zetterqvist and performed Iain Grandage’s Wild geese and Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia no.4 in C minor. The Bishop Orchestra performed Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni under concertmaster Elena Phatak and Bartok’s Hungarian Pictures under conductor William Conway. The Alexander Orchestra performed Mozarts’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro under concertmaster Glenn Christensen and Schubert’s Symphony no.8 in B minor (“Unfinished”) and Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks under conductor Christopher Seaman.

No comments: