Adelaide Festival Review: Zorn in Oz: Classical Marathon

Zorn in Oz

John Zorn’s got rhythm, music, subtlety, intelligence and dignity and us mere mortals wouldn’t dream of asking for anything more…

Zorn in Oz
Presented by Adelaide Festival
Reviewed 12 March 2014

At risk of getting ahead of myself (mid-way through the Zorn-a-thon), I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb to say that John Zorn’s got rhythm; he’s got music. Whilst us mere mortals wouldn’t dream of asking for anything more, Zorn’s Classical Marathon on Wednesday evening demonstrated he was also not standing behind the door when they were handing out subtlety, intelligence and dignity.

Contemporary classical music specialists Elision Ensemble took no wrong turns opening with A Rebours. Harbingers Séverine Ballon (cello) and Paula Rae (flute) had an early tête-à-tête giving way to Peter Neville’s timpani, Eugene Ughetti’s pan cymbals and Matthias Schack-Arnott’s wind-turbine-sounding ‘whirly’. Powerful silences met more powerful fortissimo, which tumbled into the serene and intense cello solos by the captivating Ballon.

At this point, Zorn snuck into the otherwise empty second row to watch the rest of the show, and, apart from the trademark cammos, looked every bit an inconspicuous audience member.

Carl Rosman and Richard Haynes presented the fabulous bass clarinet duo, Sortilége. At times acting as each other’s bass line against dramatic themes, they showed there might actually be something in their foretelling skills.

Haynes, switching back to clarinet, joined Graeme Jennings (violin), Erkki Veltheim (viola), Rae and Neville, for Bateau Ivre, as the latter exhibited an extraordinary mouth-on-xylophone technique, the technical name of which eludes me. The trill-tastic thrilling tale aptly depicted all-is-lost-boat-at-sea drifts, and the de-tuning re-tuning cello and sad harmonic ending left a breathtaking and not insubstantial sinking feeling.

Jennings and Ballon were a delight to watch for the deliciously furious and hauntingly tranquil Zeitgehoft, with bowing so fast, fire extinguishers were poised off stage.

Opening with a dreamlike ethereality, the Temptations of St Anthony quickly turned to turmoil (centaurs and satyrs’ll do that), as Ysolt Clark’s horn boldly juxtaposed cracking soloist Stephen Gosling’s piano.

The Adelaide Zornphony Orchestra opened the second half with the sort of stuff fairy tales are made of, performing Contes des Fées. Soloist Jennings shone, as folk themes attempted to break through the sweetest of melodies. Following this, the ballooning strings of the ASO delivered the exquisite beauty of Kol Nidre, reflecting every etzba of Judaic solemnity available from the rich traditions.

The fantastic and dramatic conclusion with a full ASO presenting Suppôts et Supplications, delivered themes of mystical incantations, malevolence and searing strings, and left the audience stunned before rapturous applause.

At show’s end, Zorn jumped over chairs (Roberto-Benigni-at-Oscars-style) to affectionately grapple David Fulmer who directed an exceptional evening with the military precision of the shinkansen, and the empathy of a kindred composer and soloist.

There’s more Zorn where that came from… two shows left.

Reviewed by Gordon Forester

Venue: Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 11-14 March 2014
Duration: 2 hours
Tickets: $30 – $450
Bookings: Book through BASS online or phone 131 246


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