Presented by Elder Hall 2010 Concert Series
Reviewed Sat 24th July 2010
Venue: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, North Terrace
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
In an unusual weekend, I found myself at Elder Hall on both days for two very different concerts. The first concert was an evening of six, mostly newer works for wind ensemble. The award winning orchestra is led by Eastman School of Music graduate, Robert Hower, who conducted two of the works, with guest, Timothy Reynish, from the UK, conducting the other four.
Vranjanka, by Kenneth Hesketh, opened the programme with Reynish conducting. A Serbian folksong, Šano Dušo, was the starting point for this work and, after a remarkably intricate opening section, the dance tune melody appears, with an increase in tempo, and then undergoes a number of variations. The standard of the orchestra was clear right from the start as they negotiated all of the complexities of this work with skill and understanding.
The more familiar sounds of flowing melodies and conventional harmonies in Colonial Song by Percy Grainger followed. The orchestra, this time under Robert Hower’s baton, brought out the folk song inspired richness of the work with its tone poem atmosphere. The is a wonderful warmth in their playing of this piece.
At this point the stage was completely rearranged for the next piece where the orchestra is divided into two sections that face one another across the stage. During this time we were given a commentary on the work while several of the orchestra members played sections to illuminate the short talk. Unfortunately, this was lost on those of us some distance from the stage who simply could not hear what was said. A microphone would be a good idea if this sort of thing is to be done in future concerts.
Farewell, by Welshman, Adam Gorb, is a stark piece with strong hints of Stravinsky at times, both in style and orchestration. It begins with a series of short thematic elements, suggestions of Klezmer and a wide range of dynamics that really stretch the orchestra to its fullest as they pass the music to and fro across the stage between the two sections. Eventually they merge and the music builds in intensity to an exciting climax. The orchestra, under Reynish’s guidance, responds to the challenge of this work with a stunning performance that belies its difficulty.
Following the interval alto-saxophonist, Chris Soole, joins the orchestra and conductor, Robert Hower, for Concertango, by Spaniard, Luis Serrano Alarcón, also featuring a jazz trio, made up of members of the orchestra, and the prominent use of the Cajón Flameco, played by percussionist, Gina Chadderton. One cannot help but see the influence of Leonard Bernstein’s music for West Side Story at times in this work and, of course, that of Astor Piazzola, the Argentinean master of the tango. This piece gives the orchestra a chance to swing and to display their ability to clearly convey the beauty of this dance form.
Timothy Reynish returned to conduct the last two pieces, beginning with Kenneth Hesketh’s Diaghelev Dances, a tribute to the great composers who wrote for the Ballet Russes. This piece, rich in possibilities, cries out for a choreographer. The various dances, with a distinct folk feel to them, are even more complex than they sound, and they sound complex. There is some notably good work from flutes and tuned percussion in this piece.
Hungarian composer, György Ránki, turned to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy story that we know better as The Emperor’s New Clothes as the basis for a children’s opera. From this he took some of the music, as other composers have done with their works, to create orchestral suites, and we heard the Suite No. 2 from King Pomade’s New Clothes. This is an exciting work with a wealth of variation and inventiveness and proved a popular finale to the evening.
One of the noticeable attributes of this ensemble is the precision of the percussion section allied with a sensitive approach to their playing within the group. All too often with wind and brass ensembles the percussion tends to dominate, but that is not a problem here. The entire ensemble, in fact, has been well rehearsed by Hower and the balance between all of the sections and soloists is consistently first rate.
There were some superb solos as well, especially from Amy Iveson on cor Anglais and, with a full rich tone, the flugelhorn playing of trumpeter, Rachel Downey who, I later learned, has only just begun to play the instrument. She would be well advised to continue as she seems to have an affinity for it. Anna Butterss, on double bass, was also notable throughout, especially in Concertango as part of the jazz trio, and pianist Christian Lian-Lloyd also impressed during the evening.
It was, however, the ensemble work that made this concert something special. This is a highly disciplined and committed group of musicians who are lucky to have such a fine, international standard musical director at their helm. It was also a pleasure to hear so much work that falls outside the usual wind ensemble fare, so often encountered with other groups, of arrangements of orchestral pieces or simpler, less interesting pieces that do not advance the musical life of either the musicians or the audience. This was a thoroughly rewarding evening.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.