Maestro Concert 2 – From Russia with Love

Presented by Adelaide Youth Orchestras
Reviewed Sunday 3rd June 2012

For their second Maestro Series concert of the year the Adelaide Youth Orchestra, under guest conductor, Luke Dollman, took love as its theme. Having started his career as a violinist, Dollman is now an internationally recognised, award winning and highly respected conductor. The combined mention of love and Russia in the title refers to Prokofiev and his orchestral suites adapted from his score for the ballet based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which formed the second half of the performance.

The concert began, though, with Australian composer, Peter Sculthorpe’s (b. 1929), well known and popular piece, Kakadu (1988). This work is named after the Kakadu National Park and is his personal response to the sights, sounds, flora, fauna, plus the Aboriginal history, culture, art, dance, and particularly the music of the region. Kakadu is the German for cockatoo, but the name of the park is actually a mispronunciation of Gaagudju, an Aboriginal language of the area. The music, like the region, is enormously varied, from vast, sweeping crescendos, to almost transparent pianissimo passages, and the strings imitating the raucous sounds of a flock of cockatoos.

The orchestra gave a superb rendition of this work, conjuring up visions of huge rock faces, barren areas, various birds, creatures familiar and rarely seen, and the people who have lived there for around 40-50,000 years and who are as much a part of the place as the rocks themselves. There is a clear understanding of the depth of meaning in this work that can be heard in the playing, aside from the technical excellence of the performance. This was a magnificent way to start a concert.

Next came the Australian première of English composer Allan Stephenson’s (b. 1949) Concertino for piccolo, string orchestra and harpsichord, with 20 year old Helen Seppelt, Adelaide Youth Orchestra flautist, as piccolo soloist. There are many major works for orchestra with solo instruments such as the violin, piano, clarinet, and flute, but a few instruments, like the piccolo, are generally overlooked, which makes this work something of a rarity. This is a most unusual piece, not simply because it features the piccolo but because of its style. While the majority of contemporary composers are looking for new ways, new sounds, new means of expression, Stephenson has reverted to conventional structures, harmonies, rhythms, and very lyrical melodies. Listening to his music is somewhat akin to taking a trip back in time.

Helen Seppelt capably demonstrates that the piccolo, in the hands of a talented musician, is more than able to handle the demands of a concerto and that it is not just an instrument to be used for certain effects in brief passages in an orchestral work. The three movements, Allegro amabile, Molto lento, and Marcia – Allegretto allow her to show the versatility of the instrument. From a bright and lively first movement, to a flowing, cantabile second movement, and then to the brisk march, Seppelt demonstrates just how versatile the piccolo can be.

Her marvellous virtuosity is one part of this work, but there is a great contribution made by the orchestra, who captured the feel of the piece superbly, investing in that odd juxtaposition of a modern work that harks back to the Baroque. This was such a huge contrast to the first piece and the orchestra showed how well they can switch dramatically between styles.

The interval was followed by selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Romeo & Juliet, Suites No 1 and No 2. Written first as a ballet score, that was deemed to difficult to dance to, he rewrote it as the orchestral suites. This music proved immediately popular and, at last, another company took on the task of creating a ballet to his original score and it has now become a firm part of the dance repertoire. The three orchestral suites present moments from the ballet. The eight selections in this concert have been taken from the first two and the order of movements rearranged, opening with one of the most famous ballet themes, Montagues and Capulets, or Dance of the Knights, from Act 1 Scene 2 of the ballet. This was a rousing beginning to the second half of the concert.

This romantic music covers a vast emotional landscape and a variety of musical styles, with two of the movements simply titled Minuet and Madrigal, a dance form and a vocal form to suit the era of Shakespeare’s play. The other six movements refer either to people, or to significant times in the play, from the emotional highs of the first throes of young love, to the lows of death, the fury of the encounter in which Tybalt is killed, or the tragic moment when Romeo discovers that Juliet has taken poison.

Again, the orchestra showed great musicianship, playing with great facility, but also finding and bringing out that great range of emotions, drawing the audience into the world of the lovers and their tragic tale. Close your eyes and you could have been excused for thinking that you were listening to a professional orchestra. The future of music in Adelaide is in safe hands with this and the other two orchestras being nurtured by this organisation, and by those who train and conduct these young players.

This was another high quality concert from this talented and very enthusiastic group of young musicians. They were extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a conductor of the standing of Luke Dollman, a person who normally conducts some of the finest professional orchestras and opera companies. No doubt they learned a great deal in the process, and the concentration during the performances and wide smiles during the applause showed that they certainly appreciated that opportunity. It goes without saying that the audience members were also greatly appreciative of what they had heard.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Adelaide Youth Orchestras – Concert Programme
Adelaide Youth Orchestras Facebook Page
Concert Facebook page

Venue: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: One performance only
Duration: 2hrs (including 20 minute interval)

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