Tuesday, 13 December 2016


School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (11 December 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 December 2016 with the title "Amazing Australian youth orchestra".

The Western Australian Youth Orchestra was last heard here in 2009, when it performed a concert alongside The Orchestra of the Music Makers at Esplanade Concert Hall. This year, it had the stage to its own with an excellent concert led by its Music Director Peter Moore, who is often better remembered as irrepressible host of the wildly popular Babies Proms.

Contemporary Australian music featured prominently on its programme, with two works lasting about ten minutes each opening both halves of the concert. Iain Grandage's Out Of Time (2004) was a highly tonal showpiece that highlighted different aspects of the young orchestra's prowess, including instrumental solos and ensemble playing.

Minimalist in feel, the music chugged along agreeably, resembling the wizardry of Harry Potter movie music and the lyrical variety that accompanies wildlife documentaries. Its message was an exhortation to seize the day as time was running out, one obliged by the young musicians who put on a vivid and stirring performance.

Young composer Rebecca Erin Smith
receives the plaudits.

Rebecca Erin Smith's Murakami's Well (2016) was more abstract but no less listenable, inspired by the fantasies in Toru's dried-up well in Japanese Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Almost a concerto for orchestra in miniature, the riot of colours conjured up by various instrument groups and solos relived moments of Bartok, Sibelius and Stravinsky without sounding derivative. However it was the influence of Debussy which ultimately dominated the more animated section, cranking up the tempo to an ecstatic close.

In between both works, Montreal-born violinist Alexandre Da Costa (now residing in Perth) was soloist in a unabashed romanticised orchestration of Tomaso Vitali's violin classic, the Chaconne in G minor. Forget its supposed baroque origin, for Costa's exuded a vibrato the size of Western Australia with opulent ornamentations to match.

The showboating continued in Vittorio Monti's Csardas, where the gypsy elan in this half-tipsy dance held sway. The impromptu encore was an even longer work, all three movements of Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), where both soloist and orchestra luxuriated in a display of string fireworks.

The world's only concertmaster with
pink hair is Julia Nicholls.

The orchestra completed its demanding programme with the final two movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 in F minor. String pizzicatos were the mainstay in the Scherzo movement, and if one felt the players were somewhat off the pace, this was made up by the woodwinds which picked up speed and some neat brass chorale work.

All caution was thrown to the winds for the tempestuous finale which provided many exciting moments, not least when the Fate motif which opened the symphony returned, blared out by the brass. 

More Australiana, appropriately, made up the generous encore offered: Michael Hurst's The Swagman's Promenade. As its title suggests, this was a fantasy on The Waltzing Matilda and other popular Ozzie tunes. Fair dinkum, it made for a jolly good show.   

No comments: