Saturday evening saw the Zelman Symphony presenting their last programme for 2016 – an evening of Scandinavian Masterpieces with Grieg, Sibelius plus a premiere performance of a work by a local composer making up the programme.
The venue was the Eldon Hogan Performing Arts Centre at Xavier College in Kew – a fine venue, although slightly flat acoustics. In a nice touch there was a screen showing videos of previous performances in the foyer, along with the ability to buy CDs immediately after the performance from the ‘CD Desk’ – these could be ordered during intermission, or at the end of the evening (with some available immediately, and the rest posted out in the following days.)
Mark Shiell, Zelman Symphony’s Artistic Director and the principal conductor for the evening, also gave an interesting pre-performance talk covering the main pieces and the thematic idea behind their selection.
The evening opened with the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 conducted by Jenny Going, inaugural recipient of the Rosemary and John Hopkins Award for conductors. Overall this was quite a pleasing performance, with good energy and enthusiasm. The pace of the final movement showed up a little lack of crispness in the timing, but still worked to really plunge the audience helter-skelter towards the finale.
Second in the programme was the Nornir Concerto for Viola to Violin – May Lyon composer, Kat Tsyrlin violin/viola soloist, conducted by Mark Shiell. This was the premiere performance of a work commissioned specifically for this Scandinavian evening. Working within Norse mythology, the concerto traced the ‘Daughters of Time’ – Urd (Past,) Skuld (Future,) and Verandi (Present,) who sit at the base of Yggdrasill, the ‘World Tree’, weaving the fate of all. It was an interesting and stylistically very different work.
A short pause while the Kawai SK-7 Semi-Concert Grand Piano was wheeled on stage provided the perfect break before the highlight of the night, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Pianist Stefan Cassomenos strode on stage to warm applause, and left it to a thunderous ovation some 30 minutes later. Cassomenos was in fine form, exhibiting complete control of his instrument, his touch both commanding and playful. But this was no domination of orchestra by the piano; Cassomenos’s enthusiasm and passion entering in to a clear and vibrant dialogue with the other players which imbued the music with a joyful energy.
The final piece for the evening followed intermission: Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43. The orchestra played well, with Mark Shiell conducting with energy and enthusiasm, well-suited to a closing piece as inspiring and nationalistic as this. It couldn’t quite scale the same heights as the piano concerto had before it, but it rounded out the programme well, helping to showcase the versatility and range both of the Scandinavian theme and the orchestra themselves.
This was a marvellous evening’s entertainment and I greatly look forward to what the Zelman Symphony has on offer in 2017.
Zelman Symphony Orchestra: Scandinavian Masterpieces | Saturday 3 December 2016 | Eldon Hogan Performing Arts Centre, Xavier College