Dalia Stasevska’s Sibelius brought the house down

by | Jul 7, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Composer, Orchestras

Sydney Symphony Orchestra | Dalia Stasevska conducts Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony

5 July, 2024, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House                 

DALIA STASEVSKA conductor
XAVIER DE MAISTRE harp

RAUTAVAARA Cantus Arcticus
SAARIAHO Trans for Harp and Orchestra
SIBELIUS Symphony No.5


The popularity of the music of Sibelius has never diminished since his works became a staple of orchestral concerts in the early part of the 20th century and it is not hard to see why. His music is tuneful, it has lush harmonies from the late romantic period, there are wonderful orchestral colourations and structures that unfold and are easily understood by the audience. All this is combined with an individual approach to music that led to a distinctive voice.

The Fifth Symphony is not only one of his most popular but one that keeps giving with repeated hearings. It’s moody opening gives way to frivolity and an exploration of interweaving melodies whilst the second movement allows the composer to develop musical ideas without being swayed by either bombast or a feeling for excessive melodic invention.  The finale with its glorious horn theme which is heard throughout nearly all the orchestra is the crowd-pleaser and under Dalia Stasevska’s highly choreographed movements brought the house down. Emma Sholl, flute Shefali Pryor, oboe and bassoonist Matthew Wilkie were all superstars on the night whilst Samuel Jacobs was superb leading the horn section. As ever the SSO string section gave its all.

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This all Finnish concert opened with a work from 1972 by Rautavaara, Cantus Arcticus, Op.61 – Concerto for Birds and Orchestra. Some compositions don’t seem to travel well or indeed age quite quickly and this non-eventful 3 movement slow moving music with amplified birdsongs seems ever so dated.

The brilliant harpist Xavier de Maistre was a fine and hardworking soloist in Kaija Saariaho’s Trans, Concerto for harp and orchestra (2015). This was a work that like the Rautavaara eschewed drama in the music and ends up being difficult concert hall music. Sometimes what looks good on paper does not translate into good practice and maybe three Finnish composers was a step too far.

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In these two works there was delightful and perfectly balanced playing by guest trombonist Tim Dowling, the entire woodwind group and the orchestra’s percussion section.

I thought, as I left the comfort of my house to venture out to the Sydney Opera House, that the idea of travelling on a cold winter’s evening to hear music from near the Arctic Circle was a little bit, well, insane! But the brilliance of the playing in the Sibelius created a glimmer of warmth to accompany me on my return journey.

Photo credit: Jay Patel

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About The Author

Alan Holley

Alan has been composing works that have been regularly performed and broadcast in Australia since the mid-1970s and over the past 25 years his music has become increasingly well-known in America and Europe. His trumpet concerto Doppler’s Web (2005) and A Line of Stars (2007) were commissioned and performed in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His music is published by EMI Australia, Allans and Kookaburra Music and recordings of his music have been released on numerous labels.

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