Willoughby Symphony Orchestra | Next Chapters
The Concourse Concert Hall, live streamed on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall
Saturday May 22, 2021
If a not completely professional orchestra programs Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 9 then they need to make sure that they have a ripper of a woodwind section and on the evidence of Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s May program they have that in spades. Jordy Meulenbroeks on bassoon was a thrill. Gorgeous notes piled on top of each other and it was a splendid counter to the brilliance of clarinettist Alexander McCracken. And then flautist Katrina Kelvin charmed with a solo of such intense coolness and at the same time intrigue. Indeed there were many individual contributions but space prevents all to be mentioned suffice to say that the woodwind and brass and the percussion deserved special acknowledgement. There is also much complex ensemble writing for the strings and mostly this was dispatched with ease. It helps to have Maria Lindsay as concertmaster giving leadership and delivering her solos with panache. The additional choreography by Legs On The Wall’s Joshua Thomson was an exciting addition to this work (the finale of the concert) with aerialists Todd Sutherland and Jana Castillo skilfully encapsulating the drama and punchiness of the music in their movements, and all suspended just above the heads of the orchestra – a real crowd-pleaser!
Joseph Newton’s award winning orchestral score The Phoenix received its premiere in this concert showing a young artistic mind who is already able to grapple with structure and development and is not scared to wear his ’heroes’ on his sleeve. After a growling opening from the wonderful double bass section Newton threw a fugue into the mix and it was a surprise to say the least. For me flavours of Bartok and Sibelius floated here and there amongst moments of original thought and all the time fine orchestration skills were to the fore. I so enjoyed his resistance to a bombastic final flourish and the gentle end was in keeping with the opening but as if it was seen/heard through a veil.
The main work in the first half was Five Chapters by Elena Kats-Chernin a composer mostly known for writing popular music. Fundamentally a concerto for saxophone quartet this work really was a vehicle for the Nexas Saxophone Quartet, Michael Duke (soprano), Andrew Smith (alto), Nathan Henshaw (tenor) and Jay Byrnes (baritone), to show what wonderful musicians they are. I have known of this ensemble for a while but this was my first experience of their playing and I have been missing out on some terrific stuff. They can ‘funk’, they can lay on the syrup and are always ever so disciplined in their ensemble playing.
A simple work both conceptually and technically by Alice Chance Holy Dreaming opened the concert and it intelligently allowed the Willoughby Symphony Choir and the orchestra to create a fine performance under the direction of Sarah Penicka-Smith. The audience was audibly awed by Joshua Thomson’s choreography performed by Legs On The Wall aerialist Jana Castillo representing the sun and her journey through the sky.
Orchestral music in Chatswood is alive and creating pleasure. Willoughby Symphony Orchestra looks to be creating programs slightly outside the norm and for a new generation of concertgoers this could be a good thing. To hear three Australian composers in an orchestral program is a rare treat and to hear a new emerging voice in Joseph Newton is especially so.