Willoughby Symphony Orchestra | Valkyries and Villains
October 15, 2023, The Concourse, Chatswood
A fantastically original programme was put together by conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith, together with, as she told us, Nicholas Milton. In fact the effervescent Sarah kept us full informed about the widely varied music.
As suggested by the title, Wagner formed the framework of the concert. I never used to be a fan of Wagner – as with many, I was influenced by the connection between his music and Nazi Germany, but, as the Jewish Daniel Barenboim pointed out, it was hardly Wagner’s fault. Certainly, the excerpts that we heard were very attractive including the apocalyptic “Ride of the Valkyries” and the sublime “Spinning Song” from “The Flying Dutchman”. It’s amazing that Wagner wrote not only the music but also the librettos for all his major operas – it couldn’t have left him much time for Cosima!
It was interesting to hear excerpts from his first opera ”The Fairies” which included an aria based on the second subject of Weber’s Oberon overture which we also were treated to. In the midst of this, we heard a very evil-looking Simon Lobelson as Scarpa in the famous “Tre Sharri” aria from Puccini’s “Tosca”. The Willoughby Symphony Choir rose to the occasion magnificently as did the seven soloists.
I have heard some of Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ music but I was bowled over by the slow movement of “Sinfonia Pacifica” – sensitive woodwinds weave their magic around the strings while the harp, triangle and gongs form a tranquil, background.
The percussion had a much heavier workout in Daniel Rojas’ Piano Concerto and included ratchets, whips and cowbells, As the composer explained, it was subtitled “Dance of the Dead” and was inspired by Wagner’s themes. Yerim Lee shared the piano with Daniel and the audience was spellbound as they played first against a ground bass, then in a quiet mid-section and finally a riveting tango. It was a privilege to be present at the first performance and it certainly won’t be the last. We even had a wild exposition of “Tico-Tico” as an encore.
The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra seemed inspired by the excellence of the music and the enthusiasm of the conductor, and I hope the percussionists recover quickly!