Monday, 16 December 2013

Symphony in the City

 The sea breeze floated gently across the river to Langley Park and the blistering heat melted into a balmy summer evening. Classical music admirers picnicked alongside cricket fans and young families in an idyllic concert setting. The WA Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony in the City is fast becoming an established summer tradition.

My concert companions

A huge floodlit shell housed the orchestra and choir and a camera crew and audio team projected the performance onto screens around the park. The concert was also streamed live to Northbridge, Albany, Broome, Esperance, Kalgoorlie, Margaret River and Port Hedland.
The logistics alone were impressive. And there was good incentive; an estimated 20 000 people received a season brochure and witnessed a sample of WASO’s 2014 program, all in a relaxed, non-snobby atmosphere.

Actor/comedian Eddie Perfect introduced the orchestra and the concert began with a selection of movie music including themes from Star Wars, Schindler’s List and The Fellowship of the Ring. The orchestra were in festive spirit – the first time I’ve seen a cor anglais player perform with flashing Christmas earings – and played with energy. Assistant conductor Chris Dragon took the helm for The Fellowship of the Ring wearing a bright red dinner jacket and conducting with flair. The Schindler’s List main theme was played with lyricism by assistant concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith.

Matthew gets his first concert lanyard
The WASO Chorus joined the orchestra for stirring performances of Verdi’s Triumphal March and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. The well-blended sound of the chorus (the legacy of retiring chorus director Marilyn Phillips) was noticeable even in the outdoor setting.

This was the final concert for principal conductor Paul Daniel and Nimrod (Elgar’s Enigma Variations) was an apt farewell, performed by the orchestra with heightened tenderness.

The lesser-known Knightsbridge March from Eric Coates’ London Suite was a tribute to the conductor’s homeland. “This is to remember just how great England is despite what’s happening down the road,” quipped Daniel with a nod toward the WACA grounds.

And of course there were the now-obligatory fireworks, bells and choir for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture bringing the concert to a spectacular, noisy finale. It was a fitting end to the year for our enterprising state orchestra.
                  This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Lior and Nigel Westlake

The pairing of the bittersweet vulnerability of indie-icon Lior with the colourful vitality of the music of composer Nigel Westlake seemed odd on paper. But, like some of the best jazz collaborations, the conversation between these vastly different musicians sparked a unique musical idea. What started as a small orchestral arrangement of an ancient Hebrew hymn grew into a seven-part song cycle reflecting on the noble human quality of compassion.

Lior delved into his Middle Eastern heritage to collect Islamic and Jewish texts and Westlake, best known for his film scores to Babe and Miss Potter among others, created an orchestral soundtrack to Lior’s voice.

Compassion – Symphony of Songs was performed by the WA Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday night alongside a set of Lior’s original songs arranged for orchestra and four-piece band. The pop songs were well-delivered but light-weight alongside the penetrating intensity of Compassion. Sim Shalom (Grant Peace) began with Lior’s impossibly high falsetto singing in Hebrew as slow orchestral chords rose and subsided in waves beneath him. It was like a beam of light streaming into a dusty synagogue. The audience sat transfixed.

The song cycle continued with the percussion driven Eize Hu Chacham (Who is Wise?) with Westlake’s distinctive cross-rhythms adding an African and Balinese vibe and his colourful orchestrations putting flesh to Lior's haunting melodies.

Lior’s impressive vocal range (he also sang deep pedal notes for the chant Inna Rifqa) was coloured with eastern inflections, Katie-Noonan-esque slides and moments of operatic power. He performed the entire work, including sections of complex changing time signatures, from memory. Sadly the text of the songs wasn’t included in the program so the wisdom of the words was lost on most of us.

The concluding Hymn of Compassion was delivered with a gentle pleading and as Lior’s last note faded the cello picked up the melody and wound the work to its conclusion. It was the perfect analogy for this collaboration, where two artists have become so musically connected they conclude each other’s sentences, and so self-effacing that it is the music that speaks loudest of all.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.