Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 21 Apr 2023
Dubbed Wild, the second concert in the ASO’s Symphony Series, was an exciting, exuberant, and animated ride. The drawcard for concert goers was undoubtedly Saint-Saëns’ mighty Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op. 78 – the so-called Organ Symphony – but the real surprise of the program was a world première performance of a new Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Fantasie im Wintergarten) commissioned by the ASO, composed by Elena Kats-Chernin, and written for and performed by Emily Sun.
Kats-Chernin is a prolific composer, and her music is well known. Her compositions frequently overturn conventional musical approaches and are exemplified by strong and unexpected contrasts. Kats-Chernin authored her own notes for the printed program and describes the concerto as providing “…Emily a great vehicle to showcase virtuosity, and edgy sounds, as well as heartbreakingly poetic suspended lines”, and this is precisely what we got. At the start, the audience was confronted with seemingly out-of-place latin rhythms and sounds coming from instruments as diverse as strings, castanets, tuba, and harp, as they weaved in and out of tightly constructed but emotive melodies. Sun’s playing was sure and confident, and she was equally at home with the piece’s gritty technical challenges, dissonance and contrasting harmonies, as she was with the aching tenderness of its soaring melodies. Kats-Chernin has a rare insight into how to marry musical forces that are essentially in conflict, and how to lay bare opposites that are different faces of the same thing. As the piece unfolded, the audience increasingly warmed to it and became absorbed. There was sustained and exuberant applause at its finale, and Kats-Chernin, who was present for the performance, graciously accepted her accolades on stage alongside of Sun and conductor Benjamin Northey.
The concerto was bookended by a thrilling performance of Berlioz’s overture Le Corsair, and of course the Organ Symphony, and what a pair of bookends they were! Northey gave a snappy and sprightly reading of Le Corsair and allowed its panache and style to come through clearly. The violins and brass were especially fine with crisp articulation.
The Organ Symphony never ceases to appeal, and performing it is a knife’s-edge experience, for both the orchestra and the audience. It is written for a very large orchestra, with expanded woodwind, brass and percussion sections, as well as piano (for both two and four hands) as well as pipe organ. The stage in the Adelaide Town Hall was full to overflowing, and it was a wonderous sight to behold. Northey allowed the agitation and disquiet in the opening movement to come through clearly, but it wasn’t always as well articulated as it might be, with woodwinds being overshadowed by the more ebullient brass. Similarly, later in the work, after the mighty Walker & Sons pipe organ had well and truly announced itself, the lush and sweeping melody played on the grand piano was all but overwhelmed by the rest of the orchestra. But these are minor grumbles, and the vastness and majesty of the symphony consumed all in its stride and the ride was exhilarating.
The very large audience left very satisfied, and with many ear worms to cope with for hours to come!
When: 21 Apr
Where: Adelaide Town Hall