Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 7 Jul 2023
Tonight’s audience for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Series 4 concert – styled Embraced – were ecstatic about the performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World. Guest conductor Elena Schwarz was brought back three times to receive and acknowledge the enthusiastic applause, cheering and whistling for both her prowess at the podium and the musicianship of the ASO.
From the New World is a crowd favourite – it was last performed by the ASO in 2019 (too soon perhaps?) – but the concert also included a world première performance of a new Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra (styled Dare to Declare) by currently Adelaide-based composer Anne Cawrse and performed by percussionist Claire Edwards who is Australia’s very own magician with a mallet. The concerto was commissioned by the ASO (with much thanks to the orchestra’s Miriam Hyde Circle), Cawrse wrote it for Edwards to perform, and Schwarz is known and respected for enthusiastically championing new music. Three remarkable women shared the stage (with the spirits of three others watching on), and as they received congratulatory flowers following their performance, the special moment was not lost on the audience. The ASO most certainly punches above its weight.
Following what is now a tradition – the performance of the musical Acknowledgement of Country Pudnanthi Padninthi (also a commission by the ASO) – the program segued into an enthusiastic and robust performance of Kodaly’s Dances of Galánta, which was last heard from the ASO in 2014. In five sections, the dances are infused with gypsy folk-music rhythms and traditional sounds dominated by the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections of the orchestra. Dean Newcombe on clarinet and Joshua Oates on oboe especially impress.
The Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra is written in three sections, with each celebrating the achievements of an influential Australian artist: poet and Aboriginal rights activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), painter Clarice Beckett, and musician Peggy Glanville-Hicks. These three women ‘dared to declare’ who they were and made indelible impacts on their art forms. There is not an insubstantial catalogue of concertos for marimba, but they do not often appear on the concert stage, let alone get repeat performances by orchestras (as do the Dvořák and the Kodaly). Cawrse’s contribution to the catalogue is an absolute joy, and knowing a little about the influences behind it, adds to the enjoyment. However, it also stands as pure music and seeing Edwards in full flight expertly work the instrument is quite something. She is animated, agile, passionate, joyful, and exudes an abundance of musicality. The styles of the three sections vary greatly, with gently rising and insistent scale passages in Oodgeroo punctuated by delicate percussion from the orchestra, through to rich melodies in Clarice with rich empathetic phrases from the horns and brass, and bold dance tunes rising emphatically from the marimba as it is struck with heavier mallets in the final Peggy section. The dance rhythms in Peggy closed the loop with the Kodaly.
Schwarz’s interpretation of the mighty From the New World symphony is nothing out of the ordinary, but her dynamic development is noteworthy. She solicits the gentlest softness in the famous second ‘largo’ movement, and the violins almost sound choral under the direction of guest concertmaster Elizabeth Layton. One almost went looking for an off-stage choir. At its conclusion, Schwarz rightly drew attention to Peter Duggan’s exquisitely nostalgic playing on the Cor Anglais, and the audience left with a familiar ear worm to enjoy for hours to come.
When: 7 Jul
Where: Adelaide Town Hall