Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Elder Hall, The University of Adelaide. 9 Sep 2023
Violinist Emily Sun is the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s current “Artist in Association”. It’s a quaint designation, and regardless of the benefits that the ASO and Emily Sun might derive from the arrangement, the concert-going audience of Adelaide is the clear winner.
Emily Sun is a superb musician, and her artistry is exquisite. For this concert, she paired with pianist Andrea Lam who also has an international reputation for excellence as a soloist in her own right. They have collaborated to prepare a program that is, in their own words, “inspired by nature and their love of it”. Such words uttered about supposed rationales behind programming decisions can often be dismissed as mere verbiage, but in this case, they would seem to have been said with sincerity. The program is entitled “Storm and sunlight”, and everything they play comes fully alive when listened to through that ‘lens’.
The entire concert has an impressionistic and distinctly modern feel about it and begins gently with an arrangement credited to Sun herself and to the great Russian-American violinist Jascha Heifetz. The arrangement allows Sun to demonstrate her creativity and Lam to reveal her superb collaborative skills. As sublime as the composition is, the arrangement doesn’t quite evoke the same dreamy contemplation as does Debussy’s original orchestral tone poem.
This is followed by an Australian première of Turkish composer Fazil Say’s remarkable composition Violin Sonata No.2 , Op.82, which he names Kaz Dağı (Mount Ida). It is Say’s musical response to a modern day man-made ecological disaster that is happening at the site through mining operations. The sonata starts with Lam reaching into the case of the Steinway to prevent the natural workings of the instrument as she violently stabs a repeated note in the bass register. The result is a sickening semi-resonant sound that mimics machinery savaging the earth. Sun joins in and together there is a fusion of haunting western and eastern harmonies across the three movements. The result is ominous, and is both aurally and visually arresting. There seem to be musical equivalents of cries for help from the natural world, and there is also hope and optimism in the seemingly French-infused exquisite extended piano part in the closing section. This piece deserves to be heard again and again, and Sun and Lam’s affecting performance was a ride on a knife-edge.
The second half of the program included three excerpts from Sibelius’s Six Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.79, and Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45. Neither of these works are frequently heard on the concert platform, which is a pity for they are both quite delightful and brim with elegant and cheerful melodies. The Grieg demonstrates the composer’s obvious skill at producing memorable and enduring miniature compositions, but the sonata is a substantial work coming in at around twenty-five minutes. It appears to lack the complexity that can be found in others of the genre, such as the sonatas of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Prokofiev, but it radiates charm and wit and allows both piano and violin to weave a wonderful partnership of equals.
The couple that sat next to me in the auditorium freely admitted they seldom go to art music concerts, but were now encouraged they should make a habit of it. Maybe the ASO is also a winner?
Bravo Emily Sun and Andrea Lam!
When: 9 Sep
Where: Elder Hall