Symphony Series 2: Horizons

Symphony Series 2 Horizons 2024Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 22 Mar 2024


The physical horizon is almost mystical. It is always there, but always out of reach and ever changing and morphing from one reality into another. And so was the musical program for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Horizons concert, the second in this year’s popular Symphony Series. The eclectic program featured Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op.27, Bruch’s ever popular Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26, Sofia Gubaidulina’s Märchenpoem (Fairytale Poem) – a highlight – and Debussy’s La Mer. So many musical colours, textures and changing moods! But the plethora of styles and the episodic nature of the program’s narrative was almost a weakness, but not quite!


The concert began with Pudnanthi Padninthi by Buckskin and Goldsmith (arranged by Mark Ferguson), which is now the customary musical Acknowledgement of Country. With a different conductor leading the orchestra almost every time it is played, it invariably has a different ‘feel’ each time. This gives one pause to reflect about the music itself and the changing nature of country and the unique relationships between it and those who walk it and call it home.


Goethe’s two poems Calm at Sea and Prosperous Voyage were the inspiration for Schubert’s song Meeres Stille (Calm Sea), D.216, Beethoven’s cantata for chorus and orchestra Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt, Op.112, and Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op.27. Mendelssohn’s non-vocal setting is evocative of the deep fear and apprehension sailors experience when becalmed at sea, and the joy when this gives way to winds that propel one towards the emerging land in the horizon. Although it never feels as satisfying as Mendelssohn’s popular Hebrides Overture, South Korean guest conductor Shiyeon Sung led the orchestra in a balanced reading that was at times jaunty, with the woodwinds in fine form.


Emily Sun was the soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, and she brought the audience to its feet at its conclusion. The heart of the concerto is the adagio second movement and Sun allowed the elegance of its simple melody to come to the fore. Sun and Shiyeon Sung never allowed it to become oversentimental, and Sun’s fine technique was especially on display in the final movement with elegantly controlled double stopping in the first brisk dance-like theme.


Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931) is one of the most significant Russian composers alive. Throughout her long life, she has earned many accolades, awards, and prizes, and her prolific musical output ranges across orchestral, concerto, vocal, instrumental, and chamber compositions, as well as numerous (Russian) film scores. For tonight’s concert the ASO chose Gubaidulina’s orchestral tone poem Märchenpoem, which she wrote for a children’s radio program based on a Czech fairy tale, The Little Piece of Chalk. Although the Bruch concerto was the audience’s favourite for the night, Gubaidulina’s Märchenpoem came a close second, and Shiyeon Sung captured the piece’s vivacity and allowed all featured instrumental voices to shine.


The concert concluded with Debussy’s La Mer, which brought us full circle to the nautical theme enunciated at the start of the concert in the Mendelssohn. La Mer was not fully appreciated when it premièred and was criticised for lack of obvious form and melody, but that is perhaps precisely what is needed to evoke thoughts and feelings of an ever-changing ocean and shifting horizon. Again, Shiyeon Sung allowed each of the three substantial sections of the composition to speak for themselves without over labouring the changing harmonies and episodic melodies.


This concert can be enjoyed again on ABC Classic at 1pm on Sunday 21 April. It’s worth enjoying again to reflect on the fact that the concert features a female virtuoso soloist, a female conductor, a female concertmaster, and a significant composition by a notable but underperformed (in this country at least) Russian female composer. Well done ASO!


Kym Clayton


When: 22 Mar

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed