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Concert Reviews - Review - 5 December 2015 - Russian Dance

Jacqueline Pace - Published in The Flautist

Zelman Symphony Orchestra: Flute Solos and Fairy Stories

There was a sell-out crowd, the orchestra members were excited and it was obvious right away that there was something special planned for this concert. A program with a strong Russian influence was prepared and it was evident that the orchestra members had studied their parts extensively. There was some nice solo playing right through the Tchaikovsky and from the saxophone soloist in the Rachmaninov. Aside from a few intonation problems, the well-rehearsed Zelman Symphony Orchestra played well throughout the program. Conductor, Mark Shiell gave clear, easy to understand directions and the influence of the late Prof. John Hopkins was evident.

There were two special guests present - composer, Elena Kats-Chernin and flute soloist, Sally Walker. Later in the program, we would be hearing the Victorian Premiere of “Night and Now”, Elena Kats-Chernin’s newly composed Flute Concerto. “Night and Now” was commissioned by flute soloist, Sally Walker, who has played full-time with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, toured with the Berlin Philharmonic and performed as Guest Principal Flute with many other orchestras. During a trip back to Australia, she met the composer’s son and having established a friendship with Elena Kats-Chernin, “Night and Now” was composed years later, when Sally Walker had moved back to Australia.

During the pre-concert talk, Kats-Chernin spoke about the relationship between her newly composed flute concerto, Night and Now and her childhood. When she mentioned Russian “fairy stories”, I immediately thought of Prokofiev’s Cinderella ballet score. This can be heard in the harmonic language used, particularly in the opening movement. I asked the soloist for more information. Sally Walker said “Although I have been reminded of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Scriabin, Bach, Bernstein and Satie at differing points of the Concerto, there is not a direct quote from any of these composers.” This leads me to believe that including the essence of other composers’ writing also relates to Elena Kats-Chernin’s childhood, maybe a reference to her own development as a musician.

The Concerto opens with dark melodies in the flute solo, over haunting strings. Sally Walker’s beautiful tone and control of changes in vibrato enhanced the flute melody. The program notes tell us that this movement was inspired by “two imagined Russian fairy tales…one taking place deep in the woods... the other is in a silvery castle.”

The contrasting, canonic second movement of the concerto is inspired by the composer’s experience of waiting in the queue for food. This movement shows a range of emotions associated with “lining up for hours for one loaf of bread”, the joy her family would feel when they were able to obtain food which was rarely available and “the perseverance and sometimes ultimate disappointment that had to be faced when food just ran out”. Again, in this movement Sally Walker shone as soloist, with clean articulation and musically considered phrasing.

The final movement begins with a solo cadenza, which includes fragments of previous material. When I asked Sally Walker about her interpretation of the cadenza, she said “I reflected on Elena’s writing that this piece is about Russian fairy tales and specifically imagined the foreboding woods here, with the flutter tonguing being shivering, or a rustle of leaves or an animal shaking its pelt and the pitch bend a lonely call into the ether...” The cadenza propels into a Tarantella in 12/8.

Night and Now is both pleasing to the ear and well suited to the solo instrument. I have no doubt that this concerto will be considered standard flute repertoire in years to come.

For the encore, the composer and soloist made this concert special with a surprise performance together. Elena Kats-Chernin (piano) and Sally Walker (flute) treated the audience to a performance of a “Klezmer inspired improvisation (using the Freygish mode)” on Eliza's Aria, perhaps Kats-Chernin’s most known composition.

Jacqueline Pace Biography

Jacqueline Pace has studied with Lisa-Maree Amos and performed in the masterclasses of international artists such as Wissam Boustany, Paul Edmund-Davies and Leone Buyse. She is a former member of the University of Melbourne Orchestra and Melbourne Youth Orchestra. Jacqueline holds a Master of Music Studies (Performance/Teaching) from the University of Melbourne and was awarded 1st Place at the 2nd Queensland Woodwind and Brass Competition. In 2012-2013, Jacqueline went on a study trip to the U.K. During this time she took lessons with Clare Southworth and Patricia Morris and attended classes at London-based music colleges. Since returning to Australia, Jacqueline has appeared as a guest artist with the Monash University Flute Ensemble at the Australian Flute Festival and has been added to the casual list at Orchestra Victoria. She is also a woodwind teacher and volunteers as a content manager at Flute Tutor Australia, which promotes flute playing and flute-related events.

Sylvester Kroyherr - Published in Bohemian Rhapsody Club online Newsletter

Following an informative pre concert introduction, the programme began with the fabulous Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky. The breezy mini overture led the way to the flavourful six dances notably the March, displaying the tuneful energy of the trumpets. Tasty and sweet morsels followed as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies enchanted all, displaying the delicate talent of Marie Saito on the Celeste. Melancholic and exotic taste of the clarinets depicting the Arabian Dance was preceded by the powerful and fiery Russian Dance (Trepak) – handled with great precision by the orchestra. Though short, the Chinese Dance combined the piccolo and strings melodiously to follow a well balanced segment presented by the flutes in The Dance of the Reed Pipes. A fitting finale came with the beautiful Waltz of the Flowers, led expertly by the orchestra's concertmaster, Mary Johnston.

Excitement grew as the packed house awaited the flautist Sally Walker in Elana Kats-Chernin's Flute Concerto titled Night and Now (Victorian Premiere) – specifically written for Sally Walker. The haunting melodies embodying the first movement featured the cellos in tremolo mode embellished by the flute's sweet purity, expressed masterfully by Sally while evoking powerful visual emotions. Movement two followed, which exploded in playful and rhythmical segments, reminiscent of good and bad feelings (tight orchestration and well controlled). Sally's presence was well established as she began the last movement with a glorious cadenza solo start - Japanese flavour? The drama grew as the excitement accelerated despite the technical difficulty of the movement. A wonderful ending to a well written and selected composition – but the audience demanded more, thus endearing us to the composer Elena to join Sally for a duet (piano and flute) called Wild Swans; Eliza's Aria — what a beautiful masterpiece! (Joyfully sensitive piano work Elena!)

Following the interval, Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances led us to the first movement – a treat of rich strings, bouncy bows and joyous interplay of harmonies with the woodwinds. In the second movement the flowing solo of Mary Johnston on violin was a treat as the waltz tempo embellished the harmonies of the flutes and clarinets. To conclude the Rachmaninov experience, the apparent 'life and death' motif of the composer's intention was fully realised in a dramatic, full bodied, engaging and interesting musical interpretation.

Full marks to Mark Shiell and the Zelman Symphony Orchestra as we look forward to future events in 2016 and beyond.

A very enjoyable concert to end the year – congratulations to everyone, including all the volunteers!

SYLVESTER KROYHERR (Singer/Musician/Architect) - 8 December 2015

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Page last modified on December 30, 2015, at 01:20 PM