Saturday, July 19, 2008

Northern Lights

Last night I went to hear the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra play Richard Mills, Shostakovich, and Sibelius, conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the TSO's chief conductor and artistic director.

Richard Mills's work Night Poems opened the concert. It was an imaginative piece with a particularly attractive second movement. The novelty factor in his piece was the use of the theremin, an instrument invented by a wily Russian in 1919 and which came into popular culture particularly by its use in the Beach Boys song Good Vibrations. Anyhoo, I didn't quite understand why the theremin part was present in Richard's piece; I actually found it somewhat distracting and irrelevant, but perhaps I should have read the programme notes.

The second work on the programme was Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1, a spectacular piece as are most works by this amazing composer. A second dimension of spectacle was the performance by German cellist Alban Gerhardt. He appeared on stage refreshingly wearing a dark red open-necked untucked shirt with black pants and floppy blonde surfer hair. That minor detail aside, his playing was quite remarkable and there were several curtain calls at the end, encouraging him to play some Bach during which you could hear nothing except the music. It was truly breathtaking.

To complete the concert, the orchestra roared its way through Sibelius Symphony no. 1. I must admit here that I have been a devotee of this wonderful composer since my undergraduate days, when I played Symphony no. 5 in the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and it changed my life. Sibelius's music is, for me, characterised by an incredible degree of motivic development, as well as beautiful and striking harmonic language and clear clean lines of timbre. I gave the pre-concert talk for the TSO when they played Symphony no. 6 a couple of years ago - a rare performance of that stunning work - so I was looking forward to hearing another of the symphonies in concert. This early work of Sibelius had most of the hallmarks of his emerging musical voice, and although much more overblown in its orchestration than his subsequent six symphonies it was exciting to hear it in performance and follow the train of thought from the start of the piece to the end. Lang-Lessing's interpretation was intelligent, intense and musical as always.

A wonderful concert.

1 comment:

Alban said...

Hi Maria,
thanks for your kind words in your blog as well as your flattering comments in my blog. Too bad I didn't see much of beautiful Tasmania - I hope to be back one day with a bit more time at hands.
Cheers from New Zealand,