The Willoughby Symphony and Choir combined to bring us an absolutely superb concert , the first of this year’s season, simply entitled GALA . They were precisely and energetically conducted by the inspirational Dr Nicholas Milton who also introduced the various pieces and the soloists . The Choir is directed by Chorus Master Peter Ellis The program had an Italian opera theme with works by Puccini ,Rossini , Verdi etc. and the excellent soloists were from Pacific Opera. Continue reading WILLOUGHBY SYMPHONY AND CHOIR : OPENS 2018 WITH A GLORIOUS GALA→
This was a jaw dropping, absolutely breath taking concert by the Willoughby Symphony. The program, under the umbrella title of TRIUMPH, consisted of two works, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with a most astonishing and impressive performance by special guest artist Kristian Chong and after interval Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
The Orchestra was in marvellous form with a rich, extremely balanced, golden tone as energetically, enthusiastically and precisely led by Dr Nicholas Milton. There was also another special reason to celebrate as it is John Cran, the renowned bassoonist’s 90th birthday this week.
First we heard a dazzling, captivating, fiery and tumultuous performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 ( readers might remember it from the movie Shine) with spellbinding soloist Kristian Chong who gave a stunning performance aristocratically sculpted. It is an iconic, mammoth work often regarded as the pinnacle of Romantic pianism. Chong and the orchestra treated it with due reverence.
Rachmaninov’s work consists of three large movements. The opening melody has relatively little orchestral accompaniment. (It is perhaps reminiscent of some chants of the Russian Orthodox Church.) There are also hints throughout the work of the composer’s Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini and perhaps Stravinsky influences.
The well-known opening melody was played by Chong with a languid legato, conveying outward confidence blended with a dark undertone of anticipation. In the first movement Chong’s playing of the cadenza was wild and hair-raising while the second movement was more rhapsodic and melancholic .Chong’s playing in the lyrical or melodic sections was enchanting and luminous contrasting with his fiery passionate volcanic eruptions at other times.
Milton was highly attentive to Chong’s playing and the delicate shaping around it and in the gradual builds toward climaxes he revealed himself as a master of phrasing, pacing and layering sounds. In the second movement there were sharp spiky sections, an intriguing use of pizzicato, haunting woodwind and at various points throughout the work there were swirling, turbulent segments. Sparks flew. There was tumultuous prolonged applause and screams of ‘Bravo’ for Chong.
After interval we heard a passionate, turbulent rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony ( 1877/1878) ‘a haunting journey of tragic reality, passing dreams, visions of happiness, from the deepest trenches of human despair to the glorious triumph of the human spirit.
The work is permeated with unprecedented indications of the composer’s personal emotions, the intensity of which escalate gradually through each movement.It reflects his turbulent personal life at the time and is dedicated to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck .It opened with emphatic brass ( quite Swan Lake -ish) – the ‘fate’ leitmotif. followed by anxious strings and swooping woodwind.
The second movement opened with a poignant heart twisting oboe solo with the strings quietly murmuring underneath. Sometimes the orchestra in this movement was slow and stately like a flowing river, at other points it was anxious and pulsating , sometimes dance like .
Crash! The third movement featured scurrying strings, who then later sounded quite melancholy and then were strident, the horns, and the entire orchestra going full throttle tempestuously. There were hints of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture too and an interesting use of surging pizzicato.
The final movement, incorporating a famous Russian folk song, was fast, joyous and surged towards the agitated, breathless conclusion.
There was thunderous applause and numerous curtain calls. A TRIUMPH indeed.
Running time 2 hours including interval
Willoughby Symphony in Triumph played the Concourse on the 28th and 29th October 2017
Following in the grand tradition of Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, this was a quite British concert with several old favourites included and also featuring some Scandinavian music. Audience members attended the concert fully prepared to enjoy themselves and that they certainly did.
The concert, held at the Concourse, Chatswood where the WSO is the resident orchestra, featured huge cast of performers with the combined forces and talents of the Willoughby Symphony and the Willoughby Choir. The featured soloist this year was astonishing Benett Tsai on cello. Dr Nicholas Milton conducted with enormous panache and flair, and introduced the various works and soloists.
It opened with the stirring yet stately Pomp and Circumstance Military March No.4 by Elgar, a Proms staple and an audience favourite. This was followed by the dramatic nationalistic tone poem Finlandia Op.26 by Sibelius with ominous horns and drums, scurrying strings and rumbling cellos and double bass. The Choir was strong and powerful in the penultimate Finland Awakes and was underscored by tremulous strings. Continue reading Willoughby Symphony : Last Night of the Proms @ The Concourse→
The latest wonderful concert by the fabulous Willoughby Symphony Orchestra was entitled FANTASY, regarding stories of sorcery, storytelling and true love.
Conducted enthusiastically and energetically by Dr NIcholas Milton the Orchestra was in glorious form and dealt with the quite different styles of playing required for the various pieces excellently . It was a multilayered, beautifully nuanced elegantly precise performance that at times was explosively powerful.
First up was Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture (1842) It was played at a fast and furious pace. An emphatic melody for winds, brass and timpani is connected by the surging violins in a tearing hurry. A dialogue develops between the creeping woodwinds and swirling strings, then the cellos sing lyrically with the melody being taken up by the violins and all ends in a tempestuous, breathless finale.
The bulk of the first half was Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat major for violin Viola and Orchestra K 364, as performed by two of Australia’s most exquisite instrumentalists, Ji Won Kim on violin and Caleb Wright on viola. Ji Won Kim wore a beautiful long pale ice green gown, Caleb Wright was in orchestral black.
Both soloists were given equal billing and dazzled in their solos and showy duets. The opening was brisk and emphatic and mostly the work was a dialogue between violin and viola with mini solos. Their playing was many textured and multilayered, full of exquisite delicacy and thoughtful phrasing .At times it was fiery and passionate, at others lustrous , fluid and shimmering. The middle adante movement began as an aching lament and the Orchestra pulsated underneath with a heartfelt shimmering duet for the two soloists. The third Presto section was in a far brighter and bouncier tone leading to the delicious conclusion.
There was thunderous prolonged applause and for an encore Kim and Wright performed Handel’s Passacaglia in G Minor for Violin and Viola in a jaw dropping version that was strikingly different in style to the previous Mozart piece. It began quite formally then dramatically changed – some parts were explosively powerful, others were lyrical and emotional (eg the rather reflective central variation).
The second half, an exotic Turkish delight, consisted of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral fantasy Scheherazade,( 1888 ) based on the tale of the storyteller princess who tricks a murderous Sultan into letting her live by telling him 1001 enchanting tales. Balletomanes might remember this was choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for the famous ballet by the Ballets Russes starring the legendary Nijinsky and Karsavina.
Both Kim and Wright joined the Orchestra, Kim leading the violins and shimmering as the ‘voice’ of the narrator Scheherazade, or Zobeide (if you are thinking of the ballet version).It was given a lush, dramatic and stirring performance full of fiery passion and sweeping melodies. Ji Won Kim dazzled in the delicate violin solos .The symphonic narrative is divided into four sections and Rimsky-Korsakov’s dazzling creation of being at sea and other luscious sounds is hypnotic .
The composer had originally given the four sections story titles but later changed this. The first section introduces Scheherazade and the Shah , with her tremulous , shimmering voice on violin and his stern, turbulent one and you can hear the ships and the sea .The second and third sections are circular in format with the beginning theme of each movement heard again at the conclusion, in the third movement woodwind have a dialogue with the strings , both ‘voices’ are featured , lush strings occur in the third movement and a crashing, tumultuous section and more brass fanfares lead to a restatement of the main melody and a hushed, lyrical conclusion.
There was great enthusiastic applause for this captivating concert .
Running time 2 hours including interval
Willoughby Symphony in Fantasy runs at The Concourse Chatswood 5-6 August 2017
The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and conductor Dr Nicholas Milton were off to a terrific start for 2017 with their concert entitled GENIUS, part of the year long program entitled ENDURING PASSION.
The concert featured works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms with special guest artist, gifted violinist Lily Higson-Spence.
Overall the orchestra was in fine, glowing form with a delicious rich tone. Dr Milton conducted very energetically yet extremely precisely .
The concert rocketed off to a tense, dynamic start with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3. In the form of a dramatic full scale single symphonic movement, the piece was eloquently played and featured an augmented horn section. The work featured surging, crashing, tempestuous strings with a flute soaring above and an inquisitive questioning woodwind, all leading up to an impressive, thrilling finale.
Guest artist Lily Higson-Spence, in a long flowing halter neck beige gown with a large bow at the back, dazzled playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor Op.64.
The standard symphonic structure is used by Mendelssohn but slightly changed by the composer. It is regarded as one of the most lyrical and flowing works of its type and is one of the most frequently performed of all violin pieces. The work had its premiere in Leipzig on March 13, 1845.
For this work, Higson-Spence, Dr Milton and the Orchestra combined as one for a magnificent performance. It was mostly Higson-Spence ,however, leading the discussion between the three in collaborative harmony .
Higson-Spence’s bravura solos were mesmerising. Her violin had a pure tone, precisely controlled yet volcanic underneath. Sometimes the violin, singing its heart out, was lyrical and reflective, melancholic and passionate, at other times the violin darted about at a blistering pace.
The first piece in this wonderful program was Matthew Hindson’s short , shimmering and witty Boom Box (1999) which featured among other things extremely energetic and enthusiastic drum playing and a siren like sound from the glittering strings. It was originally written for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s education concerts.
The main bulk of the first half was the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor Op 47 featuring guest artist Harry Bennetts who has toured with the Australian Chamber Orchestra as a 2015 Emerging Artist and is currently at the Australian National Academy of Music under Dr Robin Wilson .He has just won a place in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy under a new ANAM International partnership Programme and will begin a two year residency with the orchestra in September. He was introduced by Dr Milton and his impassioned ,elegant playing dazzled and transported .
The first movement opened very softly then Bennetts on his violin sparkled and sang in a dialogue with the emphatic orchestra. In the extended virtuoso cadenza at times the violin darted like a butterfly at others it swirled passionately with gypsy-like rhythms. The orchestra was thunderous , then withdrew for a soft , floating violin passage backed by the pulsating orchestra .In the second movement there were woodwinds and stormy strings and in the third there were an under-layer of strings yet again for Bennett’s fiery violin solo that dazzled.
There was well deserved thunderous applause .
After interval was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64.in four movements. It was a lush, rich , Romantically flavoured and many layered performance. In the first movement the woodwind state the theme and rich strings take it and develop it and it is passed to various sections of the orchestra. There are some hints of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music especially Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. There is a short oboe solo and a crashing wave of sound at one point.Ominous drums bring the movement to a tense conclusion. The second movement begins with soft , shimmering , yearning strings, there is a horn solo and the orchestra reminds us at one point that Tchaikovsky also wrote the towering 1812 Overture .Pizzicato strings are contrasted with a giant twirling tone and there is a dramatic section similar to the Caraboose leitmotif in Sleeping Beauty.
The third movement begins with waltz-like strings .There is a sense that the Orchestra is tense and nervously tumbling – yet the scurrying strings turn lush and Romantic. There is a military band sound that takes us to the crashing finale of the movement.The fourth and final movement opens with rich strident strings , horns and rolling drums interrupt – blisteringly fast strings cut across them in a tearing hurry. There is another waltz like theme stated , the orchestra goes full throttle and we are breathlessly taken to the fast imposing end with the horns and woodwind. All stylishly played with precision ,clarity and great excitement.
The audience was very delighted.
Running time 2 hours.
Destiny by the Willoughby Symphony was at the Concourse Chatswood 30 & 21 July 2016
Hindson Boom Box (1999)
Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor Op 47
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64
With House Full signs up at the front and the box office turning hundreds of people away hoping to book for this concert I would strongly suggest you book now for the rest of the season and next year’s wonderful programme by the Willoughby Symphony.
This concert started with the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra under the emphatic, enthusiastic direction of Dr Nicholas Milton performing a sizzling version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite.
This is the first ballet that Diaghilev commissioned from Stravinsky, based on a Russian fairytale, with choreography by Fokine, featuring the legendary Tamara Karsavina in the title role. This ballet was followed by Petrushka and Rite of Spring.
The latest Willoughby Symphony concert had an American theme with an Australian link.
Emphatically, passionately led by Dr Nicholas Milton the Willoughby Symphony gave a magnificent performance with fine ensemble work. As ever, the acoustics in the Concert Hall were excellent with a rich, vibrant sound.
First on the programme was Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story : Selections for Orchestra’ arranged by Jack Mason. Played with relish by the Orchestra, the subtle nuances and changes of mood and tempo for the various selections were well handled. Aching strings for ‘One hand , one heart’ were contrasted with the tense, spiky rhythms of ‘Cool’ that featured brass and strings. Continue reading Willoughby Symphony Orchestra: West Side Story @ The Concourse→
The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra has come up with another thrilling, spectacular concert. This time it’s a combination of favourite Russian composers, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky, with special guest artist Ji Won Kim on violin for the Tchaikovsky.
Under the dynamic, energetic conducting of maestro Dr Nicholas Milton the Orchestra was in impressive form with a lush, rich tone when required.
The opening work was Shostakovich’s ‘Festive Overture’, (1954) with a gigantic supplemented orchestra. Shostakovich wrote it at great speed to celebrate the 37th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution and uses conventional classical devices of forms and harmony. The piece begins with a strident brass fanfare and was at times blisteringly fast. There was a very energetic feel. The bulk of the work is written in sonata form which is enclosed within the two fanfare sections and the finale coda. The strings (sometimes using pizzicato) and brass sometimes tumbled together, tuba and cymbals puffing and crashing combining with the violins and cellos towards the breathless coda conclusion. Continue reading The Russian Masters→