This image: Daniel Macey
Featured image: Andrew Blanch

FLIGHT from Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir was a most enthralling concert where the most enthusiastic audience was packed to the rafters – book your tickets for the rest of the Willoughby Symphony series now if you haven’t already!

The first half of the concert consisted of works by The Willoughby Symphony’s 2018 Composer-in-Residence Nigel Westlake who also conducted.

The opening work was Flying Dream : Suite for Symphony Orchestra ( from the film Paper Planes ). It quivered , shimmered and pulsated , then there was a soaring , floating section leading to the tumultuous Orchestra going explosively full  throttle and then passionately darting , bubbling , cascading and rippling towards the stirring ,crashing ending . The percussion section was very busy throughout with hanging chimes, a xylophone, shaking ankle bells and so on.

Next we heard Antarctica: Suite for Guitar and Orchestra in four movements , with soloist Andrew Blanch . In the first movement – The Last Place on Earth – the harp was like ice dripping .Blanch on guitar had a hypnotic electrifying , tense solo at times with a zither like sound . The Orchestra then crashes and rumbles like ice splitting and breaking off , there is a turbulent,  whirling discussion between the guitar and Orchestra followed by a crystalline solo for Blanch on guitar the Orchestra delicately accompanying him.

The second movement is entitled Wooden Ships , where we can imagine the arrival of humans at the mercy of the environment , featuring a striking , melancholy solo for Blanch and featured mini solos for flutes and violins with a lyrical  guitar solo .The third movement – Penguin Ballet  – was joyous and playful you could see the penguins waddling , wriggling , sliding etc in a sharp staccato march .The final movement The Ice Cave created an immediate chilly atmosphere full of glacial beauty and there were possible Asian influences to Westlake’s music .  You could see the whirling stars. Blanch on guitar had a translucent solo .Rolling crashing drums and sharp , staccato strings drove us relentlessly to the sudden finish.

The second half drew on the combined forces of the Willoughby Symphony Choir alongside Barker College Choirs as well as the Orchestra in two works by Ralph Vaughn Williams , dynamically  conducted by Peter Ellis and featuring soloist baritone Daniel Macey .

First we heard Five Mystical Songs , with text by George Herbert beginning with the stirring , lyrical Easter a joyous celebration of the Resurrection and Macey as baritone soloist in some ways acting as narrator while the choir and orchestra eddied and swirled. I Got Me Flowers was passionate ,reflective and melancholy , the singer imagining visiting Christ’s tomb with flowers  – yet the Saviour has risen – while the flowing Love Bade Me Welcome featured haunting ghostly choir voices . The Call was a lilting folk song for the baritone soloist and Macey in fine sonorous voice was compelling , hypnotic and charismatic . Antiphon by contrast featured an agitated, blazing Orchestra and a thrilling almost volcanic choir.  

Last we heard the complex, multi layered Toward the Unknown Region , very patriotic and written by a young Vaughn Williams. It featured glittering strings and insistent woodwind but was dominated by the combined choirs who soared and cascaded and yet were sometimes quite overwhelming. It cascaded and soared majestically towards the blistering, rather stormy conclusion.   

FLIGHT from  Willoughby Symphony and Choir was at the Concourse [Facebook] 24 & 25 March 2018.