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 .This year we had works by French and Polish composers included among the British staples. The concert, held at the Concourse, Chatswood where the WSO is the resident orchestra, featured a HUGE cast of performers with the combined forces and talents of the Willoughby Symphony and the Willoughby Choir.The featured soloist this year was amazing Mitzi Gardner who dazzled on her violin.
Energetic Dr Nicholas Milton AM conducted with enormous enthusiasm ,panache and flair, and introduced the various works and soloists.
Drumroll…..Crash! The concert dashed off to a flying, rather jaunty start with Eric Coates’ The Dam Busters March from the film.
The we heard a rousing rendition of Handel’s Zadok the Priest , sung at every British coronation since 1727. It is one of four anthems Handel wrote for the coronation of George 11 and his wife Caroline of Ansbach and was also performed when Tasmanian Mary Donaldson became Princess of Denmark. It was given a chilling, thrilling very powerful performance -an exultant wall of sound by the Orchestra and Choir.
Next came Vaughn William’s delicate and richly textured, enchanted and enchanting Fantasia on Greensleeves featuring first flute Katrina Kelvin. There were perhaps some similarities to Debussy’s L’Apres-Midi D’un Faune. You could hear a pin drop at the end before stunned applause.
Mitzi Garder our featured violinist was heard for the first time in the next piece , Saint –Saen’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso , which the composer wrote for the renowned violinist Pablo de Sarasate. The violin darts and dazzles in the proud and fiery Gypsy inspired like work which begins tenderly yet passionately and then Gardner on violin shone in her incredibly showy virtuoso pyrotechnics.
A nod to our British colonial roots came next with Ben Saffir (who plays double bass in the Orchestra ) ‘s Bound For Botany Bay . The work was conducted by his father David Saffir. It is written for woodwind and strings and takes the classic folk song and embroiders it .You can hear the ships bobbing on the ocean .It surges and is full of boisterous movement before the hushed conclusion.
Samuel Barber’s Sure on This Shining Night based on James Agee’s poem , was given a lush , rich pulsating and lyrical performance by Pacific Opera with their voices blending and interweaving and harmonising in duet with the Orchestra. The Pacific Opera cast were all in evening wear and stood in a line across the stage in duos or trios.
Then came the wild ,much fun ,tumbling, fast and furious The Wand of Youth :The Wild Bears by Elgar.
To take us to interval we were invaded by (rather ultra refined aristocratic ) pirates! Pacific Opera gave a delightful version of I am the Pirate King from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance led by YAP baritone soloist Andrew Dickson as the Pirate King , in fine voice and a Charles 11 black curly wig.
After interval came Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture which began softly and then built in power. Darting, teasing woodwind were contrasted with lyrical pastoral sections all leading to a boisterous end.
Mitzi Garder featured in the next work , Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert in D Major , Op.4 .Gardner on violin led the Orchestra in a dynamic performance – she was passionate and fiery ,darting and slithering around the spiky Polish dance rhythms.
Then came a bright, rippling, tumbling, cascading version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, the Choir thunderous and thrilling with scintillating brass from the Orchestra . Interestingly – for once the audience did not stand.( Dr Milton mentioned the tradition of standing afterwards).
Elgar’s “Nimrod’ variation from his Variations on an Original Theme (commonly known as the ‘Enigma Variations ‘) was next in a richly textured, haunting, soulful and very moving rendition. The Orchestra will be playing the entire Variations in one of their programs next year.
Then, in a tribute to Leonard Bernstein on what would have been the centenary of his birth we heard a stirring version of Make Our Garden Grow from Candide , which also featured the members of Pacific Opera.
Land of Hope and Glory was officially the last item listed on the program – all very patriotically , quintessentially British and as is traditional there was lots of flag waving ,cheering, streamer throwing etc .Great fun .
For an encore the Orchestra first performed an exquisitely lyrical and moving version of Londonderry Air ( AKA Danny Boy )
That segued into a stirring Jerusalem and the finale was a stirring version of Rule Britannia with members of Pacific Opera.
Willoughby Symphony and Choir’s LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS 2018 was at The Concourse Chatswood 18 and 19 August 2018.