This was a stirring, thrilling concert of enormous range and vibrancy.
Under the dynamic, precise baton of guest conductor Matthew Wood the latest Willoughby Symphony concert had the umbrella title NATURE.
First was Smetana’s symphonic tone-poem The Moldau, evoking the flow of the Moldau River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside, to the city of Prague. The piece is one of six works that form his cycle My Country .
The Moldua is divided into eight sections and includes a village wedding, hunting horns and nymphs dancing in the moonlight. It began with bubbling flute and was mostly tumbling and flowing, the orchestra surging with shimmering violins and pulsating woodwind and a torrential tempestuous, crashing finale
Next came the presentation and announcement of the 2017 Young Composers award, presented by Willoughby Mayor Cr. Gail Giles-Gidney to Ella Macens for her work Flight. The APRA encouragement award went to Andrew Howes.
With Macens in the audience the Orchestra performed a richly textured and multilayered rendition of her work. The piece began strongly with pulsating percussion and striking woodwind. Most of the work was a conversation between the violins and the rest of the orchestra.
We then heard Cantos Españoles: Three Songs of Garcia Lorca by 2017 Composer-in-Residence, Daniel Rojas with the Willoughby Symphony Choir and mezzo-soprano, Jenny Duck-Chong.
This marks the final collaboration of Rojas with the Orchestra as composer in residence for this year.
The three powerful short pieces ranged from celebratory bells to silent mourning. Based on stories by Lorca the piece was conceived as a trilogy that celebrates the tragedy and triumph of love, innocence and unbridled passions.
The piece was full of dark, fiery Flamenco passion with staccato palmas and stamping rhythms, castanets and tambourine. Duck-Chong was compelling and charismatic, the Choir in fine form with a HUGE sound.
After interval we heard one of Australia’s most distinguished horn virtuosos, Hector McDonald, in a special guest appearance, performing Richard Strauss ‘ Horn Concerto No.1 in E flat major op 11.
Strauss’ piece had a crashing strident opening with lush lyrical strings in the first movement and superb playing by McDonald, dominating the orchestral discussion.
The second movement was softer and more thoughtful with tentative woodwind and the final, third movement had darting flute and dark tumbling dramatic strings while the horn was rather bright and skittish. McDonald’s playing was refined and glorious.
We were then privileged to hear as an encore a most unusual combination horn and harp in Dolci Pianti (Sweet tears) by J. Strauss Jnr. The horn with its showy flourishes rather dominated the flowing, rippling harp, as played by Meriel Owen.
The Orchestra performed one more piece in the encore. This was Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations Op.78. full of varying moods, warm strings and delicious woodwind. At times it was strident bombastic and loud, with scurrying strings, or conversely softly creeping with cat like tread, at other times jaunty and dynamic, or rich, ominous and exotic. Under Wood’s baton the Orchestra was extremely well balanced and played with gusto in a thrilling performance.
Running time – roughly 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.
Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir in NATURE played the Concourse Chatswood on the 16th and 17th September 2017.
Smetana’s The Moldau
Ella Macens Flight
Daniel Rojas Cantos Españoles: Three Songs of Garcia Lorca
Richard Strauss ‘ Horn Concerto No.1 in E flat major op 11
Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations Op.78.
For more about the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra visit http://www.willoughby.nsw.gov.au/whats-on/willoughby-symphony/