Tag Archives: Willoughby Symphony Orchestra


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.

There was a seamless flow between movements : the first was somewhat turbulent, with a wonderful bassoon transition to the ardent second movement and the third movement was animated , leading to an invigorating finale. Continue reading WILLOUGHBY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA : GENIUS @ THE CONCOURSE


Featured photo – Pianist Kathy Selby.

For the latest concert combining the marvelous talents of the Willoughby Symphony and Choir, the concert hall at the Concourse was packed to the rafters and we were privileged to hear some ravishing, glorious playing and singing.

The program opened with a delightful , somewhat boisterous rendition of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture Op.80. Written for the University of Breslau, the piece was given a brisk, dynamic reading. Rather lighthearted, Brahms develops and expands the melodies of four well known student drinking songs and the piece features triumphant horns.

The audience loved the work and the orchestra was obviously enjoying itself under the very energetic direction of Dr Nicholas Milton. Continue reading WILLOUGHBY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHOIR PRESENT A CONCERT FULL OF JOY


Harry Bennett
Guest violonist Harry Bennetts

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




Resident WSO composer Matthew Hindson whose piece House Music was performed during the concert.
Resident WSO composer Matthew Hindson whose new piece House Music was performed during the concert. Photo by Bex Photography.

Featured photo- internationally acclaimed Australian flautist, Virginia Taylor who performed Hindson’s new work.

The magnificent Willoughby Symphony is one of Australia’s most exceptional orchestral organisations – a professional symphony orchestra of outstanding quality, serving the community of Sydney’s North Shore and beyond. It has  notched up yet another success, with their third concert of the year, BRILLIANCE. On the musical menu was Mozart’s Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner); Resident Composer Matthew Hindson’s House Music; and Danish Composer Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No.6.

Taking the place of resident Artistic Director and Chief Conductor, Dr Nicholas Milton, was the very versatile Maestro Stephen Mould, a regular guest with the WSO. Stephen is currently Chair of Opera Production and Senior Lecturer in Operatic Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music whilst also continuing his freelance activities as a conductor and accompanist. Continue reading WILLOUGHBY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA IN BRILLIANT FORM

Willoughby Symphony Orchestra: West Side Story @ The Concourse

Inset pic- Violinst Doretta Balkizas. Featured pic-Dr Nicholas Milton
Inset pic- Violinst Doretta Balkizas. Featured pic-Dr Nicholas Milton

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 Russian Masters

Violinist Ji Won Kim
WSO guest artist Violinist Ji Won Kim

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


Soloist Caroline Vercoe
Soloist Caroline Vercoe

Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliette is rarely performed as it requires such a big cast – a huge choir, a large orchestra and three top soloists.

First performed in November 1839 it is Berlioz’s tempestuous, dramatic distillation and reworking of the Shakespearean story in musical and choral terms. This work was a special favourite of Berlioz’s. It can be viewed as a homage to his own personal Juliet (his muse and eventual wife Harriet Smithson) and to his two great inspirations and mentors , Shakespeare and Beethoven. Dedicated to Paganini ( who unfortunately never heard it , to Berlioz’s regret ) ,it was inspired by a performance he attended in 1827 at the Odeon Theatre in Paris ,when he first saw Smithson as Juliet. (She also for example, inspired his ‘Symphonie Fantasique’). Richard Wagner was in the first night audience of Berlioz’s work and there are possible Wagnerian influences throughout as well . With libretto by Émile Deschamps it is regarded as one of Berlioz’s most comprehensive and detailed programmatic pieces.

Under the emphatic , precise, yet very enthusiastic and energetic direction of Nicholas Milton the Willoughby Symphony and choir gave a glorious performance. Milton introduced the work and at various points talked about the work and various sections and what to listen for etc. It is sung in French but with English translation available in the program .The choir was in magnificent form as followers of the two tempestuous warring houses, or the astonished crowds rushing to the church in the Finale for example.

Musically and structurally, ‘Roméo et Juliette ‘shows a lot of influence by Beethoven’s heavyweight 9th symphony – not just with the way choir and soloists are used , but for example in factors such as the weight of the vocal contribution being in the finale, and also in aspects of the orchestration such as the theme of the trombone recitative in the introduction. The characters of Roméo and Juliette are represented by the orchestra, and the chorus/narrative aspects by the voices .Like the Prokofiev ballet it opens with the warring houses of the Capulets and Montagues and the Prince of Verona being forced to intervene.

At the heart of the choral symphony, both emotionally and structurally, is the adagio in part2 , the wordless love scene, written for orchestra alone. Voices are never forgotten however – we hear them in the lyrical love scene , the songs of revellers on their way home from the ball floating softly across the stillness of the Capulets’ garden, and the funeral procession, two movements later, is partly choral. Voices and narrative are increasingly focused in preparation for the dramatic , seething choral finale, where the drama comes fully into the open and the feuds depicted orchestrally in the introduction are relived and then resolved.

The music is wonderfully rich in giving a lyrical, joyous sense of the magic and brevity of love, in “sounds and sweet airs” of various kinds: including the darting scherzo, representing not only Mercutio’s Queen Mab but the whole nimble-footed, comical-fantastic, fatally irrational element in the play.The grandly noble swell of the imposing extended melody which develops from the questioning phrases of “Romeo alone”, the haunting beauty of Juliet’s funeral procession; the thrilling unison of cor anglais, horn and four bassoons in Romeo’s invocation in the Capulet’s tomb and the violence of the lovers’ deaths (viewed as some of the most avant-garde music Berlioz ever wrote); the adagio’s deep-toned harmonies and spellbound arcs of melody, conjuring up the enchanted moonlit night and the wonder of the passion that blossoms in it were all given extraordinary performance.

Leonine tenor Warren Fisher in Act 1 was marvelous – in the Scherzetto when he is Mercutio and the exhilarating ‘Queen Mab ‘ aria . Rotund baritone David Woloszko as Friar Laurence in Act2 has a splendid, commanding voice. His explanation aria and his authoratively demanding that the Montagues and Capulets reconcile was tremendously done. Mezzo-soprano Caroline Vercoe was stunning in a bold full length red gown and was lyrical and striking as Shakespeare’s Chorus in the ‘ Prologue ‘, whizzing us through to the lush romantic balcony scene and the impassioned ‘Strophes’ , achingly recalling the dynamic love of Romeo and Juliet .

A stirring, passionate performance of this hugely demanding Romantic choral symphony that had the packed house wildly cheering and applauding at the end.

Running time 2 hours (approx) including one interval.

The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s concert of Berlioz’s ‘Romeo and Juliette’ was performed at the Concourse at Chatswood 21 and 22 June 2014. The Orchestra was conducted by Nicholas Milton with soloists Caroline Vercoe, Warren Fisher and David Woloszko.


Second Image

Another tremendous concert by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra. MAJESTIC MOZART was triumphant and thrilling, with the audience enthusiastically screaming bravo at the end .

Under the umbrella title ‘Majestic Mozart’ this time the conductor was maestro Alexander Briger who led the orchestra with a controlled, finicky yet delicate and precise touch.

First up was Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ , here in the 1919 four movements for  orchestra version ,which had almost a fairytale pastoral feel to it with possible Debussy influences . The work was given a luminous performance of delicate poise.

Continue reading MAJESTIC MOZART