REVIEW : Auckland Philharmonia 2014 Gala Opening – Auckland Town Hall, 20 February 2014

A new year, a new classical concert season. And a new concertmaster for the Auckland Philharmonia. Canadian Andrew Beer who comes to the orchestra with a enviable track record in chamber music and as a member of the Montreal Symphony. With a near full house at the Auckland Town Hall on Thursday evening, the signs were good for an excellent season premiere for the orchestra. And it proved to be just that.

Wagner’s prelude to his opera Die Meistersinger was a suitably grand start to the evening. Perhaps a slightly odd choice compared to the rest of the programme but as Artistic Planning Director Ronan Tighe explained pre-concert, the theme of the evening was the telling of stories and the prelude condenses all of the main themes of Wagner’s only ‘comic’ opera nicely. As dense as it is, the APO took to it with relish and provided the intensity you might expect to hear at the end of a concert rather than the beginning.

A recent flight back on Air New Zealand proved to be a bit of a teaser for English violinist Chloe Hanslip’s talent.  You can listen to her recording of the Glazunov Violin Concerto on the Sky Symphony channel at the moment and this performance provided a depth of sound and skill that makes you want to listen. With that in mind, the choice of American composer John Corigliano’s concerto “The Red Violin” for this concert was interesting. Corigliano’s own programme notes on his website about the piece make clear that it has a lot of meaning for him. Using music composed for the Francois Giraud’s film of the same name, the work is dedicated to the composer’s father, John Corigliano Sr. who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for over two decades. The concerto reflects the story in the film – the tragedy behind the colour of the instrument, its journey over centuries, the people who came into contact with the instrument and throughout the spirit embodied in the instrument.

Pre-concert hearsay indicated that this was a work that was a favourite of both conductor and soloist and APO Music Director Eckehard Stier took time to outline the story behind the concerto. Hanslip dressed for the occasion in a suitable scarlet number which was as stylish and vibrant as her playing. Her technique was rock solid throughout all four movements of the concerto and the multitude of technical challenges required in this piece were well and truly met. The emotional journey of the violin and the characters in the story were also told with sympathy and skill. It was a memorable performance and proved to be an excellent choice for this concert.

If the first half set the benchmark, then surely it was a given that the second half would be equally exciting. So it was a delight to hear those high expectations met, even exceeded. Stravinsky’s Petrushka is one of the great 20th Century compositions, both as an orchestral piece and as a ballet.  Stravinsky himself was clear as to what he wanted to achieve with the piece – a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios.

Myself, I immediately think of the ballet and in a way you can measure how good a performance is by apply similar tests to those for diamonds – there must be colour, loads of it. The scene is after all a Shrovetide Fair, plenty of activity, slightly chaotic, lots of Russian dancing. In place of carats, there must be character. You need to hear Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor throughout. As for clarity, that can be found in the score but also must feature in the playing even when it seems that there is a bit much going on. With the sounds of an abundantly dynamic, colourful and characterful performance by the Auckland Philharmonia, I left the Town Hall very happy.

A great start to the classical year in Auckland for sure. 

About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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