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26 June 2008

Percussion to the Max

The Queensland Orchestra // QLD // 24.04.08

Freeman McGrath Image: Freeman McGrath  
© Chris Osborne

A full house greeted The Queensland Orchestra at the first concert in this year's Contempo series, focusing on contemporary works for orchestra. This particular concert featured three concertos – two for percussion and one for violin – performed by some of Australia's brightest young talents.

The Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu's work Gitimalya for solo marimba and orchestra opened with the haunting tones of a bass flute and took the audience on a sonic exploration of colour and texture. With the absence of the largest section of the orchestra – the violins – the timbres remained hauntingly mellow. This subdued colour allowed the creamy sounds of the solo marimba to blend and permeate much more effectively. Soloist Claire Edwardes was assured and sensitive in her performance, in particular the ‘al niente' diminuendos were beautifully executed. The orchestra seemed hesitant in their entries, and intonation between strings and winds was somewhat unstable. The lower strings really shone, as they brought forth a homogenous layer of sound and provided a strong platform on which the rest of the ensemble could rely.

Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is beginning to achieve great acclaim outside his native Finland, though he has been a prominent composer there for many decades. The Violin Concerto hails from 1977, and was performed by the award-winning young Brisbane violinist Matthew Rigby. The trance-like opening led into some intimate dialogues between the flute and the solo violin, pre-empting some subsequent sections of conversational exchanges between various instruments. The soloist appeared confident and assured, however a presence of tone was somehow lacking. The leadership role of the soloist was thus diminished, creating a less convincing performance.

The rousing tutti moments were the orchestra's strongest contribution, especially in the second movement, emphasising the fact that the more intimate and subtle sections were far less assured. The cadenza, in the true improvisatory style of the Classical concerto, was an exuberant display by the soloist. It finally showed Rigby in a truly assertive leadership role, and it was a shame that much of the concerto had already passed by this point.

The orchestra seemed to respond to the renewed energy and leadership by displaying a more cohesive sense of ensemble. The closing minutes of the work were marked by full, rich tones, confident entries and a more settled sense of intonation and ensemble blend.

With the unusual positioning of the percussion soloist at the rear of the orchestra, Freeman McGrath's Change of Power was given its world premiere. McGrath's spoken introduction to the work gave some insight into his artistic vision. This provided the audience with something of a road map for the work, with many motifs and sections having a much clearer meaning and role as a result.

Adam Jeffrey brought life to the solo part, with an impressively seamless flow, both physically and musically, as he moved between the vast array of instruments he was required to play. An unfortunate consequence of the positioning of the soloist was that much of the solo line was hidden. Perhaps this was intentional, considering the composer's view of the work as an exploration of the shifts in power amongst the ensemble – reflecting the shifts apparent in society and politics, and highlighting the concepts of ‘majority' and ‘minority'. In any case, Jeffrey scurried around the rear platform, deftly manipulating his collection of instruments to produce a shimmering spectrum of sounds. The orchestral percussionists were also given some lovely moments within the work, which concluded with a rousing and almost overwhelming swell of sound.

It was a shame that the concert ended at this point, as it felt like the performers were really only just beginning to warm to the music and the space. Conductor Ryusuke Numajiri gave sensitive direction, and allowed the solo lines to evolve within the orchestral texture, and all works were well received by the audience. ABC Classic FM host Julian Day was our knowledgeable tour guide through the evening's works and added a friendly and conversational tone to the program. How refreshing to have such a healthy attendance at a concert of contemporary music! Long may TQO and Brisbane audiences continue to support new works and emerging composers and performers.

Performance Details

The Queensland Orchestra
Contempo Series – Concert 1
Thursday 24 April 2008
Ferry Rd Studios, West End, Brisbane
Conductor: Ryusuke Numajiri
Percussion: Claire Edwardes, Adam Jeffrey
Violin: Matthew Rigby

Further Links:

Janet McKay is a prize-winning flautist (James Carson Prize – Qld 1993; Albert Cooper Prize – UK 1996) who has held executive positions in the Qld and NSW Flute Societies, and was Assistant Artistic Director of the 10th Australian Flute Convention. Having recently completed a Master of Music (Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium, Janet is a freelance performer and teacher specialising in contemporary flute music.


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