Classical Show (Orchestra Festival, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra)
The opening concert of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Open Air Festival performed extremely well despite the obstacles. Level rows of chairs on the grass, the high possibility of inclement weather, and issues with miking channels defeat the idea, but overall everything went as planned. In general, the acoustics were good. The occasional breeze diverted the signal, but overall the sound quality was nice, with strings presented with more warmth than expected.
The program was well designed to appeal to a large non-specialist audience with an emphasis on dance and American modernism. As always, Guy Noble proved to be a witty host and led a great straight performance with the right amount of swing and a crisp rhythmic edge. The events started with a short book, Fly away, Intrepid by Melbourne-based Amy Jørgensen, a composer who has undertaken to write numerous soundtracks for films. The large, lush string melodies associated with the genre took pride of place after a series of one-off dissonant chords, ending with Philip Glass-like arpeggios – and all in about four minutes. The work was an attractive fanfare to open such a concert.
From there it was on Leonard Bernstein’s ever-popular Symphonic dances of West Side Story. The orchestra gave a vital, no-frills performance with excellent percussion, wind and brass work. Perhaps the work could have been delivered with a little more oomph in the dance rhythms. This music is now so well known to our generation – although it is hard to forget that when the first Australian production was staged around 1960, the conductor had to be imported from the composer’s own circle, so difficult was the envisaged score. .
From there to dance of another kind with the popular adagio from the Khachaturian ballet Spartacus. Here, the strings excelled although a slightly more sustained tempo would have been preferred, thus avoiding too much browning of the lily. From a Russian composition to a locally beloved and domiciled Russian pianist, the virtuoso Konstantin Shamray, who delivered an idiosyncratic but highly credible and effective interpretation of the work of George Gershwin Rhapsody in blue. Bravo to all the musicians here, from the opening to the flowery klezmer-like clarinet, where a wide tempo was adopted, which really swung. The orchestra provided the necessary chops and jazz rhythm while the soloist was stunned by the precision of his playing and his solo spots in the work.
After the interval, the orchestra returned with a local composer – and perhaps our most distinguished composer – Graeme Koehne and his enthralling Music Elevator, a fitting tribute to Bernstein’s modernism and a dizzying ride to boot! One to rank alongside John Adams. Taking into account the dances with Latin accents of Bernstein, the Bolero has proven to be an ideal complement and platform on which to showcase the considerable orchestral forces and talents as they move towards this inexorable climax.
Tchaikovsky’s conclusion Opening of 1812 turned out to be a visceral thrill due to the inclusion of real cannons courtesy of local forces. It is only in an open-air event like this that this extra dimension of sound can reinforce the composer’s military pomp. Despite all the possibilities “what if? ” Spectacular Classic provided an excellent introduction to this large-scale festival which will include the scenic cantata by Carl Orff Carmina Burana, re-orchestrated dance club anthems, Broadway, cinema and symphonic rock with The Angels.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Orchestra party runs until December 4.