Encounter

Encounter

 

 

W.A.Symphony Orchestra
PETER McCOPPIN(conductor)
Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Edmund Percy

 

What a shame so many stayed away from the WASO’s first program in its 2001 Encounter series. The loss was theirs, their deplorable lack of adventurousness causing them to miss one of the city’s most enterprising orchestral presentations in some time. Repeated assertions that Perth is a significant centre for music ring hollow in the face of such lack of enthusiasm by concertgoers who would probably storm the box office if, say, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony or Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto were on the bill – but are reluctant to attend anything that might be even remotely challenging about a compilation.

Using the dance as program theme, WASO compilers put together a bill that ranged from the haunting, gentle Pavane for a Dead Princess to Aaron Jay Kernis’ very much more recent Big City.

It is still fashionable in some quarters to dismiss Gershwin’s An American in Paris as trivial and
unworthy of the concert hall, a downmarket effort that doesn’t deserve to appear on symphony orchestra programs. This perpetuates the silly slander that the Broadway genius isn’t to be taken seriously.

Canadian conductor Peter McCoppin, though, identified so strongly with Gershwin’s masterpiece (which he directed from memory) that some of the doubters may well have been converted. Certainly, by allowing the work to speak for itself in all its upbeat glory, familiar notes sounded as if being heard for the first time – a considerable feat of musicianship.

Throughout the evening, McCoppin provided a linking commentary, rather too generously, perhaps, as his leisurely and rather honeyed conversational style contained the seed of a certain tedium. With baton in hand, however, he rose impressively to the occasion.

Peter Exton has probably played the solo part of Ross Edwards’ Maninyas Violin Concerto more than anyone else with the possible exception of Dene Olding for whom the work was written. Last year, the W.A.Ballet Company mounted a choreography to Edwards’ work with WASO associate concertmaster Exton as soloist night after night in the pit of His Majesty’s Theatre for the duration of the season. This steeping in Edwards’ idiosyncratic style is now yielding handsome musical dividends. I was especially taken by the central movement in which conductor, soloist and orchestra sound as one in musical thought and intention. The lengthy, emphatic and dramatic unaccompanied violin solo that introduces the movement gives way to some of Edwards’ most introspective writing, music that captures, like a butterfly in the gentlest of hands, a quality of serene stillness. The striving of all concerned to evoke that sense of quiet rapture that lies at the heart of the central section provided the highpoint of the evening. It compensated handsomely for the occasional pitch fluctuation in the solo line in the concerto’s outer movements.

Like Samuel Barber’s celebrated Adagio, which is part of a much longer work but has assumed a life of its own, the slow movement of Edwards’ concerto has a message so meaningful and unambiguous – and sounds so complete in its own right – that it, too, might eventually come to have an existence separate from the concerto as a whole.

The much-vaunted New Era Dance by Aaron Jay Kernis – written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – was something of a fizzer. It opened few new windows; its use of dance rhythms and cacophonic dissonances is hardly innovative. And resorting to sirens and whistles is not really novel, either; the former was made use of by Edgar Varese as long ago as 1926. And for some of the time, the piece seemed an exploration of the noise-making capacity of the orchestra.

Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, on the other hand, made for more fulfilling listening, music that does not so much beckon to the attention as seize it in a tight grip. A distillation of a much longer work written for Martha Graham’s dance company, it is primarily concerned with fury, grief and vengeance in sonic terms – and among many musicianly contributions here, those of the hornists, flautist Mary-Anne Blades and oboist Joel Marangella stand out particularly.

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