Rhapsody, from Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Brett Kelly, Costa Hall, February
Geelong’s premier Orchestra displayed its impressive development with this accomplished concert of challenging, lyrical and fascinating pieces. It was under the baton of energetic guest conductor, Brett Kelly, who, with the minimum of audience contact, still managed to convey an air of an unpretentious maestro with a pride in his orchestra.
This came across strongly in the opening piece, Khatchaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus, a work familiar from its TV appearances, especially as the lyrical, background to those magnificent tall ships on The Onedin Line. But here it was, in all of its smooth, soaring majesty being faultlessly presented by our own 60- piece orchestra.
And building on that admirable opening, came what was probably as memorable a performance as ever seen on the Costa stage.
It was Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme from Paganini – some 20 minutes of gloriously changing musical textures, patterns and colours, some familiar, some spiky, others lush and lyrical, all delivered by another self-effacing master musician, guest pianist Hoang Pham, with the orchestra taking very much a support role. Young, slim, immaculate in appearance as well as presentation, Mr Pham played the complicated pieces with elegance and elan – and completely from memory, without a single sheet of music on the Costa Steinway.
This drew what can only be described as a remarkable piece of musical appreciation, in that the performance did not receive a standing ovation -Geelong audiences are notoriously grudging with these. But instead, the audience delivered loud, steady, insistent applause that brought conductor Brett and soloist Hoang back for bow after bow – until Huang broke the cycle by resuming his seat at the piano to quietly announce he would play ‘a little bit of Haydn,’ which turned out to be a
brilliant showpiece that brought another storm of applause continuing long after he had left the stage, until he was to return again, take his seat and deliver another, quite different musical delight, before the pattern repeated, drawing yet a third impromptu solo.
After that sparkling celebration, and a short interval to recover, the orchestra returned to present the concert’s main event, Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (Pathetique) Op. 74 B Minor. This emotional piece, written just weeks before the composer’s death, contains moods that lift from lyrical contentment to the depths of despair as he raged against his inevitable end. It’s a moving, challenging piece that was delivered by our orchestra with sensitivity, feeling – and an overarching air of professional competence.
Because by taking on such a challenging programme, then delivering it with immaculate skill and style, the Geelong Symphony was musically announcing that it had arrived as a significant entity on the Victorian musical scene. It was received with that long and sustained applause – but this time no modestly flamboyant encores. And it was evident from the audience mood in the after-concert foyer that Geelong can today stand with immense pride behind its impressive, fully-fledged fully professional symphony orchestra. Bravo! (delivered standing).
– Colin Mockett
Last Night Of The Proms brings pride in our city
There was an expectant atmosphere before the first (Friday night) ‘final’ concert in the series delivered during this year by Geelong Symphony Orchestra. We are fortunate to have such an accomplished group of players in this city, and they certainly gave good reason for continued regional pride, performing a lively set of popular classics with verve and great skill.
The Last Night of the Proms is typically fun-filled and a little silly, perhaps beyond the comfort zone of most of Geelong’s concert-going audience. Our compere Colin Mockett appeared at first in costume, cape and helmet, and announced that we were to hear ‘a selection of Darth Vader’s greatest hits’, which helped to set the tone of the evening as the first item was from the Star Wars Suite by John Williams. His masterful and dynamic orchestration was excitingly reproduced by our orchestra, conducted with verve by Dr. Kevin Cameron, and the standard of performance was set at a very high level.
Some of the history and popularity of the Prom series (originally ‘promenade’ concerts, held in parks in London) was outlined, before the introduction of 24-year-old Riley Skevington, recent national winner of the Australian Youth Classical Music prize. He played the 3rd movement of Brahms’ Concerto in D, written in 1878 at about the time of the earliest Proms and regarded as one of the greatest, with all the features of virtuosic and sensitive violin playing.
The Geelong Chorale, augmented to about 70 voices in the gallery and rehearsed over recent months by Allister Cox, joined the orchestra for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances no. 17, a perennial favourite at The Proms. This exotic-sounding music, with gorgeous oboe and horn solos and plenty of percussive highlights, was a resounding success, with excellent balance achieved between choir and players.
Manfred Pohlenz brought his huge bass baritone voice and theatrical gestures to one of the most familiar of all classical pieces to Geelong’s population, the Toreador’s Song from Carmen, sung mostly in French but with a cheeky gesture to football fans by the addition of a ‘Cats’ scarf and jumper, at which point Manfred encouraged all to join the singing of our team’s theme song, in English of course.
After interval, William Walton’s Crown Imperial (A Coronation March) made a fine brassy fanfare with lots of percussion featured. Then the audience was encouraged to sing along with the Chorale to Hubert Parry’s wartime anthem ‘Jerusalem’ (orchestrated in fine style by Sir Edward Elgar) – but while the tune is well known, the words are not and a search of the program was futile. Elgar’s own Pomp and Circumstance March, another regular feature of Proms final nights, finally prompted some (rather subdued) flag-waving, and the singing would have been joined far more enthusiastically had we access to the words.
A strong rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus followed, of which many can sing various parts (not necessarily consistently or accurately!) from memory, and audience members valiantly tried to do so. The final item was an adventurous choice, an Australian work by a contemporary composer, Gavin Lockley (not yet 40 years old) which combined the singing of Dorothea McKellar’s poem ‘My Country’ over ‘Australia’ repeated by the choir. It also updated the orchestral requirements with the inclusion of guitar, bass and drum kit, and on first hearing was stirring but a little confusing. It is to be hoped that further performances will make such modern works better known. However, applause for the performers was long and very enthusiastic and after some hesitation resulted in an encore of Elgar’s March in its entireity, which should have been expected and could probably have been abbreviated.
Geelong Symphony Orchestra and The Geelong Chorale are to be congratulated for the standard of music-making throughout. On Friday evening the audience participated only timidly, but I have heard that children in particular enjoyed Saturday afternoon’s repeat concert. Despite the intention of the programming and levity of our compere, it seemed Geelong is not quite ready to make light of beloved classics, but certainly appreciates the quality of music-making in our city.
– Marie Goldsworthy
A Night in Vienna
With the programme title ‘A Night in Vienna’, those who stayed away thinking they would hear only Strauss waltzes missed a treat. The music was by Mozart and Beethoven, who both chose to make their homes in that most cultured of cities, as did other legendary musicians including Haydn and Schubert at different times.
After the strong opening chords, conductor Fabian Russell led the orchestra spiritedly through ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ which, as President Wendy Galloway noted, is “a successful Overture to an unsuccessful ballet”, given its first performance in 1801 and marking Beethoven’s introduction to the Viennese stage. The 5-minute overture was written for a typical classical orchestra consisting of strings and timpani, with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, which roles the (mostly) Geelong-based musicians filled admirably.
This was followed by the 3 movements of Mozart’s masterpiece, the extraordinary Clarinet Concerto in A Major, featuring Frank Celata, lecturer at Sydney Conservatorium, on clarinet. His flawless playing, with particularly warm and colourful notes in the woody lower register, was well- supported by the strings and other woodwinds in subtlety and shading. The lyricism, and also the playfulness of Mozart’s writing were beautifully brought out with fine phrasing, and the delicate interplay between soloist and orchestra was a delight to experience.
Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, written between 1811 and 1812, was the most recent work of the three, and the audience in Costa Hall was reminded why it was that the composer regarded it as one of his best works. The vitality of this work was conveyed well from the outset, along with the beauty of the second movement, the rollicking scherzo, and the frenzied, relentless energy of the finale. It features lively dance-like rhythms, repeated figures, sudden changes of dynamics and tempi. The energy of this performance, and the role of the timpanist in particular, was entrancing.
Geelong is indeed fortunate to be able to have its own symphony orchestra producing music of such quality.
– Marie Goldsworthy
Northern Lights display our accomplished orchestra
Northern Lights concert from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brett Kelly. Costa Hall, March 31, 2017.
This Northern Lights concert marked another strong step in the growth of Geelong’s orchestra.
It’s content – emotional, lyrical music chosen from composers born in Russia, the Czech Republic and Finland – was both challenging and reassuring. The challenge was to recreate the musical colours, moods and patterns describing northern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries with a recently formed group of mostly young 21st Century passionate Australian musicians.
Mussorgsky, Dvorak and Sibelius wrote their scores for performance by full-time professional musicians with time to ponder and practice distraction-free for weeks, sometimes months beforehand. In contrast, the Geelong Symphony had but a handful of rehearsals with its guest conductor Brett Kelly, some of them missing players as a result of our hectic comparative lifestyles. With this in mind, just completing the programme could be considered an achievement for any orchestra. But to do so with such accomplished ease and skill was impressive – and very reassuring. Because this Geelong orchestra, launched last year on a wave of warm anticipation, was displaying an ability to handle a difficult, complex programme outside the expected popular norm.
It thrilled with the opening piece – Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain – with its large, lyrical string section holding musical dialogues with its lusty augmented brass players, all neatly contrasted by lyrical harmonies from the woodwind and delicate gentle elaborations from the flutes. It then played with tactful, refined restraint to allow the evening’s accomplished guest soloist Michael Dahlenburg to display his passion and skills – he has a glorious abundance of both – in performing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, while the orchestra provided a neat and lovely supporting musical framework from those strings and predominant horns.
Following an interval came the compelling, repetitive patterns of Sibelius’ Symphony No 2 in E minor. This piece had stirring anthems and challenging rhythms, textures and colours – all inside recurring patterns and all executed with aplomb and no mean skill by an orchestra that appeared to have grown in stature throughout the evening.
It was reassuring, too, to hear the appreciation from an audience of healthy numbers considering the concert’s comparative lack of big-name drawing power. It will be interesting to see the crowd at the Geelong Symphony’s next Costa Hall showing, in August, when our orchestra performs a couple of big names – Mozart and Beethoven – in a concert titled A Night In Vienna. This promises to be a concert of rare pride for Geelong – and an event not to be missed.
— Colin Mockett
Geelong wins from an evening of Russian passion.
This concert consisted entirely of the works of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. It began with his Polonaise Act III Eugene Onegin; then moved on to the three movements of his Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35, with soloist Rebecca Chan. Following a short interval, the orchestra played all four movements of his Symphony No. 5 in E Minor Op. 64. To say the works were well received would be an understatement. The interval had been shortened by the long and sustained applause for soloist Rebecca’s three curtain calls, while the last note of the Finale movement brought on an instant burst of applause that lasted a full four minutes with calls of ‘Bravo’ and conductor Joannes Roose three times standing his orchestra to accept their acclaim. It was a heartwarming response, and quite amazing, considering that this orchestra held its first concert only in February this year. That applause, from a healthy 1000-strong Costa Hall audience, cemented the GSO’s position as a fully-emerged identity in the State’s classical music arena. It signaled that no longer need our city’s classical music fans take the highway to Melbourne, or await the MSO’s visits for we now have a high-standard orchestra of our own. So stand tall GSO founders Wendy Galloway, Jon Mamonski, Prof Jane den Hollander, maestro Roose and leader Ben Castle, for your work has given the people of Geelong a reason for pride in our city’s culture.
This was a concert chosen to build a following; the works were well-known and popular; the soloist glamorous. And the orchestra had been reshaped from that initial February group with extra strings to bring the warm, emotional lyrical sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Russia. The opening Eugene Onegin movement set the scene perfectly with its soaring, dramatic, lyrical themes executed with care and precision. But then came the stunning soloist Rebecca Chan, glamorous in a flame-red full-length dress against our orchestra’s colour-restrained black dresses and business suits. She sounded (literally) brilliant with a rendition of clarity, verve – and sympathy – in interpreting the moods and emotions of Tchaikovsky’s works. And she captured every heart in the Hall, too, with her eyes-closed, enraptured, almost-dancing-on-the-spot extension of the music into interpretive movement. She delivered all three, very different and technically difficult moods of the work in this compelling style, entirely from memory. A full thirty-five minutes, drawing the fore-mentioned sustained applause and preparing the audience for its full-symphony second half. This was delivered with all the care, precision, skill of the opening piece, but with an extra, almost tangible confidence that came as a result of that interval-encroaching applause and a growing positive audience vibe.
The concert’s programme listed GSO’s planned next three Costa Hall concerts in 2017. Each is of popular works and all are designed to build on the successes of this year. They’re listed in full on this site’s ‘Hot News’ page. I recommend that you book for these now, not only to gain the generous early-booking rates, but to take the opportunity to experience a first-rate orchestra and experience first-hand a newly-minted first-class asset to our region.
— Colin Mockett
Geelong + Surf Coast Living Magazine – Special Feature
Read Orchestral Manoeuvres here: gsclm-summer-2016-17
Inaugural Concert Excerpt Dvorak New World Symphony
Inaugural Concert, Geelong Symphony Orchestra, Costa Hall February 26, 2016.
The foyer anticipation was palpable – there were so many people wishing Geelong’s new orchestra well; wanting them to shine. Talk was of the beginning of a new era in our city’s cultural identity – a step towards our coming of age as a mature society. Inside the hall, that atmosphere intensified, fuelled, somewhat contradictorily, by a complete lack of hype or fanfare. The venue was almost full – more than 1,000 tickets sold. The house lights were not dimmed amid polite applause which rose in volume when conductor Joannes Roose joined them, smiled briefly at the audience, then raised his baton.
The first note of Nicolai’s Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor was exquisite – pure, clear, singular and swelling to beautiful clarity. Inside the first stanza, indeed, the first minute, the feelings from the audience were almost audible, too, containing relief, awe, respect – and justification. This was truly an excellent orchestra, worthy of its venue and our city – and its quality upheld all the pre-concert expectations. So the applause was warm and long.
Then came a brief interlude while stage hands wrestled the venue’s Steinway grand piano to centre stage for the evening’s soloist, Kristian Chong. He entered, young, casual, smiling, sat at the piano, adjusted his surroundings – then produced a brilliant, flawless rendition of Rachmaninoff’s demanding piano concerto 2 in C minor Opus 18, neatly, competently and unobtrusively backed by the orchestra. This outstanding effort drew more sustained, even warmer applause.
Following the interval, the audience returned vitalised, having discussed their new City orchestra’s quality. They were treated to an accomplished version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony delivered in the highly competent manner. The work was an excellent choice; its contrasts, crescendos and familiar recurring themes formed an ideal showcase to introduce a new orchestra to its new audience. And it was appreciated, drawing an almost reverential standing ovation, with any doubters in the audience now fully won over.
Its next concert in the Costa Hall is October 28, with a Russian musical Spectacular.
And that’s surely enough notice to be seen championing such an excellent group of Geelong musicians.
— Colin Mockett
NEXT CONCERT – Spanish Fire
Saturday 23 June 2018 7:30pm
Deakin’s Costa Hall