Concert Reviews

Last Night at the Proms a musical 'treat'

REVIEW: Bad luck to those who missed these two concerts by the Nelson Symphony Orchestra held at the NCMA and conducted by Nigel Weeks.

"Last Night at the Proms" was such a treat.

From the moment we stepped into the foyer at NCMA, we were captivated by the air of festivity as we received our flags, hooters and party poppers which were to be an essential part of the second half of the concert.

It was a full house, a full and generous programme, a full orchestra and a fully satisfied audience.

The Concert opened with the English Folksong Suite by Ralph Vaughn Williams. This was played with great clarity and precision and offered plenty of opportunity for each section of the orchestra to shine. A rich, full sonority of orchestral timbres was achieved and the beautiful interpretation of well known folk songs set the scene for the programme which followed,

The performance of the first movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto by young pianist Louis Lucas Perry and orchestra had the audience holding their breath. During the Cadenza Louis displayed his virtuosity with outstanding technical ability and sustained a secure approach throughout the movement. This was such an achievement from such a young pianist.

Percy Grainger's well- loved Country Gardens was next on the programme and offered a chance to relax after the demanding Grieg. The xylophone played confidently by Flutist Annabelle Laing added lightness to the orchestral sound.

Perhaps the most moving item in the programme was the stunning performance of Massenet's Meditation played by violinist Juliet Ayers and accompanied by the orchestra. Juliet has the sensitivity and the maturity to interpret this operatic, symphonic Intermezzo with all the romantic style and technique it requires and she performed it beautifully.

We returned to England's most patriotic composer Edward Elgar for a lovely rendition of Salut d'amour, Op12. The orchestra performed this work beautifully with all the tenderness and love Elgar must have felt when he composed it as an engagement present for his future wife.

Then to complete the first half of the concert the audience were invited to sing Hubert Parry's best known work, Jerusalem, with the orchestra, which sparkled with stunning brass effects and brilliant percussion. Conductor Nigel Weeks was in his element and encouraged an excellent response from the flag waving singers.

The second half began with the demanding Le Carnaval Romain Op 9.

The three songs sung by Auckland soloist Ben Kubiak were full of musical character and expertise. Ben's glorious bass voice was fully exploited in the choice of songs: Toreador Song, from Carmen, Ol Man River and If I were a Rich Man. The rapport between conductor and ex- student was delightful and added to the enjoyment of the performance.

Then to bring us back to the English context the Orchestra played Fantasia on British Sea Songs arranged by Sir Henry Wood which has been an indispensable item at the BBC's Last Night of the Proms and involved audience participation in the form of hooters, party poppers, much flag waving and dancing on the spot by the conductor.

Finally the programme came to a close with the much loved and stirring Pomp and Circumstance March in D Op 39 No 1.

Well done NSO for a wonderful programme of beautifully executed works. Congratulations to all the hard working and talented musicians and to Nigel Weeks for bringing together such musical brilliance and generosity.

The Nelson Symphony Orchestra needs our financial support. It is one of Nelson's most significant cultural treasures and justifies both private and public sector partnership funding to secure its future. Lets make that happen.

Last Night at the Proms
Saturday September 21 and Sunday September 22.


Nelson Symphony performance richly orchestrated with delicate, sacred sounds

REVIEW: This was the most exciting and innovative concert that I have heard the Nelson Symphony perform.

The show on Saturday night was put together by James Donaldson who has vast experience of musical performance as a professional cellist and music psychologist.

He shares his energy and communicates so well with other musicians.

His opening overture was composed by a musical friend from Auckland, Chris Adams.

It was entitled "Elegy(for a World Obsessed with Violence)" and communicated the fearful effect of the events in New York on September 11, 2001.

It was richly orchestrated and held my ears in sharp focus.

Full of tension and anticipation with ominous deep drum rolls, discordant woodwind and full, sonorous climax from strings and brass.

Particularly affecting were the intrusive military rhythms on snare drum and timpani, the cymbals clashing, and the sustained tension between the sections of the orchestra.

A dramatic and convincing contemporary elegy.

Then followed three individual soloists, two playing well-known virtuosic violin concertos by Mendelssohn and Max Bruch, and one playing Russian Glazunov's Saxophone Concerto.

All three of these undergraduate soloists had auditioned from Wellington.

The first, Hayden Nichol came from a Samoan family.

He played the notoriously difficult 1st movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor with great technical control and expressive fullness of tone.

Donaldson held together an exciting ensemble. The string section truly excelled themselves.

The saxophonist, Peter Liley, was sensationally good.

He played with wonderful energy and amazing breath control, bringing out the lyrical romanticism and full singing tone of Glazunov's Concerto.

The audience were enraptured and gave a standing ovation.

Sixteen-year-old Peter Gjelsten then performed a movement from Max Bruch's popular Violin Concerto No 1.

After a faltering start from the violas, Gjellsten played with a lot of nervous tension.

His timing was erratic, almost too fast in the challenging runs, and intonation was uneven.

Perhaps such a demanding work needs a few more years' experience.

The highlight of the concert for me was the concerto for Taonga Puoro and orchestra "Ko te tetai whetu" (For the constellation of stars) composed by Ariana Tikao and Philip Brownlee.

This was a moving collaboration by both composers and Bob Bickerton. Ariana has an other-worldly beauty, singing with purity and spirit.

Bob Bickerton, clad in a korowai, began with the whirring wind of the porotiti, while Ariana tapped out sounds of nature on a tumu of pounamu.

Many subtle responses were heard from the xylophone, timpani and gentle tapping of natural stones.

The organ was lit up in sky blue. Eerie harmonics and bird sounds escaped from flutes and violins.

The trombones blasted forth. Bickerton and Ariana serenaded with the conch shell putatara, then faded with the kouaua (flute) to the sensuous flutter of a shell necklace.

Never have I heard such enchanting music in the NCMA, recognisable to all - the sounds of wind and sea, of birds and the human voice in harmony.

Delicate sacred sounds from our environment.

No programme of Aotearoa music could be complete without the music of Douglas Lilburn, and the concert ended with his Festival Overture.

This was excellently and exuberantly performed, though I would have preferred to leave the concert with the peaceful beauty of the taonga puoro.

Congratulations, James Donaldson. This was an adventurous concert embracing both European and Māori music.


A rollicking, moving musical ride

Snadden Jenny

Carmina Burana

Nelson Civic Choir, Nelson Symphony Orchestra and Nayland College Girls' Choir

Nelson College, May 19

A capacity audience filled Nelson College Hall to hear the enduringly popular Carmina Burana, presented by the Nelson Civic Choir, Nelson Symphony Orchestra, Nayland College Girls' Choir and soloists. And what an afternoon for sheer exuberance and joyous music- making that ended in a standing ovation from delighted listeners.

From the first spine-chilling thump of the great drum announcing O fortuna, the choir, orchestra and soloists took us on an exciting journey of musical challenges that were well met and at times deeply moving.

In an inspired coupling, the recital began with Carl Orff's English contemporary Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of the well-known hymn Let all the world in every corner sing (Antiphon from his 5 Mystical Songs), which gave the audience a first exciting taste of things to come.

Then came his Dona Nobis Pacem, with its densely chromatic writing for both orchestra, soloists and choir, which spoke of the composer's heartsick plea for peace whilst World War II was looming. Soprano Lilia Carpinelli's glorious solo lines soared over the choir and orchestra with effortless beauty, and the baritone recitatives were suitably sombre.

I was brought to tears at the end of Dirge for two veterans, showing that the score's undoubted challenges for singers had been turned into purely affecting sound.

The audience was ready for the very different atmosphere of Carmina Burana, knowing they were in for a rollicking ride through a medieval playbook of pagan toasts to the seasons, to love and lust, drinking, feasting and the sins of the flesh, along with glorious intervals of courtly love song. Our orchestra, choir and soloists did not disappoint, with all the familiar numbers tackled with great energy and obvious enthusiasm.

Occasionally, the exuberance of an orchestra at full tilt almost overpowered the gallant choir, whose entries were at times a little tentative, but they would regroup and impress us again with a sheer wall of sound punching through the full orchestra.

It was exhilarating to hear the complex percussion and woodwind adding to the mix, and again, Carpinelli's beautifully operatic soprano solos delighted.

Baritone Graeme O'Brien had to negotiate Orff's big challenges for that part, making him leap through registers that verged on falsetto at times growling down to bass, but his excellent diction kept the narrative flowing - and of course the Roasting Swan, sung by tenor Ian Tetley, delighted the keenly anticipating audience with its clever posturing, which hid superb vocal control.

The final effect of the combined musical forces brought us a magnificent afternoon of music-making, all under the experienced baton of conductor Nigel Weeks, who is to be congratulated on bringing such a vibrant programme to fruition.

Orchestra's first outing an ambitious show-stopper that thrilled the Nelson faithful

REVIEW: Nelson concert lovers were privileged to attend the first concert of the year by the Nelson Symphony Orchestra, on Saturday evening at the NCMA.

Conducted by the hugely capable Nigel Weeks, the orchestra presented an ambitious programme of Dvorak masterpieces. Slavonic Dance No 1 Op 46, Cello Concerto Op 104, soloist Rolf Gjelsten, and Symphony No 9, Op 95 'From the New World.'

These much loved and well known, monumental works reflect all the characteristics of music from the Romantic period ... full orchestration, beautiful melodies, dramatic dynamics and emotional narrative.

Dvorak's brilliant orchestration exploits all sections of the orchestra and tonight every section, including the percussion, responded to the demands of the works and conductor, with confidence and accuracy.

Accolades must go to the woodwind section. The precise and rhythmic interpretation and the beautiful timbres contrasted and blended, were very well achieved and added substantially to the rich textures of the works.

And again when playing with the soloist Rolf Gjelsten they sympathetically and lyrically interacted but never over shadowed. (I would have loved to have been able to see the flutes and French horn).

The String Section was also impressive and reliable with the competent choir of cellos and bases underpinning the harmonies and melodies especially in the 'New World'

The Brass section displayed real virtuosity and added such colour to the orchestral sound but unfortunately in our acoustically perfect auditorium they were just too loud and often prevented a satisfactory solo/tutti balance being achieved.

It was lovely to hear soloist Rolf Gjelsten of the New Zealand String Quartet playing the Cello Concerto. This Concerto must be one of the ultimate goals, along with the 6 Bach cello suites, for any virtuoso cellist's repertoire.

Rolf performed this work with deep commitment and technical security. He demonstrated the musicality of a life long career of professional music making and his interpretation of the gorgeous themes and dramatic episodes conveyed all the yearning Dvorak felt for his homeland when resident in USA.

After the final notes of the third movement the audience leapt to their feet and gave Rolf a well-deserved ovation, acknowledging his mastery of this demanding work.

The orchestra accompanied with impressive dexterity and attention to dynamics and rhythmic accuracy but at times was overpowering and we missed some of Rolf's virtuostic sections.

I am not sure that the repositioning of the cellos to centre stage and the 2nd violins to stage left worked acoustically or visually.

The cellos seemed very squashed into a rather confined space and the front-on view was odd. The partnership required between the cellos and double basses and the violins must surely be enhanced when placed adjacently.

Perhaps a full programme of Dvorak with such massive orchestral forces required, is debatable from the audiences' and musicians' point of view and a smaller ensemble item might have been more appropriate.

However, as Selwyn Light, Chair of the Orchestra, suggested, "all we had to do was to sit back in our lovely comfortable seats and enjoy the ride" and we certainly did!

Congratulations NSO. Nelson is so fortunate to have you.

We look forward to your next concert Carmina Burana by Carl Off at Nelson College on May 19, 2.00pm.