All posts by Rebecca Stichbury

Review of October 2015 Concert

CHALLENGING PROGRAM A TRIUMPH.

The buzz of conversation among the audience told me at the outset that they had been looking forward to this final program. The works selected were some of the most technically difficult for the orchestra that they have played this year. However the petite conductor gave such clear direction that the orchestra players were able to master all of the difficulties and deliver a superb performance.

It was a pleasure to listen to the very first public performance of “Whim”, a work commissioned by the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra from Auckland composer Leonie Holmes, who is a lecturer in Composition and Music Studies at the School of Music, University of Auckland. It was described by the composer as “a light-hearted look at the epic, versus the whimsical in an all-out stylistic battle”. Although it was easy listening for the audience, this was technically difficult music to play and the percussion section shone with Sam Girling’s playing of the xylophone especially effective. After some capricious melodic passages the piece eventually modulated from the minor to the major key for a satisfying conclusion. The audience showed its ready acceptance of this bright new work, and applauded the composer and conductor together.

The viola concerto by Sir William Walton is not particularly well -known and there are all too few concertos written for the instrument. This concerto was first performed in 1929 and later in 1960 the composer re-wrote it omitting some woodwinds and brass but adding a harp. The soloist was Gillian Ansell, violist with the New Zealand String Quartet, and sister of Simon Ansell, violinist in the orchestra. The orchestra with all strings muted allows the viola soloist to soar beautifully above in the spot-light with a lyric melody that forms the main theme of the work. A second theme is introduced in which both major and minor harmonies are used. The orchestration features the oboe and flute, and Gillian Ansell demonstrated some impeccable double stopping. A dancing Scherzo in which both soloist and orchestra play melodies that are broken up by syncopated accents finishing with a flourish. A solo bassoon leads into the final movement in which the orchestra and soloist inter-weave material that had been previously introduced and wind onwards to a peaceful conclusion. Throughout there had been obvious rapport between the conductor and soloist and the audience showed their appreciation of this work.

It was however in the final work that the conductor Holly Mathieson, such a tiny figure on the podium, was a veritable “tour de force” in her direction of the orchestra throughout Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The work opens with a blazing and ominous fanfare from the horns and brass suggesting that fate “hangs like the sword of Damocles above our heads”. This moderates somewhat until later the same fanfare brings the movement to its conclusion. The oboe plays the melancholy theme introducing the second movement which reflects the composer’s sorrowful past pain following his disastrous marriage to a young student, Antonina Milykova. The third movement, a scherzo, features the entire string sections playing pizzicato, probably inspired by the balalaika. This was done with great delicacy by all of the strings and was most effective. In this movement’s trio the melody played by the oboe suggests drunken revelry by peasants, and this is referred to by the composer in his correspondence with his mentor, Madame Nadezhda von Meck. The finale features a Russian folk song, “A birch stood in the meadow” and while the fateful motif of the first movement is re-introduced, it does not dampen the celebratory fervour as the work progresses to a spectacular conclusion. Holly Mathieson’s conducting drew forth some magic playing from the orchestra whose obvious enthusiasm was evident in their performance of this exciting Symphony. The audience showed their enthusiastic appreciation with foot-stamping applause.

Following this concert the audience were invited to partake of wine (from sponsor Cooper’s Creek) and cheese to celebrate the release of the 2016 program. It is pleasing to record that Holly Mathieson will return next year to conduct a Tchaikovsky Symphony.

Robert O’Hara

Review of September 2015 Concert

YOUTHFUL TALENT SHINES IN THIS CONCERT

The selection of Rossini, Elgar and Dvorak music was a wonderfully contrasting choice for it ensured that there was something on the programme for everyone.

The St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concert opened with the ever-popular Overture to Rossini’s Opera Buffo “The Barber of Seville”.   The alternative title to this opera was “The Futile Precaution.”   Giuseppe Verdi declared it “The finest Opera Buffo in existence.”   However he also commented that, for the first six minutes of the overture the audience mostly talked and paid no heed to the music.  Obviously opera audiences in Verdi’s day lacked the musical appreciation to recognise the consummate skill of Rossini in his melodic flare and also his clever orchestral instrumentation. On Sunday’s concert the audience however enjoyed the stylish performance that conductor James Tennant drew from the orchestra, and showed their appreciation by hearty acclamation.

For some years now the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra has engaged young solo performers who have demonstrated exceptional talent, and the cello soloist for the Elgar concerto, 17-year-old Catherine Kwak is an excellent example of this policy.  Starting cello lessons at seven years of age, she has in just ten years made her presence felt, both nationally and internationally in competitions.  She was a prize winner at the 18th International Brahms Cello Competition in Austria, and has already built up an enviable reputation as a cello soloist in Europe at the Euro Arts Festival and at the International Summer Academy at Biel, Switzerland where she was chosen to perform as a soloist with the Budweis Philharmonic Orchestra. Elgar’s cello concerto is an extremely poignant work written just after World War one, when Elgar was at the peak of his compositional powers.  He was at the time somewhat depressed by the horrors of war and in particular the death of the son of a woman to whom he had been very close during her residence in England.  The work requires a mature approach to bring out the feelings of pathos that music evokes, and Miss Kwak rose to the occasion magnificently and demonstrated a maturity far beyond her age.   Her teacher James Tennant was right with her supportively throughout the work, ensuring that the orchestra gave her the sensitive backing that is essential to the moving performance that resulted.  This was a performance that went to the very heart and soul of listeners, and the audience’s applause reflected this. Following her performance she unobtrusively joined the cello section of the orchestra to play the Symphony.

Dvorak’s Symphony Number 8 was the major work presented, and it proved to be a masterpiece of contrasts, with extensive use of the Mixolydian mode suggestive of neither major or minor and thus giving the work a definite folk character.  Dvorak was a real master of melody and once said that “melodies simply pour out of me.”   This Symphony is literally “wall to wall” melody from start to finish, and it contains many Bohemian folk tunes. These are played cleverly with contrasting sounds from each of the orchestral sections taking their turn at presenting melodies which are either dark and sombre or bright and cheerful depending on the minor or major key in which it is played. Stirring trumpet fanfares feature in the middle section of the second movement, and one could sense the influence of both Beethoven and Brahms in this Symphony.   The third movement is a charming waltz that has a foot-tapping quality and the orchestration used enhances the music to a great degree.    The finale is introduced with another trumpet fanfare and the theme and variations are most colourfully presented by the various sections of the orchestra. James Tennant’s conducting of this Symphony was vigorous and dynamic.  He was dressed in a multi-coloured waistcoat which contrasted with the sombre and formal black of the orchestral players and at times he literally danced his way through different sections, which seemed to add authority to his hand gestures. Shunning the usual conductor’s baton, his conducting gestures were both eloquent and elegant and his directions to the orchestra were crystal clear.   It resulted in a superb performance and I am sure that the orchestra members numbering over 50 maximised their satisfaction playing under his direction.   It was well received by an appreciative audience.

The final concert for 2015 on Sunday 18th October will feature Viola soloist, Gillian Ansell, and Melbourne based conductor Holly Mathieson.  The works presented will be a commissioned piece by Dr Leonie Holmes, Lecturer in Composition at Auckland University, William Walton’s Viola Concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s  Fourth Symphony.

 

Reveiw of August 2015 Concert

Classical Programme Delights Audience

With the cold weather we have been experiencing, the audience needed to be well rugged up in St Matthews Church for the August concert.   However with Haydn, Bach and Mozart on the programme, what more could the purists desire?   It was certainly an afternoon of absolute delight and every one of the listeners went away glowing with praise for the choice of music presented.

Haydn’s “Laudon” Symphony was first up with its copious elegant melodic content.   The Symphony was named after a distinguished Austrian General, (Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon) but not because it was militaristic or martial in style.   At that time it became fashionable to name works after famous citizens in order to promote more sales of the sheet music.   This particular symphony was somewhat different in style from his previous symphonic works, and showed wonderful elegant melodies that flowed one after the other and also showed Haydn’s skill in orchestration.  He wrote over a hundred symphonies and this particular one would mark his further development in symphonic composition.    The orchestra’s performance was well received.

Huw Dann (Principal trumpet with the APO) was the soloist in the very popular Haydn Trumpet concerto which followed the Symphony.   In this work the soloist and conductor collaborated well and chose tempi that suited the instrument and also plumbed the utmost benefit from the wonderful acoustics of the building.    Dann’s fingering of the many melismas in the concerto was crystal clear and an absolute joy to hear a work that is so familiar, performed with such style.   Michael Joel’s direction of the orchestra was sympathetic and supportive at all times and the performance was given a well-deserved ovation.

Following the interval, Dann with a piccolo trumpet joined Peter Mumby and Nicholas Allan in the trumpet section of the orchestra for the Bach orchestral Suite in D major.    This work features the well-known “Air on G String” in the first movement with the violins playing the air while the cellos provided the accompaniment.   In the following section the trumpets soared high above the rest of the orchestra to great effect and this was followed by two French dance movements, a gavotte and a bourree.   The trumpets again featured in the final movement, a gigue, and again playing high above the orchestra to spectacular effect.    Penny Christiansen swapped her first violin and played the harpsichord for this work.

Mozart’s symphony number 38 (known as the “Prague” Symphony) tends to be overshadowed by his final three symphonies (numbers 39, 40 and 41), but despite that it has some wonderful melodic development that can be appreciated.   Throughout the concert, music director Michael Joel showed sympathetic control of the orchestra and opted for tempi that enabled the players, especially the strings to play at their very best.   We heard in this performance some of the best string playing that the orchestra has achieved this year and they were rewarded by a most appreciative audience.

Don’t miss the next SMCO concert on the 20th September, featuring cello soloist Catherine Kwak in the Elgar Concerto, with conductor James Tennant presenting the Barber of Seville overture and Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony.

Robert O’Hara

The SMCO-SOUNZ Composer Workshop

We are pleased to advise you of the details for this year’s additional concert. Last year we held the “In house concert” featuring our own players as soloists, conductors and composers and this year we are to work with SOUNZ and NZ composers.

The SMCO-SOUNZ Composer Workshop is a new collaboration between the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra and SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music. The aim is to create a collection of high quality resources for composers, non-professional orchestras and orchestra directors, to enable them to collaborate on new commissions in the future. The five works chosen will be rehearsed and work- shopped during the week and then performed at a one hour concert on the Sunday afternoon.

Details are as follows –

                                                        Concert
                                  Sunday 02 August 2015, 3pm

                                      Followed by wine and cheese.

Venue : St-Matthews-in-the-city Church, cnr of Hobson and Wellesley Streets
Entry : By gold coin donation.

The following works were chosen by a panel consisting of representatives of the SMCO and the Composers Association of New Zealand (CANZ):

Callum Blackmore: 3 vignettes for orchestra
David Hamilton: Solar Phoenix
Andrew McMillian: In the shadow of the dark moon
Denzel Panama: Time in Paradise
Alex Taylor: Silk/Gravel

A work of Louise Webster (composer and violinist in SMCO) will be played to complete the concert.

This collaboration came about as New Zealand has a large number of non-professional orchestras and music groups, most of whom are interested in playing new music. However there is no information available anywhere to guide composers in writing for non-professional orchestras. In 2014 the players of SMCO completed a questionnaire that asked for our views and experience on what made it easier for us to play contemporary music. Louise then presented the results at a composer’s conference (2014 CANZ Conference). SOUNZ then asked SMCO to run a composer workshop which SOUNZ could video and turn into a resource.

Our Musical Director Michael Joel, will be the conductor for this workshop and concert. He says –
“I’m delighted to be involved in this initiative. Supporting and encouraging composers to create new work is the life-blood of music and this is a wonderful opportunity for SMCO to bring these pieces to the ears of the audience, orchestra members and the composers themselves. I’m really looking forward to working on the five pieces we’ve selected and bringing them to life – what a privilege!”

“There are non-professional orchestras throughout New Zealand who are keen to play new music written with their capabilities in mind. I hope that this project will encourage them to commission and play new compositions, and also encourage New Zealand composers to write for such groups of interested musicians,” Louise Webster, composer and SMCO member.

 

Review of June 2015 Concert

Cellist excites Audience

Only two items were programmed for the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concert for 21st June, but the Charles Ives Symphony No 2 and the Dvorak cello concerto were a very suitable match and showed considerable sensitivity from those responsible for selecting the programme material. Both works were composed in U.S.A. within a few years of the commencement of the 20th Century, and both composers made use of traditional American folk songs in many of their compositions.

Charles Ives Symphony No 2 is sublime music that incorporates in its five movements, patriotic songs, gospel hymns, and popular fiddle melodies. It is a real “salad-mix” of American folk music cleverly assembled to provide a very satisfying audience experience. Although the symphony was written in 1907 it was not performed in public until 1951 when Leonard Bernstein conducted its first performance in New York. Bernstein was almost totally responsible for bringing Charles Ives’ music to public notice in the musical world. Sunday’s performance was very capably conducted by the noted Viola Player, and Bartok expert, Professor Donald Maurice, and his reading of the Ives Symphony was truly exciting. With five contrasting movements, the symphony was about 36 minutes in length and featured some challenging orchestration which Maurice made the most of. The orchestral sound was colourful with some expressive playing from the horns and flute sections, and the pizzicato string playing was crisp and well balanced. Towards the end the intensity and pace of the music became frenetic and built to a wonderfully satisfying climax.

The SMCO is most fortunate to be able to secure the services of internationally acclaimed cellist, Rolf Gjelsten as the featured soloist in Antonin Dvorak’s popular cello concerto Opus 104 in B Minor. This work was composed in 1895 by Dvorak while he was Director of the New York National Conservatory of music. The concerto at 43 minutes long is among the most popular of the cello concertos and includes some of the most poignantly beautiful music that Dvorak ever wrote. The symphonic orchestral opening lasts for almost 4 minutes before the soloist enters and elaborates on the main melodic themes. Here too the horn solo was expressive and plaintive, while later the flute took up the tune interwoven with the soloist. Dvorak’s orchestration was seriously affecting and brought out the wistfulness and emotional quality of the music. The soloist at times intertwined with the woodwind in a most expressive way. The final movement in march time gradually built from a quiet beginning to an intense finish. The cello soloist was brilliantly dominant and exhibited some virtuoso playing. The enthusiastic audience response showed just how much they had enjoyed this exciting performance. Gjelsten performed on a 1705 Venetian made cello by Francesco Goffriller.

Once again I must pay tribute to the informative and well-researched programme notes provided as always by Lois Westwood. There is no doubt that they enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the programme that is presented by the orchestra.

Robert O’Hara

Review of May 2015 Concert

VARIED PROGRAMME DELIGHTS AUDIENCE.

With Auckland in the grip of some “dirty” weather it was a pleasure to seek refuge in St Matthews in the City for the second of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concerts.

Said to be composed in the “Italian Style”, Schubert’s overture D591 with a lot of florid string passages and emphatic repetitive endings is clearly very like Rossini in its style. This work deserves to be heard in performance more often than it is, and it is surely to the credit of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra’s programming personnel that they have included it in this concert series. It was also a joy to welcome Adelaide conductor David Sharp back to the podium and the orchestra under his baton gave a sterling performance of this colourful work.

The contemporary American composer Eric Ewazen’s oboe concerto featuring Camille Wells was next on the programme. Ewazen was a student graduate and later a staff member of the Julliard Music School, and has composed a significant body of music for solo horn, marimba, trumpet and other brass instruments as well as for vocal ensembles. His music is romantic in style but clearly written in the 20th Century idiom. Some of this work reminded me of Aaron Copeland’s compositions. Soloist Camille Wells is Associate Principal Oboe with the APO and in this concerto she handled all of the various moods of the work with sensitivity and great style. She was given a rousing ovation from a very appreciative audience. David Sharp too gave her great support with his direction to the orchestra.

The concluding item was Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, which just happens to be a special favourite with me. His orchestration especially for the strings is very lyrical and conjures up images of the most wonderful Scottish scenery. From a very wealthy family, Mendelssohn had every advantage in life, and as well as being a most accomplished musician and composer he was also a skilful water-colour painter. Music and Art go together, but Mendelssohn clearly had a brilliant capacity for writing music that was able to evoke visions of beautiful scenery every bit as colourful as any painting. The first movement starts slowly and rather introspectively with a hint of sadness, but is followed by a bright and lively scherzo with some elegant melody. The following two movements Adagio and Allegro vivacissimo are played without interval, and bring the symphony to a majestic conclusion. David Sharp’s direction of the orchestra was a tower of strength and brought out all of the nuances and colour of this truly exciting Symphony. The ovation of the audience demonstrated just how much they had enjoyed it.

The next St Matthews concert will on Sunday 21st June and will feature conductor David Maurice with Cello soloist Rolf Gjelsten .
Bob O’Hara

Reveiw of May 2015 Concert

Soloist Camille Wells Oboe concerto creates a very expressive atmosphere for our May concert.

St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra performed the second concert in its 2015 subscription series on Sunday 17 May. The conductor was David Sharp, who has been a regular conductor of SMCO over a number of years. His conducting style was direct and confident and his rapport with the orchestra was very evident.

Opening the concert was an early work of Schubert – his Overture in C in the Italian Style. It was written after Schubert had heard Rossini’s opera, Tancredi. It begins with a slow and rather majestic adagio before launching into a lively and tuneful section. The orchestra played with enthusiasm and accuracy, with excellent contributions from woodwind and brass.

A contemporary work for oboe and strings followed. Written by Eric Ewazen, it was commissioned by Linda Strommen in memory of her father. Linda Strommen is a former oboe teacher of Camille Wells, the soloist in this performance. Camille Wells is presently the Associate Principal Oboe in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The concerto is entitled ‘Down a River of Time: Concerto for Oboe and Strings’ and proved to be a very melodic and quite arresting work. The oboe’s expressive and rather haunting timbre was well suited to this work, relating the passage of souls down through a river of time. Camille Wells created a very expressive atmosphere – from feelings of loss and sorrow through to ultimate peace and serenity. Although the work was new to both conductor and orchestra they melded with the soloist and accompanied in an empathetic and supportive way. Congratulations to orchestra and soloist for introducing the audience to an intensely emotional work, rather reminiscent of Vaughan Williams.

Mendelssohn’s Third symphony, the Scottish, was the final work. Finished some years after his first visit to Scotland when he began sketches on parts of it, it was dedicated to Queen Victoria. There was plenty of opportunity for impressive work from clarinets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets. The strings were in sparkling form – good intonation and attention to phrasing and wonderfully sonority in Mendelssohn’s majestic and dramatic themes.

The conductor and orchestra received warm and well-deserved appreciation. Rogan Falla

Chairman’s Annual Report for May 2015

Chairman’s Report for 2014-2015 SCMO May 2015

This past year has been a very successful year for the orchestra. The momentum from all the hard work and improvements the committee has done over the past 2-3 years is coming to fruition.
One of the most obvious outcomes is the growth in our audience numbers at our concerts this past year, with our 2014 October concert setting a new record. With good audience numbers comes a real sense of confidence and pride in the orchestra and I suggest that this is now felt by all players. Evidence of this includes an increase in tickets sold by players, an increase in players that have paid their membership subs for 2015 and a very good attendance at the end of year dinner last November.

The increase in audience numbers comes down to the very hard work of Mary Greig-Clayton, our PR and Marketing person. Mary has a real passion for the orchestra and our success, and is determined that we will not remain Auckland’s best kept musical secret. Mary’s network of contacts continues to grow. The results can be seen at every concert and it is a delight to feel the buzz of a large audience in the church and to perform in front of one. Thank you Mary.

This confidence continues to show with the very exciting line up that we were able to secure for our 2015 Subscription series including 2 cello concertos, 2 soloists from the NZ String Quartet, 2 soloists from APO, and the Brahms violin concerto. Great work by Michael McLellan and the artistic committee and Michael Joel, our Musical Director, has seen this all come together and in record time. Thank you to all involved.

In 2014 we welcomed back ‘the piano’ to the church for 2 concerts. Works for piano are expensive to hold and we were fortunate to have the assistance of Epsom Girls Grammar School and David Guerin in supplying the pianos for these concerts. The ‘all Beethoven’ concert was a great success and we have David Guerin coming back to play Mozart with us in 2016. There were also two concerts that provided a performance opportunity for young performers. Our May concert had students from the University of Auckland playing works by Bach and Mozart and our October concert featured the Auckland Youth Choir performing the Faure Requiem.

In August 2014 we had our first in-house concert which was a great success and very well received by both players and audience. This was held as a result of feedback from players expressing a wish to play with the orchestra and it developed from there. It was lovely to be able to offer wine and cheese to all after this one hour concert and make it a bit of an occasion and I suggest that this will certainly be done again.

The initiative for this year will see us be involved in a ‘composers’ workshop’ in conjunction with SOUNZ. Louise Webster is the focal for this project. Details are still to be finalized, but this is another great opportunity to create a platform for us to perform different works, to different audiences and become involved with our extended community. This will culminate in a one hour concert on the 02 August in the church.

In late March the orchestra played to 2000 plus school children over two days, at the Southern Cross Campus and Mt Roskill School. Feedback received from the schools involved has been very positive indeed. We successfully applied for funding from the Auckland Council Creative Communities Scheme for these school’s concerts. They are an initiative of David Kayrouz and are proving to be an important part of our year, both as an income stream and being involved in our community. Thank you David for your passion and all your hard work in organizing these concerts, and making them happen.

Two other projects finalized within the past year have been our website and the storage of our timpani in the church. Our website was rebuilt and transferred to another host, and it is now up and running with the focus being as an information source. The church kindly agreed to allow us to build some shelves to store the 4 timpani and assorted bits and pieces in the area in and behind the kitchen. The shelving unit was donated to us by Dexion NZ. Thanks to David K and Michael McL for putting the shelving unit together. What a relief it is to walk everything around the corner.

I would like to thank everyone on the committee for their hard work and support this past year. The orchestra continues to be in very good shape and with the growing confidence of its members and audience we will continue to achieve great things. Planning for our 2016 season is already underway, communication with all players is a focus (player’s newsletters and Thursday rehearsal chats) and all opportunities will continue to be sought and welcomed.

Rebecca Stichbury
Chair
May 2015

Review of March 2015 Concert

SUPERB PROGRAMME TO OPEN 2015 SEASON

There was a very full audience for the opening concert of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra season. The big audience was clearly attracted by a well-chosen programme. The first item, Douglas Lilburn’s Overture “Aotearoa”, was written when he was a student at the Royal College of Music, London studying composition under Ralph Vaughan-Williams and the work had its premiere in 1940 at His Majesty’s Theatre, London. This work has an ethereal beginning with woodwind introducing strings which then weave through some spell-binding themes. The orchestra made the most of the contrasting orchestration which demonstrated some of the influence that Vaughan-Williams, Lilburn’s teacher must have had on him. This work formed part of a very cohesive programme which was really appreciated by the large audience who gave it well deserved applause. The work was 8 minutes long.

The second offering was the popular Variations on a Theme by Haydn, composed by Brahms. This piece of some 18 minutes is known universally as the St. Anthony Chorale. After introducing the simple melody, Brahms then elaborates on the theme with eight contrasting variations, each featuring the various sections of the orchestra, with extra special attention to the woodwind sections, including contra bassoon. This well-known work was given a fine rendition by all sections of the orchestra. During the work, I could not help playing the main theme over in my head as I listened to each variation and it was this that made me appreciate what a finely orchestrated work Brahms had done with such a simple theme. It was as if a master had taken the work of another master and worked miracles with it. Brahms originally wrote two versions of these variations, one for two pianos and the other for full orchestra. Each had eight variations and a finale. It appears that there is some doubt about the original St Anthony being composed by Haydn and it is often described as being “attributed to Haydn”. I see no problem with this as like most of the audience, I am prepared to accept and enjoy the music for what it is, a truly brilliant orchestrated arrangement of variations by Brahms for orchestra.

After the interval, we heard an enthralling performance of one of the world’s most celebrated violin concertos. The soloist Simone Roggen was beautifully dressed in a simple short-sleeved black wool top and a long full gold satin skirt. Her elegant appearance was matched by conductor Michael McLellan who was also impeccable in a white tux and black tie. Playing an 1838 vintage Italian violin, Simone conquered the audience with her warm tone and stylish technique. Originally from Auckland, Simone did spend some of her early years in Switzerland, where she played with Hans Fitzti in an Appenzeller Band from the age of 8. She returned to Auckland to study with Mary O’Brien at Auckland University. Now based back in Switzerland, she is well established on the world stage and we are privileged to have her perform here for the St. Matthews Orchestra. The Brahms violin concerto is among the leading six violin concertos of the world. Its popularity is world-wide and of course when you opt to play this concerto you have to give a flawless performance otherwise you will not be accepted. Simone’s performance was truly brilliant and the audience recognised it with sustained applause. Her performance of the Joachim cadenza was especially well performed and her double stopping technique was breath-taking. Performances like this are few and far between and deserves to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience.

Robert O’Hara

Review of October 2014 Concert

A capacity audience gathered at St. Matthews for the final concert in the 2014 scheduled programme, on a lovely spring day that made the heart glad to be alive.  The first work featured a composition from one of the members of the orchestra, Violist, Alison Talmage, who works as a music therapist at the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, and the Auckland University Centre for Brain Research.   Although the programme did not say so, I believe this was the premiere performance of the work.   The music was somewhat introspective and apparently drew inspiration from a World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen.   Although the music was modern in the sense that it explored new tonal harmonies, it did not seem to settle into a specific key which left me feeling somewhat frustrated at the end. I feel sure that on second hearing I would gain more from the piece than I did at first. The St Matthews Orchestra is to be commended that it programmes new works like this, and gives exposure to the music of contemporary composers.   We can all learn from hearing these works and I would like the opportunity to hear this work again.

The remainder of the programme was devoted to French composers, and first up was Ravel’s well known Pavane pour une infant defunte.   A Pavane is a stately dance and Ravel’s first theme features the horn in a somewhat melancholy mood with the same theme repeated by a plaintive oboe and carried on by singing strings and harp.   The orchestration grew in volume and intensity and finished up playing in fortissimo at the conclusion.   Ravel dedicated the work to his patron, Princess Edmond de Polignac and suggested that listeners imagine that the work would have been a dance that the little princess (as painted by Diego Valezquez) might have danced.   This was delightful music and much appreciated by the audience.

The next item was Faure’s Suite from Masques et Bergamasques in four movements, Overture, Menuet; Gavotte and Pastorale. Originally commissioned by the Prince of Monaco as incidental music for a one act presentation, Faure later assembled the four Pieces to form this orchestral suite.   This featured some cheerful melodies and lovely writing for the strings in the menuet, and later some stately music in the gavotte. The strings excelled themselves and conductor Michael McLellan enjoyed bringing forth some crisp playing from the orchestra. The harp featured in some soulful playing and the orchestra members clearly enjoyed themselves performing this elegant music.

Following the interval, the Auckland Youth Choir assembled behind the orchestra to perform the Faure Requiem.   Audience members were provided with the Latin words of the work together with an English translation, and were able to follow the choir and soloists as they sang their way through the work.   The introduction and Kyrie were beautifully sung by the choir, with great contrasts in volume which gave added point to the text. Baritone Benson Wilson featured in the Offertorium and his ringing voice gave authority to the words. He was especially effective later in the Libera me and he was able to stress the gravitas of the prayer seeking liberation. Soprano Hannah Bryant was also most eloquent in her solo performance of the Pie Jesu hich is preceded by the Horn Section in declamatory fashion In the Sanctus.   As far as I am aware this is the first occasion in some years that the Orchestra have featured a choir in their programme in St. Matthews Church, and it was a welcome departure from the usual. The Auckland Youth Choir are a superbly disciplined group who sing as one voice and it was a joy for audience members to hear them in such a wonderful work as the Faure Requiem.   Clearly we have a group of young singers who perform music to a very high standard, and who are well trained by their Musical Director, Lachlan Craig.   Also deserving of mention was the discrete organ continuo provided by Timothy Carpenter, and the unique contribution of the two harpists, Melody Lin and Emilia Guo.   On the podium Michael McLellan again showed sensitive control of the orchestra, and also gave positive direction to the choristers throughout the requiem.

Following the programme audience members were invited to share wine and cheese and the 2015 concert programme was unveiled.   It is a great pleasure to see former solo performers like Simone Roggen (violin), Camille Wells (oboe), James Tennant (conductor & cellist) Gillian Ansell (viola) and Holly Mathieson (conductor) who have previously featured in S.M.C.O. concerts returning to delight audiences in 2015.   The Orchestra and its following go from strength to strength.       Robert O’Hara