Review of October 2016 Concert


 A capacity audience attended the final concert of the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra to hear the carefully chosen program which opened with a commissioned work by composer Louise Webster, a violin concerto some 26 minutes in length. This work was inspired by a poem “The Sea” by Ruth Dallas. Dallas was born Ruth Mumford in 1919 and became blind in one eye at the age of 15. She was a prolific poet who received many awards including an honorary D. Lit. from Otago University for her poetry. Reading the poem it is easy to see how Louise Webster could be inspired by its down to earth poetic description of New Zealand’s sea and coastal forest. In three movements, the solo violinist Helene Pohl led the orchestra through some colourful passages with some occasional dissonance and ascending to the very highest notes possible on her instrument. The orchestration was finely balanced and sympathetically handled by conductor Michael Joel. The second movement was, to use the composer’s own description, “jagged, rhythmic with a very driven and acerbic quality.”  One could feel how the composer developed an affinity with the Dallas poem in her music writing especially in the final movement which was a gentle slow-moving passacaglia scored only for the soloist and strings. This built in intensity and momentum throughout only to end with the solo violin playing on its own. This premiere performance was warmly received by the audience and I look forward to hearing it again in the not too distant future.  Listening to this work it is easy to appreciate how the composer was inspired by Ruth Dallas’ words, but also by the sounds and images of the sea and the New Zealand landscape.  The solo violinist Helene Pohl gave an inspired performance of this concerto.

The second item was Beethoven’s four movement Symphony No 1. This starts slowly with sustained chords by the woodwind and a wandering melody by the strings which soon moves into a sunny Allegro.  From here on Beethoven shows his sure-footed  grasp of orchestral writing as the bright melody is played by the violins then taken up by the woodwind section who introduce a graceful second tune and then on to a plaintive duet between the woodwind and cello section.   In the second movement, we hear a stately dance with the second violins playing a lovely melody and later development with some brilliant counter-point. Listening to this music one appreciates just how skilfully the composer introduces such beautiful music and handles its progression and development with such confidence and skill. The third movement is labelled Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace. The violins rush in on an ascending scale with pulsing rhythm suggesting tension but order and calm is restored by the woodwind section who break into a trio with pulsing chords.  The movement ends in something of a romp.  The final movement is reminiscent of Haydn but it has the unmistakable stamp of Beethoven’s authority on the music. The cellos and basses are given some wonderful music to play against the main melody carried by the violins with the woodwind and percussion playing their part too. The 54 members of the orchestra gave an inspired reading of this symphony under Michael Joel.  With this numerical strength they are in truth no longer a “Chamber Orchestra” and their ability to play major symphonies is unquestioned.

The final item presented was Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 2 which brought soloist Helene Pohl again to the podium. This concerto starts off in positively dark mood with the soloist playing a melody that is full of foreboding and tension. The orchestra joins her in a different key which heightens the tension, and the music continues in the same dark mood with the soloist having to play some fiendishly difficult passages. The second movement introduces a graceful melody with pizzicato accompaniment, and some inventive musical development involving interweaving melodic themes.  In the third movement the soloist showed her consummate skill in some of the most difficult music she was called upon to play.  Although this movement featured the percussive effects of castanets I did not think the music was in any way Spanish in style.  It was however fast-paced and rollicking music which the composer had instructed that the end be played “Tumultuoso”. The first performance of this concerto was in 1935 in Spain. At the present performance, the audience showed their admiration for the virtuosity of the soloist and the high standard of the orchestra.

To wind up the concert a general invitation to partake of wine (supplied by sponsor, Coopers Creek) and nibbles was warmly welcomed by the audience.  The 2017 program was unveiled.  Musical Director Michael Joel spoke and explained how future programs were selected. He explained that suggestions for future programming would be welcomed.  A presentation was made to Michael McLellan who was stepping down as concertmaster after 26 years in the role.  He was given a worthy round of applause.

Robert O’Hara

SMCO Composer Project 2017

SMCO Composer Project 2017 in association with CANZ and SOUNZ

The SMCO Composer Project is a collaboration between St Matthews Chamber Orchestra, the Composers Association of New Zealand and SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music. The aim is to encourage New Zealand composers at all career stages to write high quality works for nonprofessional orchestras. The selected works will be workshopped by the SMCO in March 2017 and performed in a concert at St. Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland on 30 July 2017.

Composer mentors from CANZ will attend the workshop in March and can give guidance to early career composers. Attending composers will have an opportunity to modify their score if needed. Final rehearsals will take place over three days on 27-29 July.

Call for Scores

SOUNZ is calling for scores from New Zealand based composers for orchestra made up of the following forces: 2222 2221 timp 1 perc. strings

Only small, common percussion gear available no large keyboard instruments. Please contact if you would like clarification of these limitations.

Composers are encouraged to attend the workshop in March and they must attend one rehearsal in July, relevant to their own composition. There is no funding for travel expenses, but accommodation with SMCO orchestral billet is available.

Notes and Comments

Preference will be given to recently composed works that are within the scope of nonprofessional orchestral players

The work may have been performed before

The work should be between 3 – 10 minutes in duration

The selection panel, facilitated by SOUNZ, will include representatives from SMCO and CANZ.  The panel’s decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into

Application Requirements

• Complete score in PDF format

• Recording, if available, in digital format*

• Completed application form

• Programme note and short biography of up to 200 words each in word document

* recordings and large-file scores should be delivered using an online file sharing service such as Dropbox.


SMCO Composer Project 2017 in association with CANZ and SOUNZ

Application Form :

Your completed application must reach by 5pm Wednesday 1 February

2017. Late applications will not be accepted.

Selected Works

All composers who submit scores will be advised of the panel’s selections by mid-February 2017.

Composers of the chosen works must supply PDFs of the full score and all the parts to SOUNZ within three weeks of selection.

Following any revisions after the March workshops, PDFs of the revised final score and parts must be provided to SMCO by 29 May 2017.

If you have any questions about the submission process, contact

For information about St Matthews Chamber Orchestra visit



Review of September 2016 Concert


With José Aparicio conducting and Stephen De Pledge the featured soloist, the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra had two terrific drawcards to attract a capacity audience for their September Sunday concert, and it was with great anticipation that I took my seat in this inner city church. Firstly José makes his return visit to St Matthew’s to conduct, and we are so lucky that such a talented musician originally from Alicante, Spain has chosen to settle in New Zealand.   He is of course married to New Zealand singer Anna Pierard, who comes from the Hawkes Bay. Stephen De Pledge is now settled here where he is a Senior Lecturer in Piano at Auckland University and also manages to fulfil a wide-ranging schedule overseas as a performing soloist, chamber musician and accompanist.  Both of these men have impressive music backgrounds and it is quite a coup that the orchestra was able to engage them for this concert.

First up we heard Wagner’s stirring Overture to “The Flying Dutchman“.  This work gives a wonderful foretaste of what is to follow in the opera itself.  In 1839  Richard Wagner was a conductor at the Court Theatre Riga and in his autobiography, Mein Leben, he claimed that he had been inspired to write “The Flying Dutchman“ after having suffered a horrendously stormy sea voyage between Riga and London.  The opera featured a Sea Captain who is doomed for his blasphemy to sail forever, and only be allowed to come ashore every seven years to find a faithful woman.  Senta is that woman who remains faithful unto death.  In the Overture (which was written last) Wagner incorporates leitmotifs firstly of the storm, then The Dutchman and finally Senta.  Conductor José gave a wonderfully dynamic performance of this overture and was able to bring out the full drama of the music in all its power.   Clearly the members of the orchestra enjoyed playing under his direction and rose to the occasion.  It is worthy of mention that the conductor chose to reposition the different string sections from their usual format, and while some would debate this aspect, I believe that it offered a better balance for the cellos and violas to be more centrally placed.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto number 20  was one of only two written in the minor key. It was a particular favourite of Beethoven and the only one that he wrote cadenzas for.    It was also the only Mozart Piano concerto that Beethoven ever performed in public.  Throughout the concerto the orchestra and soloist take it in turns to introduce a melody then respond and develop it. This is probably Mozart’s most popular piano concerto and it deserves to be because it has so much musical substance and variety of melodic material.  It contains a wonderfully satisfying cross-section of orchestral colour, sound and dynamics with the piano taking its turn to be the focus of attention.   Stephen De Pledge did not play the Beethoven cadenzas but substituted his own, and they were just seamless with the Mozart.   I understand that in rehearsal his own cadenzas were different again and embodied some nursery rhymes. Such exceptional talent was fully appreciated by the audience and they also appreciated the mutual understanding evident between conductor and soloist.  This made for a truly memorable performance of this exceptional piece of music.  No doubt in Mozart’s day he would have conducted the orchestra from the keyboard, as have many modern performers like Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Mitsuko Uchida and Maurizio Pollini.

Finally we heard the passion, energy and wonderful melodic content of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No 1.  In 1839 Schumann wrote, “Sometimes I would like to smash my piano; it has become too narrow for my thoughts.”   He was in fact referring to the orchestra as the medium for which he yearned to compose.  Two years later his wish came true and he confided to a friend, “How I enjoyed hearing it performed.”  He was referring to his first symphony.  Its first performance in Leipzig was conducted by Mendelssohn.  At one stage the composer considered giving each of the movements titles like “Spring’s awakening” ; “Evening”; “Merry Playmates” : and “Spring’s Farewell”   but in the end rejected the idea.  Indeed music that is as fresh and confident as this is needs no supporting text to explain it.     The work suggests the bitter cold of Winter being pushed aside with melting icicles and Spring arriving with bubbling torrents of water evocative of boisterous weather.  This is then pushed aside in the coda which ends in a beautiful hymn-like melody.   The second movement brings a tender love song played by the violins, then the cellos and finally by the woodwind section, then the trombones quietly draw the key from E flat major to G minor as the movement closes.  The Scherzo is something of a tug-of-war the first sombre theme and the more happy tunes that follow suggesting some black clouds supplanted by a bright sunset.  The brightness of the first movement returns with the final movement which is introduced by a soulful horn call followed by a trilling solo flute which seems to hint at sadness in this world.  This is however swept aside by the full orchestra which dances joyously on to a Sunny conclusion.    Conductor José’s  direction was both positive and economical.  He drew some beautiful sounds forth from the orchestra, which resulted in a performance that the audience enjoyed and appreciated.

Lois Westwood’s informative program notes were once again well researched and presented.

The next St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra concert is on Sunday 16th October 2016  conducted by Michael Joel with Helene Pohl violin, playing the Prokofiev violin concerto No 2, and will include Beethoven’s  Symphony No 1. There will also be the premiere of a new work by Louise Webster.

Robert O’Hara.

Review of August 2016 Concert


It is pleasing that more and more people are becoming aware of the pleasures offered by St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra concerts on Sundays in the central City.  Auckland residents are regularly able to access music played by the APO and also the NZSO orchestras on a regular basis but while these professional orchestras play some stimulating programs, there is in my view nothing to compare with music that is played by unpaid musicians who play purely for the pleasure of performing.   Such is the performance of the St Matthew’s Chamber orchestra that they play “from the heart” and when coupled with professional conductors and soloists their performance rises to provide unique enjoyment to their audience.

Their most recent concert featured an all French first half featuring Chausson, Debussy and Ravel.   It was great to welcome dynamic young conductor Holly Mathieson back for her third visit as guest conductor.  Despite her diminutive figure, she was a veritable giant on the podium giving authoritative direction to the orchestra at every step of the way to ensure that they played each piece as she wanted it.   The orchestra responded to a man/woman and the audience got a memorable version of each work.  First up was Debussy’s well known “L’apres-midi d’un Faune”.   This work of some 11 minutes starts with a plaintive melody played by flute in the lower register with harp glissando accompaniment.  It moves on with dream-like music that suggests the dreams of the Faun (a half man-half goat) who has become exhausted after chasing alluring nymphs through the woods.  This work was given a very sensitive performance by the orchestra and was much appreciated by the audience.

The next offering was Amedee-Ernest Chausson’s Poeme, where the orchestra was joined by Violin Soloist Andrew Beer.   It was something of a coup for the Orchestra to engage this brilliant violin soloist who is the concertmaster for the APO orchestra, and currently one of New Zealand’s most brilliant resident violinists.   This work for orchestra and violin soloist is about 18 mins in length and the commencement of the work is marked “Lento e misterioso”. It starts darkly in colour and harmony and after the orchestra introduces the opening theme, the soloist enters and the orchestra echoes the soloist, who then launches into a lengthy passionate unaccompanied cadenza, after which the orchestra joins in repeating the soloist’s theme.   The music that follows is intensely passionate and at times dreamy in colour.  In 1913, fellow composer Debussy reviewed a performance of this work and his comments are worth quoting.  He wrote “nothing could be more touching than the gentle dreaminess  of the quiet close –the music itself is the sentiment that commands our feelings — fine music this, and full of ardour.”     This was a truly apt description of Chausson’s work which was enjoyed by all.

Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane for violin and orchestra” was the final item in the first half of the program.  This work of some 10 minutes commenced with the unaccompanied solo violin playing for three and a half minutes which featured gipsy tunes and dances that varied between bright bravura tunes and sad melodies.  Then the Harp and Orchestra joined the violin and we had some exciting unmistakably gipsy tunes with the piccolo and other woodwind featuring in the accompaniment.   The whole work features brilliant orchestration by Ravel which the orchestra revelled in, and the whole work came to a brilliant climax at the end.  The applause showed how much this performance was appreciated.  Andrew Beer plays a J.B Vuillaume violin from 1845, and uses an 1880 bow by J.J.Martin.   The instrument displayed a very rich tone especially in the lower register.   When the audience would not let him go, he generously played an encore by Bach which demanded a lot of double stopping, coupled with some pizzicato.   His bravura performance was very much acclaimed.

Following interval, the major work presented was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2. Known as the “Little Russian”, a title given to the Symphony by critic Nicolai Kashkin, as a result of all of the Ukrainian folk tunes that have been incorporated in the work.     Some 36 minutes in length, this Symphony is one of the composer’s most cheerful works and it does include a lot of folk songs and dances from the Ukraine.   The first movement begins with a lengthy introduction, Andante sostenuto played by a horn followed by a bassoon with pizzicato accompaniment from the cellos and basses.  A folk melody “On the banks of Mother Volga” is played with variations.  The march in the second movement was actually from an opera Undine, and was originally a wedding march.  When the Opera proved to be a box office failure, Tchaikovsky destroyed most of the score and retained only a few successful pieces from the score.  The third movement, a bright Scherzo with fluctuating rhythms, hints at folk music but is actually is all original.    Tchaikovsky uses some brilliant orchestration in the course of this work, and conductor Holly Mathieson made the most of this with her direction, which was always clear.   This program was one of the best that the orchestra has presented in the past two years, and it is worthy of mention that there were more than 60 players performing in this orchestra, the most that I can recall that they have had in performance .

The next concert will be presented on Sunday 18th September 2016 featuring piano soloist Stephen De Pledge, and conductor Jose Aparicio.   The Program will feature works by Wagner, Mozart and Schumann.                       Robert O’Hara.

Review of June 2016 Concert


The June Program of Opera arias sung by a very talented line-up of Auckland University Vocal Students, interspersed with Opera overtures was a huge hit with the big audience.  The feed-back that I got from several sources was that it was the most enjoyable program that they had ever heard from the Orchestra.

The dramatic Mozart Overture to the Magic Flute opened the program with its three declamatory chords, which are repeated at three intervals in the course of the overture.  These are said to be symbolic of the three degrees that a Masonic candidate has to undergo in the ritual of Masonry.  Mozart was an active Mason and throughout the opera there are obvious masonic references in the plot and the part played by various characters, including Sarastro the high priest, and Tamino the novice candidate who has to undergo various trials and tribulations, before he is accepted into the order.  Written at near the end of Mozart’s life he poured all of his skill and passion into the music causing Albert Einstein to comment “that Mozart compressed into this overture all the struggles and victory of mankind.” It was a fitting item to begin the concert and warmed the audience to what was to follow.

Samson Setu opened the vocal content with the well-known Figaro aria “Non piu andrai”.   In this aria Figaro is rather gloatingly comparing the vastly different life that Cherubino will have to lead in the army, compared to his previous service as a pageboy in the service of Count Almaviva.  Setu’s bright baritone voice with ringing resonance suited this aria to perfection, and he acted out the character he was portraying beautifully.    It is incumbent on every singer who sings an aria from an opera in a concert, to deliver the same performance as if he or she were singing it in costume on stage in an actual performance of the opera.  This demands that the character be portrayed in every aspect, and sadly this doesn’t always happen.   On this concert however, every single one of the performers made significant efforts to get “inside” the character of the aria that they were singing.

Gounod’s aria, the Waltz song from “Romeo and Juliet” was the choice of Natasha Wilson and it suited her Soprano voice to perfection.  This is a vocally demanding aria to sing but she met its demands with ease, reeling off the spectacular top notes with great aplomb.   Soprano Clare Hood was next on the program with Olympia’s Doll song from Offenbach’s “Tales Of Hoffman”.   This aria is a real show-piece, and Clare’s dress, deportment and her hand movements conveyed to perfection the automaton doll’s clockwork mechanics.  Her voice was well suited to this aria, and a nice touch was added with the Conductor David Kay winding up the key in her back when she wound down and collapsed forward.  The key winding mechanism sounds were aptly provided by the percussion section in the orchestra.   This performance got spontaneous applause from the audience.

Lalo’s opera Le Roi d’Ys features one of the most beautiful arias in the tenor repertoire, “Vainement ma bien-aimee” and this was sung by Manase Latu.  It is a plea to his beloved bride-to-be to leave her handmaidens and join him in the wedding procession.   Latu’s performance of this aria was quite sublime. He was able to show off his well-trained tenor voice by singing pianissimo on a sustained high note which the audience loved.    His was a performance of an aria that was not just right in character, but it suited his voice perfectly.   He has already had considerable performance experience and scholarship success, and I feel sure will go on to greater heights in future.  We returned to Mozart for the final vocal item in the first half, with the delightful trio from “ Cosi fan tutte” sung by Ben Kubiak (Don Alfonso) , Emma Fussell (Dorabella) and Teresa Wojtowicz (Fiordiligi). In this trio Don Alfonso joins the two fiancees of their men Ferrando and Gugliemo and commiserates with the ladies that their men have been called to war.   This trio was finely performed and the voices were very well balanced.

The first half wound up with Mozart’s mini-symphony No 32. This gave the orchestra and conductor David Kay the opportunity to shine with some fine string playing and delicate phrasing from the wood-wind sections.

The second half opened with an orchestra composition “Ortus” by Jessie Leov  an Auckland based composer who is currently in her third year studying Composition at the University of Auckland.  This piece opened with instruments in the orchestra playing melodic lines that interweaved in a subtle way with pleasant harmony and developed into broader themes with a melody that soared over the harmonies and took precedence.   I have previously commended the Orchestra for programming New Zealand composers, and Jessie Leov’s composition “Ortus” deserves more exposure.

The vocal opera bracket opened with Kayla Collingwood (Mezzo) singing the well-known “Habanera” from Bizet’s   opera Carmen.   In this aria she expounds her philosophy about love in true gipsy fashion, and Kayla gave a very polished performance of this aria.  Her French diction was flawless, and she captured the capricious nature of Carmen well.    She was then joined by Natasha Wilson to perform the Flower Duet from Delibes “Lakme”, and their voices were well matched, in a moving performance.     The Orchestra then gave Johan Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” overture.  This featured some exquisite string playing and also some sweetly played oboe and it was a joy to hear this very popular overture given such an exciting performance. We then heard the Farewell trio from the same opera with Emma Fussell (Rosalinde):  Manase Latu (Eisenstein) and Teresa Wojtowicz (Adele) in which Eisenstein farewells his wife and maid on the pretext that he is going to prison for seven days when in fact he is going to have a merry romp at a Ball.

The Orchestra then played Verdi’s Overture from “The Force of Destiny”. This starts with three ominous Chords, which is then followed by  crisp runs from the strings which in turn leads into some of the most memorable melodic writing that Verdi ever did.    It traverses many of the main theme tunes that occur in the course of the opera and finishes up grand style.  To conclude the Program all eight singers took the stage to perform Verdi’s Brindisi from La Traviata.   This lively drinking chorus extols the pleasures of alcoholic drink, and life in general.     The program was given rapturous applause.

The next St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concert on the 21st August features conductor Holly Mathieson with the APO concertmaster Andrew Beer as soloist.     Robert O’Hara


Review of May 2016 Concert


It was gratifying to see such a good attendance at the second concert of 2016 for the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra. In balmy Autumn temperatures it was a great feeling to sit in St Matthews Church to hear such an uplifting program.

The Overture to “Don Giovanni” was the first offering.  Its dark introspective chords give a foreboding feeling of the tragic drama that is to follow.  From Lois Westwood’s informative notes we learned that Mozart wrote the whole overture the night before the first performance, leaving no time for the orchestra to rehearse.  Despite this the opera was a resounding success, and continues to enthral audiences all over the world to this day.  In the view of the great opera critic, George Bernard Shaw, “Don Giovanni” was the “greatest opera ever to have been written”. Many would agree with him.  Certainly the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra’s performance of the overture was a superb beginning to what was to become one of the best concerts in my view that they have performed.   Michael McLellan’s direction was superb and we heard some very fine string playing.

Renowned pianist David Guerin was the featured soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9.  The Allegro first movement was dashed off with great panache, and the second movement was played with great sensitivity, the soloist showing a very real feeling for the most delicate of Mozart’s passages for the keyboard.   He was well supported by the orchestra, and was able to command respect with the contrast he was able to achieve between forte and pianissimo passages.  One could not have wished for a better interpretation of Mozart from any solo pianist, and at the end, the audience showed their loud appreciation of his and the orchestra’s performance.

The performance of Anthony Arthur Watson’s “Prelude and Allegro for strings” was a curious choice to play alongside Mozart.  However with conductor Michael McLellan opting to offer dissected fragments of the work at the beginning, we were able to gain a greater appreciation of the compositional structure of the work.  Watson for over ten years played the viola in the National Orchestra of New Zealand and later was the first Mozart Fellow at the University of Otago.  This work was commissioned by the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra, and was first performed by the N.Z.S.O. in 2009.  Although the work was only 6 minutes in length it offered great tonal colour, with clever use of dissonance.   There were times during the work that reminded me of Ligeti with his broad tonal colour achieved by so many different notes being played at once on different instruments.   There were other moments when I was reminded of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with its pulsing bow work on the strings.   It received a good reception and it is pleasing that the orchestra chooses to include works like this from New Zealand composers on their program, because we might otherwise be denied that opportunity.

The main symphonic work on the program was Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony No 36 in C.  This work composed at breakneck speed is unusual in that it starts with a slow introduction reminiscent of Haydn.  It teems with melodic invention and is generally a sunny and extrovert work.    The second movement in a minor key finally settles down and proceeds in orthodox fashion.   The glittering minuet that follows is martial and followed by a trio that is a rustic dance of gentle beauty that features an elegant duet for Oboe and Bassoon.  The finale is a bustling presto that trots out a dazzling variety of musical ideas and exhibits a pungent wit timed to perfection.  The composer’s direction was that it be played “as fast as possible”, and the orchestra and conductor did their best to carry this out.   This performance was a fitting end to a superb program and ensured that the audience will be back for the next concert on June 19th when David Kay will conduct the Orchestra with a group of Vocal Students from the University of Auckland presenting a program of Opera Arias and Excepts.  – Robert O’Hara

Review of March 2016 Concert


The St Matthews Chamber Orchestra drew a large audience for it first concert in 2016, and the program proved to be very popular. There was a hushed expectancy for the Wagner Idyll which was the first item on the program. This very romantic piece was intended by Richard Wagner as a birthday surprise for his wife Cosima. It was first performed on Christmas Day 1870. Wagner had gathered together a small group of musicians from the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich and they played the Idyll on the staircase of the Swiss villa outside Cosima’s bedroom. She was much moved by the performance and the music had deep significance for the family. It includes many of the themes that later formed part of “Siegfried”, the third opera in the Ring Cycle. Conductor Michael Joel has just returned from London where he was working as a duty conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He drew a very sympathetic reading of the Wagner work from the orchestra, and the strings were particularly expressive. The orchestration is mainly quiet and serene in character and the themes are spread around the various instruments, so that every section of the orchestra has its moment of glory. This was much enjoyed by the audience.

Catherine Bowie, professor of flute studies at Auckland University, was the featured soloist in Carl Reinecke’s Flute concerto in D Major. Composer Carl Reinecke was a noted pianist who studied under Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt, and also taught Liszt’s daughter Cosima. His Flute sonata “Undine” is perhaps his best known composition, although the D Major Concerto has become an important part of the concert flute soloist repertoire. Playing a Lillian Burkhart flute, Bowie’s performance of the first and second movement was exquisite, but in the demanding final movement she had the opportunity to demonstrate her virtuosity which was outstanding. The scoring for the orchestra in parts of this work is quite heavy and called for the conductor to keep volume levels under control. This was sensitively achieved by Michael, and at the triumphant conclusion, the soloist’s skill was roundly applauded.

The final work in the program was Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony number 7 in D Minor. This work was composed during a rather sad period in the composer’s life and his personal tragedy is reflected in some of the music. In 1884 Dvorak was admitted to honorary membership of the London Philharmonic Society, who commissioned him to write a new symphony. He completed this and conducted the first London performance on 22nd March 1885. As in his previous symphonies he made quite extensive use of Bohemian melodies. In the early part of the work the St Matthews Orchestral performance highlighted the contrast between the movements. At first introspective and foreboding, then the mood changed and the darkness was swept away in a glorious rush of impassioned music. The opening theme was developed and the whole work swept on to an impressive climax. Once again the thoroughly researched program notes by Lois Westwood were significant in adding to audience members’ appreciation and understanding of the program.

The next concert will feature pianist David Guerin, with Michael McLellan conducting, and this will be on Sunday 15th May 2016. Robert O’Hara.

Review of October 2015 Concert


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


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