Showing posts with label Vaughan Williams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vaughan Williams. Show all posts

Monday, April 20, 2015

Virtuosic piano, then sound and fury

A Sea Symphony
Saturday 18 April 2015
Dunedin Town Hall

City Choir Dunedin and Auckland Choral join the Southern Sinfonia in their production of Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony.

A near capacity audience was enthralled by the wash of sound produced by two large works by inexperienced composers in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday.

Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor when he was just 17 (1890). Its earliest version shows all the the fiery exuberance, the self-indulgent display and confused revelry of adolescence, where melodic repose is merely snatched at.

Pianist Modi Deng's performance showed tremendous virtuosic power, quicksilver speed and as much elegance as can be wrought from the raw work. Her affinity with youthful works, first showcased in her 2010 performance of Chopin's Variations on Mozart's La ci darem la mano, written when Chopin was 19, was again deservedly acclaimed. We look forward to a similar display of her apparent but as yet underexposed expressive strengths.

The Southern Sinfonia was joined by the City Choir Dunedin and the Auckland Choral with guests soprano Anna Leese and baritone Marcin Bronikowski for Vaughan Williams' first symphony, A Sea Symphony (1910), under the direction of Nicholas Braithwaite.

A Sea Symphony washes the audience in sound and conjures images of moody seas.

Both soloists showed remarkable power in making themselves heard against the orchestral storms, thus revealing the work's strength and weakness.

Inevitably, Walt Whitman's fine words are lost in the melee. Though they are printed in the programme, what persists in the ear is the sibilant sounds.

Though performed with uniform dedication producing an enthusiastically received wall of sound, A Sea Symphony remains somewhat frustratingly all sound and fury.

The Southern Sinfonia farewells Stephen Christensen, president of the board, and concertmaster Sydney Manowitz.

The audience acknowledged Manowitz's distinguished and gracious career leadership of 20 years with a unanimous standing ovation, prolonged cheers and stamping feet.

Reviewed for the Otago Daily Times by Marian Poole, 20 April 2015.

Another view on Southern Sinfonia concert

It was a thrilling moment when a massed choir, representing both extremes of the compass of New Zealand, supported by Norma and the forces of the Southern Sinfonia, gave voice to the majestic Sea Symphony on Saturday night at the town hall. If the earth had vibrated at that moment we would not have felt it – such was the excitement of the waves, splashes and power of the sound sweeping over a rapt audience. Great was the contrast provided by the second movement with its delicate tone painting of gossamer-like transparency and the beautiful singing of the baritone soloist in On the Beach Alone at Night. The sea and its extensive moods were well limned throughout a work of much more than mere “sound and fury”. Clearly, not all members of the audience would be in accord with what the reviewer (ODT, 20.4.15) heard and reported about this concert.

As the programme notes made clear, Rachmaninov rewrote his first concerto, smoothing out the “confused revelry of adolescence”, reworking his material into more organic development. Modi Deng grasped this great concerto whole, demonstrating the power and speed that we expect in a performer of her exceptional ability. It was a beautiful and very moving performance. Ms Deng’s poise and wonderful sense of timing showed maturity beyond her years, creating a satisfying performance in all respects. Kudos to Modi Deng, Maestro Braithwaite et al.

John Van Buskirk
North Dunedin

Letter to the the Editor, Otago Daily Times, 21 April 2015.

Reviewed for The Star by Brenda Harwood, 23 April 2015.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Sea Symphony

The excitement and glory of performing Haydn's The Creation is now behind us and our thoughts and musical attention is turned towards Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony. City Choir Dunedin will fly up to Auckland to join the Auckland Choral Society and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for a performance of A Sea Symphony in the Auckland Town Hall on Saturday 15 November.

We hope to bring this work to a Dunedin concert hall near you with the Southern Sinfonia in 2015. Fingers crossed that we can get all the stars aligned to make it happen!

Written between 1903 and 1909, Vaughan Williams's first and longest symphony, it was first performed at the Leeds Festival in 1910, with the composer conducting. The symphony's maturity belies the composer's relative youth when it was written (he was 30 when he first began sketching it). As one of the first symphonies in which a choir is used throughout as an integral part of the musical texture, A Sea Symphony helped set the stage for a new era of symphonic and choral music in England during the first half of the 20th century.

The text of A Sea Symphony comes from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

I. A Song for All Seas, All Ships
II. (20:10) On the Beach at Night Alone
III. (32:09) Scherzo: The Waves
IV. (40:22) The Explorers

Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Proms Youth Choir and soloists Sally Matthews and Roderick Williams

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Westminster Abbey Choir sing Vaughan Williams' Valiant-for-Truth

After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons, and had this for a token that the summons was true, 'That his pitcher was broken at the fountain'. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it.
Then said he, "I am going to my Father's, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am.
My sword, I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill, to him that can get it.
My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battles, who now will be my rewarder.
When the day that he must go hence, was come, many accompanied him to the river side, into which, as he went, he said, "Death, where is thy sting?"
And as he went down deeper, he said, "Grave, where is thy victory?"
So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

--John Bunyan, "Pilgrim's Progess," set by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Friday, March 27, 2009

Frances Hodgkins the musical ...

Well for my money it was a jolly good concert.

I had seen a 'creature' wandering around the auditorium during the dress rehearsal, she looked as though she was on day release from the local funny farm. Being VERY slow on the uptake it did not occur to me that the large floral print dress, red high heel shoes, bright blue tights and fruit-laden hat were part of the performance: of course, it was Rima Te Wiata, as Frances Hodgkins. All was made clear during the second-half as she read a script based on Frances's letters ostensibly to her mother, which was interspersed with orchestral pieces from the pen of Anthony Ritchie.

Our part in the first part of the first half went off without a hitch, we altos came in on the 'Peace ho' bit and saw Marc smiling when he brought in Deborah on the 'Come ho' bit - there'd been some amusement from him during rehearsals - something to do with his Americanised interpretation of Shakespeare. Never mind, I guess you had to be there.

We enjoyed ourselves, and according to my supprtive chums in the audience they did too.

I am now a complete fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams after two concerts in a row featuring his work.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Serenade to Music, Ralph Vaughan-Williams

Here is a video you could use for practicing Serenade to Music. The sound quality is not 100%, but it will do. Note because of video length restrictions in Youtube this is in two parts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My First Last Night Of The Proms!

I promised I'd do a quick write-up of the Proms, so here I am!

I'll apologise in advance if I offend any Brits (well, actually if I offend anyone, for that matter!), but I'm an Aussie, and anti-Royalist, and I couldn't help finding it all rather amusing, seeing a pack of Antipodean Kiwis waving Union Jacks and wearing silly hats, singing anachronistic songs about a long-dead Empire and a Monarch who has only visited this country a handful of times.

Can Lizzie The Second place New Zealand on a world map? Does she know what a sheep looks like? Would she ride a Segway up Baldwin Street? Whadayareckon? Your guess is as good as mine.

However, getting back to the Proms. We were awesome!

Yes, we were. We really were. Admit it, people! We ROCKED.

It's time to give ourselves a pat on the back, and say, without reservation, that old Queenie-poohs should have taken it upon Her Royal We-ness to come to Dunedin and attend the Proms, because I think she would have had a ripper of a time. And no Cliff Richard, which has to be a bonus.

As you probably know (but I'm going to tell you anyway), we started the night with God Save The Queen and God Defend New Zealand. We were LOUD. We were SEXY. We were WONDERFUL. God had His ears on, and was almost certainly duly impressed.

Then into a whole stack of great stuff by the Sinfonia (but not quite as good as the openers, because WE weren't singing!). I rather enjoyed my top, back-row view of the audience, because from where I was you could see everything.

I could see audience members dressed as Beefeaters and Guardsmen and Morris dancers, and even an old lady - who went on to win the prize as Best Promenader - dressed as Queen Victoria herself! And she was highly amused.

It was a colourful sight, looked like loads of fun, and almost made me wish I were down in the peanut gallery instead of up on stage!


The highlight of the evening was of course our own performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Toward The Unknown Region, the text of which is of course taken from Whitman's great work Leaves Of Grass (Book 30), and speaks of the crossing over from life into death.

Toward The Unknown Region is a stunning work, and in it you can hear many similarities with Vaughan Williams' much larger masterpiece, A Sea Symphony, which also uses text from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

Enough of the scholarly rubbish, as it's pretty boring to everyone but me, I'm guessing.

The Proms was certainly a huge success. A notable mention was Alex Campbell-Hunt's new work Sakura Trees, which was very beautiful. I enjoyed it immensely, it was very well received, and I know that many of us on stage and in the audience are looking forward to hearing Alex's next offerings.

The soloists were great. I particularly enjoyed Tom McGrath's performance of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto 2 (movements 2 & 3) - but then, I admit that piano has always made me swoon.

Throughout the Proms, Helen Medlyn did an excellent job of her performances, and showed us what really first-class talent New Zealand can produce. She was great - as were her outfits!

Doing it all again - in Oamaru!

Come Saturday afternoon I found myself boarding a bus for Oamaru, ready to do it all over again at the Oamaru Opera House.

Just to prove a point, no sooner had we boarded than we were pushing uphill out of town (don't mention the gear changes!) against some of the south island's finest summer weather. Not. And I was wishing I'd brought an umbrella. Typical - whenever I bring one it doesn't rain. Leave the brolly at home and it downpours.

I never cease to be amazed at how beautiful this country of ours is. The absolute irony of us all going along to wave the flags of another, far less beautiful (and wonderful, in my opinion) country and sing its songs instead of ours was not lost on me. Regardless of this, I had thoroughly enjoyed my First Last Night Of The Proms, and was determined to enjoy my Last Last Night of the Proms too.

After a rather slow bus convoy, we finally arrived, and were ushered into one of the strangest and most dungeon-like green rooms I've ever experienced.

In all fairness, the Opera House is still being built. And this was one of the 'incomplete' sections. But I did feel rather like a Star Trek Red Jacket or a nameless extra in a Dr Who episode, and I wondered when the four-headed, fifty-foot-long-fanged creatures would be released to dine on us.

A quick rehearsal, then we all headed over to a local hotel for drinks followed by an extremely delicious dinner. Full marks for this one. No matter what your tastes or inclination in food, it was provided. Yumm-oh! I won't admit to the actual number of roast potatoes I consumed, but yes, it was obscene. And the dessert was delicious. My dining companions were friendly and fun, and dinner exceeded expectations. Vairy noice.

Back to the concert venue. Problems getting 160 people through three toilets in succession in time for a concert. Note to any architects reading this: PLEASE build public buildings with more bathrooms than you think will be needed! There's nothing worse than waiting in line with ten (or more) people ahead of you, and knowing you're due on stage in two minutes!

The concert was good fun. I won't say we were quite as spectacular as we had been in Dunedin (you always perform better to a home crowd), but I had a good time. Snapshots in my memory include the audience member who won the prize to conduct the Sinfonia. I've never seen such raw talent! Arvin - I must get a copy of your footage - please!!!

And also our esteemed musical director David, making a complete, ummmm, Brit of himself with plastic hat and Union Jack cape. There are some "looks" we can carry off, and there are others that should be carried off. Permanently. (Yes, I'm teasing. Being an Aussie I can't resist stirring a Pom - it's in my blood.)

In short, although this supposedly "short" write-up of the Proms has been anything but, Oamaru was fun. I had a great time. At the end of the night there was mad confusion as we all scrambled through mud and rain onto three buses. I don't know how anyone could tell whether we all made it home. Maybe we didn't? If the tenor section is missing on Tuesday, the first place to look is the toilet queue at Oamaru Opera House.

The journey home was filled with wonderful views of the neon lights of the bustling city of Oamaru - changing from red, to amber, then green, and back to red again.

The views of the bays were similarly awe-inspiring - if you had a very vivid imagination you could almost see beyond the drizzle and the pitch black to the sweeping beaches and rolling hills. Almost.

I finally got home at around midnight - I think. I had to catch a taxi from the Octagon home, but no dramas - the drivers were all avoiding the north end of the city after the liquid delights of last week's toga parade, and hailing a cab for any person not resembling a drunken student was easy-peasy.

In closing, I'd like to give huge thankyous to our wonderful committee, the Sinfonia, to David, and to everyone involved in organising our concerts for us. We, the humble choristers, expect everything to be beautifully organised and well-planned. And because you guys are so awesome, it always is! So thankyou - we do appreciate it very much, even though we may usually be too witless and self-centered to say so!

Bring on the rest of 2009! We'll be awesome!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Toward the Unknown Region

If anyone wants to hear a recording of this work, this is a track you can download from classicsonline