Michael Monaghan Young Musicians Foundation
Twelfth annual concert, conducted by Peter van Drimmelen and Kenneth Young
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Sunday 13 September
It had been announced some time before the concert that this one was the last under the current arrangements; arrangements that began in 1996, with the formation of a trust to remember an NZSO violinist, Michael Monaghan, inspired by violist Peter van Drimmelen, with the first of the annual concerts in 1998.
They have consisted of performances by eight secondary-school, and occasionally younger, musicians, accompanied by players from the NZSO and others. All concerned have given their time free while other costs have been met from supporters and sponsors.
Peter van Drimmelen has been the driver throughout and he has decided that now is the time to withdraw from the project.
Before the final item on the programme, several people spoke: Ian Fraser, a former CEO of the NZSO, Chris Finlayson, Minister for the Arts, who spoke of the importance of the enterprise and its achievements, and finally the Education Office of the NZSO told the audience what it had expected to hear: how the scheme was to carry on.
Deserved praise went to Peter van Drimmelen.
In brief, it is being taken over jointly by the NZSO Foundation and the orchestra itself and it will be expanded to provide comparable activities in other centres.
The Foundation’s remaining funds will be handed to the NZSO Foundation.
Though it would be reckless to claim that standards of performance have improved out of sight, it might not be altogether wrong. I can remember earlier concert in which there were several very impressive performances but one or two that didn’t quite measure up.
This time all eight reached a very high standard, with the last two, cellist Lucy Gysbers and violinist Julian Baker, giving particularly polished performances.
Whether by chance or by a certain amount of tweaking the selection, the concert formed a satisfying programme. The opening piece was a most successful choice – French flutist/composer Benjamin Godard’s Valse, a delightful blend of Straussian Vienna and Offenbachian Paris in a showpiece for the flute in which Jae-Won Um displayed a sure instinct and played attractively.
In the slow movement from Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, and in several subsequent pieces, the roguish acoustic of the cathedral took its toll; though probably not so bad from the front seats, at the rear, bass sounds were unduly exaggerated. Sometimes it created an interesting effect that was not too out of place; at other times, in parts of the Sibelius, the orchestral bass instruments weighed heavily on the violin. With the benefit of a very warm-toned violin Chikako Sasaki got inside it successfully.
Sophie Rose Tarrant-Matthews played the last movement of Beethoven’s third Piano Concerto, again subject to an overbearing acoustic, but strikingly musical; her dynamics and her easy and natural phrasing, avoiding rigid rhythms, were always obvious.
Asaph Verner was even more tested by Ravel’s big orchestra, rich in high woodwinds and percussion, in the first movement of his frightening Concerto in G. Balance between the piano and the orchestra was again hard to achieve, but a fine, brave talent was conspicuous.
The second half was devoted entirely to stringed instruments. Claude Lily Tarrant-Matthews (was this a first, with two siblings among the chosen?), only 11 years old, gave a surprisingly mature performance of the slow movement of Mozart’s third – G major – Violin Concerto. She took it slowly but made full use of that opportunity to explore its lyrical beauties.
Benjamin Pinkney was the only player to tackle a New Zealand piece: Anthony Ritchie’s Viola Concerto, first movement. An interesting work, but it was difficult to assess the performance because of the stridency of high woodwinds and the distraction of too much going on in the orchestra to the detriment of the viola’s role.
The middle movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was played with considerable accomplishment by Lucy Gysbers. Though soloist and orchestra found balance difficult, her playing was confident and very musical.
Finally a little-heard Violin Concerto by Kabalevsky was the choice of Julian Baker. He played its first movement, something of a showpiece, happy and boisterous in fine Soviet style, with good grasp of its style, unostentatiously yet with flair.
There was perceptible relief at the concert’s end from the audience on the announcement about the programme’s continuity. While there are still enormous deficiencies in the teaching of music in schools and simply in exposing children to classical music, this initiative goes some small way to redressing the shortcomings. May it flourish now, and nationwide.