Start of a diverting Cello(phonia) tradition at the New Zealand School of Music

Cellophonia II: New Zealand School of Music

Music for cello ensembles: by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, J Strauss II, Bach, Farr

Cellists: Inbal Megiddo (NZSM lecturer in cello), Andrew Joyce, Ashley Brown, Eliah Sakakushev; students of the NZSM and the Young Musicians’ Programme; players from Wellington orchestras

Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University

Sunday 9 December, 7.30pm

Last year’s festival for cellists at the New Zealand School of Music was a very popular occasion, and it encouraged Inbal Megiddo, cello lecturer at the school,  and other leading cellists, to stage a repeat. It involves cello tuition, masterclasses and ensemble performance and a cello scholarship, consisting of $1000 plus the use of a Thomas Kennedy cello (c. 1813) for a year.
Professor Shmuel Magan of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance participated during the week, as a tutor.

There were one or two changes from last year in the ranks of professional cellists taking part and a considerable increase in the number of students, and players from amateur orchestras such as the Wellington and the Kapiti chamber orchestras; 29 in all.

An arrangement of Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro opened the concert, involving 12 players evidently playing seven parts. While it sounded an almost entirely different piece without woodwinds and brass, the variety of tone that could be captured was very interesting, particularly the sounds high on the A string.

Perhaps the most impressive piece on the programme was the arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, which acts as a major member of the cello concerto repertoire both because of its intrinsic musical quality and the heroic demands placed on the solo cellist.

In this case the solo role was passed from one of the principal cellists to another; that was in itself entertaining, but the experience of seeing and hearing it at close, chamber music, quarters highlighted the impact of the virtuosic terrors that it presents. It fell to Andrew Joyce to play some of the most spectacular variations.  As each variation exhibits different performance characteristics, the handling of particular sections by each cellist tended to illuminate these differences most divertingly.  Though focus might have been on the soloists, the accompaniment too exposed the bones of Tchaikovsky’s writing, not quite as interesting as when clothed in the colours of a full orchestra.

The first half ended with a Blue Danube Waltz: think I’ll stick with the version left to us by J Strauss Junior.

After the interval the full ensemble – 29 – emerged to play mainly lolly-pops. The non-lolly-pops were the 6th Brandenburg Concerto and Gareth Farr’s Ascent. The latter, led by Auckland Philharmonia principal cellist Eliah Sakakushev, is a piece written for cello ensemble, in a fairly conventional idiom, but exhibiting attractive musical ideas that seemed to emerge from a composer who was constantly alive to the sounds of the instruments as he wrote the notes on his manuscript (speaking loosely in the age of ‘Sibelius’). It was a delightful piece in its own right.

In contrast, and surprisingly for me, the 6th Brandenburg, though written for strings without violins and which I had imagined would be an easy convert to a wholly cello environment, disappointed. It began with a satisfying crunch, and the perpetuum mobile rhythm of the first movement sustained interest. But the leading melody in the second movement seemed earth-bound, it didn’t fly. And in the third movement I concluded sadly that though cellos are near neighbours to violas, the sounds they produced were simply not very beguiling, while the sounds of the original hovered in my head.

On the other hand, Bach’s Air on the G string (the second movement from his third orchestral suite) worked very well, never needing to be played in a range that was too remote from the limits of the original. The players changed their places from one piece to the next, presumably to give the students and amateur players a good range of experience; in the Bach the leading cellists each shared a desk with one of the students.

Finally, the big ensemble played the brief Trepak from The Nutcracker ballet, another piece that might have seemed a very improbable candidate for this treatment. Though it’s one of the classical pops that has long been on my ‘best avoid’ list, it was kind-of fun.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *