Young Musicians Programme in another impressive concert supported by Music Futures

New Zealand School of Music Young Musicians Programme
Presented by Music Futures

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 13 September, 3 pm

This concert, a showcase for a large number of the students who have participated in Victoria University’s Young Musicians Programme was the second in the space of six weeks.

It was facilitated by Music Futures. After the Friends of the NZSO wound up, Valerie Rhodes was approached by an orchestra member with the suggestion of an organisation to support young musicians. That led to the formation of Music Futures in 2011 and their first concert in August 2012.

This year Music Futures offered to fund a concert for the Young Musicians Programme at St. Andrew’s on 13 September, giving access to a venue they wouldn’t otherwise have used. In addition to those promoted by Music Futures the YMP continues to put on a programme of public concerts throughout the year.

Although we had been led to believe that the YMP was not as warmly supported by the university as it might have been, Dr Robert Legg assures us that YMP is viewed as critically important by the university and by NZSM, and that significant resources, in terms of staff time, are devoted to the programme.

Contributions from a wide range of NZSM staff, including Legg (who had hosted Sunday’s concert), Rodger Fox, Dave Lisik, Inbal Megiddo, Michael Norris, Debbie Rawson, and centrally the New Zealand String Quartet, make YMP possible. NZSM director Euan Murdoch is also very interested in the YMP, having founded one of its predecessor organisations, the Victoria Academy fifteen years ago; he was
present at the concert.

The tutors involved at this concert were Simeon Broom, Margaret Guldborg, Reuben Chin and Debbie Rawson, Jonny Avery, Linden Loader, Ludwig Treviranus and Rachel Church.

Some of these players I’d heard in a concert at the School of Music on Queen’s Birthday weekend; others at the Music Futures concert on 26 July.

I had begun this review intending to avoid naming individuals, but that proved impossible; the challenge then was to find some rationale for mentioning some and not others. I have not really succeeded as the reasons for mentioning certain ones, especially where they appeared more than once, have been so varied. To those omitted, my apologies: all are equally praiseworthy.

The first group, two violins and piano, had played at the June concert the same pieces by Godard as they played here, now the Godard Trio (Tony Xie, Peter Gjelsten and Keiran Lewellen). In my review of 1 June I noted that Benjamin Godard was a gifted French composer who lived a short life in the late 19th century, famous for the lovely Berceuse from his 1888 opera, Jocelyn. The two movements played from his Six Duettini supported his reputation as a charming melodist, and again they captured the flowing rhythm and gentle melodies.

Next was an ensemble of five violins and two cellos, some of whom reappeared in different formations later. Their interesting choice was two of Lilburn’s four Canzonas which have recently emerged to become among his most genuinely popular pieces, especially the first. However, these performances, including the very brief No 2, helped confirm the charm of the whole set. Though one or two players looked no more than seven or eight, the support of the septet did the music proud. Eliana Dunford, lead violinist, reappeared later in the Rachmaninov; Nick Majic played again in the Saint-Saëns and the two Lewellen boys had other appearances too.

Two saxophones represented the woodwind department (though there’s not much wood in saxophones). First a March by Prokofiev, which created a rather lazy atmosphere, though there was nothing lazy about the performance; it was followed by ‘Lazy Coconut Tree’, a calypso tune which exhibited rather more energy than the Prokofiev. Both Annabel Sik and Stella Lu were surprisingly comfortable in their performances.

A sextet of guitars produced a coherent performance of a tune by Michael Jackson, ‘Billie Jean’, revealing a wide range of abilities, some doing little more than tapping the body of the instrument. That’s not fair: under Jonny Avery, all contributed to the attractive ensemble.

Linden Loader led a vocal sextet through one of Rossini’s Soirées musicales, ‘La Pesca’.  Not much to do with fishing, it’s a nocturnal love duet sung on the sea shore, and the duet for soprano and mezzo was happily transformed for a group of attractive young voices.

Then, straddling the interval, came five pianists, all tutored by Ludwig Treviranus. Brendan Looi played a sweet little Intermezzo by a small-time Australian composer Robert Adam Horne, who came to New Zealand later; he wrote in a Victorian salon style: charming. Patrick Grice, who’d played cello in the Lilburn pieces, played a Sarabande by another obscure composer, this time one born in New Zealand: Hugo Vernon Anson. If that made little impression, Grice gave a fine performance later in the Saint-Saëns piano trio. Stella Lu had earlier played the saxophone; here she made an accomplished job of the third movement of Beethoven’s Sonata, Op 10 No 1.

The next two were the brothers Xie – Perry and Tony, both very young: Perry, thoughtfully in the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in C; it’s sometimes called the Sonata Semplice, because it’s easy for beginners (but hard for professionals). Tony had played piano in the Godard pieces and here he played a Chinese piece, part of The Dance of the Watergrass, gentle, impressionist music.

Finally there were three piano trios. The Glinka Trio, comprising three small boys (one, Perry Xie again) on violins and piano (Zhe-Ning Chin), playing Russian pieces, evidently all by Glinka. I’m not sure whether this was exactly the same group that had played some Glinka pieces in the June concert. Each group had spoken briefly about their music, some hesitantly, some with clarity and confidence: the violinist Brayden Lewellen was the latter kind.

The group named Melodius Thunk had played last June: then the opening of Smetana’s piano trio; now, tutored by Simeon Broom, Rachmaninov’s first Trio Élégiaque. Listening to each player in turn – Nick Kovacev, Bethany Angus and Eliana Dunford – I was impressed by their polished and accomplished performances, individually and in ensemble, demonstrating real grasp of the style and musical content.

Rachel Church, who’d tutored the Glinka Trio, also looked after the final group, the Saint-Saëns Trio. They were Patrick Grice, Milo Benn and Nick Majic. This too had been in the June programme and I was impressed then. I was even more impressed hearing it again, and wondered why, though now familiar from the earlier playing, I hadn’t been thoroughly acquainted with this accomplished, compelling work before, a work that deserves to be in the standard piano trio repertoire (perhaps it is in other countries). I’d have thought that it would, from its publication in 1892, have been confirmed as a major chamber music work of the late 19th century, certainly of the French school. The trouble would have been the long-lasting disparagement of Saint-Saëns as a great composer, due to his refraining from falling in behind the ‘progressive’ movements of his later years.

So there can be very interesting, incidental and peripheral discoveries flowing from the choice of music by students whose teachers often plough fields that are not in fashion in the wider world of classical music. That was just one of the reasons for enjoying this enterprising concert.




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