Waikanae Music Society scholars through their paces in impressive concert

Scholarship showcase

Waikanae Music Society Charitable Trust for Young Musicians

Gemma Lee, Rafaella Garlick-Grice and Maria Mo (piano)
Melanie Pinkney (violin)

Memorial Hall, Waikanae

Sunday 11 October, 2:30 pm

The Waikanae Music Society’s Charitable Trust for Young Musicians was formed in 2008 to help talented young musicians in their studies, mostly overseas.
It has been a considerable task to bring them together to help demonstrate to the citizens of Kapiti how worthwhile the project is proving to be. This concert has fully justified the effort.

It opened with Gemma Lee who has just returned from Britain where she was the first scholar in music education under the Pettman/Dare International Performance Scholarship scheme. (Dare? Can anyone translate? Is it “Dareyou” which appears in their email address? My efforts on the internet are fruitless). Pettman was earlier associated with the Royal Overseas League (ROSL) in providing scholarships for New Zealand young chamber music groups to tour in Britain, and Gemma had earlier studied and toured in Britain under the Pettman/ROSL.

The Pettman/Dare Scholarship gives musicians the chance to work in English musical organisations, including Opera North and the University of Leeds, together with New Zealand Opera and the University of Auckland.
Look at the website: Dareyou.org.uk/contact/projects/pettman-dare-scholarship-2015-open-for-applications/pettman/gemma-lee-dare-scholar-in-music-education-2015

She played Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Sonata, in D, Op 28. It may not be one of his towering masterpieces, but in her hands it was immediately arresting and clearly the product of an intelligent and imaginative sensibility. The pace of the opening Allegro was gentle, swaying; she played the pairs of quavers in the first theme to make them and for that matter, every note, things of individual attention and interest; and her prolonged pauses at the scene changes were most effective. Her playing was clean and the staccato elegant.

I go on…. It was a performance that commanded attention and made you reassess the music not through any flamboyant spectacle but through her insights and illuminations.

Maria Mo played Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. This too was a performance full of little revelations and awakenings. The Prélude light in spirit, no hint of lament while the Fugue suggested a contemplative mood, the steady pace becoming almost monotonous, but slight hesitancy at each successive entry signalled its strange, enigmatic character. I liked her playing of the Rigaudon with its drifting, pensive middle section.

The Menuet neatly imitated through ornaments the fancy steps of the baroque dancers and in the dynamic Toccata there was full scope for her fluency and virtuosity that captured the essence of Ravel’s huge talent as piano composer. The orchestral version is all very well, but it’s the original piano version that really matters. Maria’s overseas studies were at the Conservatorium of the Vienna Private University (Konservatorium Wien Privatuniversität), which, oddly, is fully funded by the City of Vienna.

Maria remained on the stage as violinist Melanie Pinkney came out to play, first Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and then the Scherzo tarantella by Wieniawski. The Vocalise found her slightly insecure, not intonation-wise, but just in the general feel of her playing. The notes are not hard to find, but the long lyrical lines are not so easy to keep under perfect discipline.

The more flamboyant Wieniawski piece was technically harder but lay more comfortably once all fingering and demanding bow control were mastered; it can seem like flying on automatic pilot, Nevertheless the calmer middle section gave a fresh view into her ability to handle the more lyrical music. Still only 13, and as I’m alleged to have said about her last year (at a Wellington concert), she’s to be considered something of a prodigy.

Rafaella Garlick-Grice is somewhat older. She grew up on the Kapiti coast, took her doctorate at Waikato University and now teaches what is known as ‘collaborative piano’ courses at Victoria University. Her task was to negotiate Schumann’s Fantasiastücke, its starkly contrasting moods and technical challenges that speak through Schumann’s imaginary creations Eusebius and Florestan, polar opposites in mood. There were genial and hesitant episodes, heavy and violent movements, some unremittingly passionate, and it ends in the hands of the dreamy Eusebius, quietly, at rest. Schumann is hard, it often lies awkwardly under the hands, and the odd slip was just noticeable towards the end, but it was a delightful performance of one of the most fascinating smaller masterpieces in the piano literature.

Then at the end Melanie returned to play the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Perhaps her violin’s tone was a little to edgy for the piece, lacking warmth at the top (as it perhaps was in the Rachmaninov), but along with the rhythmically supportive accompaniment by Maria Mo, she maintained her control in terms of intonation and shape even if the ultimate polish, naturally, still eludes her. She carries the cadenza off with great confidence, swinging it splendidly back to the ‘orchestral’ body of the movement.

These might have been students still refining their skills and talents, but the combination of interesting music and some very remarkable playing made this a most enjoyable concert.

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