Ken Young’s final outing with the NZSM Orchestra with a new composition and a concerto with a gifted violinist

New Zealand School of Music Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young

Luka Venter: ts’onot
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor Op 47 (violin – Nickolas Majić)
Prokofiev: Symphony No 5 in B flat, Op 100

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Friday 4 October, 7:30 pm

This was a little more than a routine concert by the music school of Victoria University, featuring a couple of its post graduate students: one, composer Luka Venter and the other, violinist Nickolas Majić.

At the end  of the concert it emerged, with a large cluster of flowers and speeches, that this was the last concert with the orchestra’s regular conductor, Kenneth Young; it marked his retirement from the position in the school of music, as he is about to take up the Mozart Fellowship at Otago University.

Limestone to music
Venter’s piece was inspired by an unusual geological feature in limestone areas of Mesoamerica, a recondite name for the region inhabited by the Mayan or pre-Columban peoples in what we’d call Mexico and the central American states as far south as Costa Rica. He explains that ‘ts’onot’ is the Yucatec Mayan name for these limestone features, “labyrinths of subterranean tunnels where sheaths of light cut through turquoise groundwater”.

It began with an underlay of strings that was soon joined by an oboe, then horns and soon the involvement of the large orchestra.  It’s not easy to conjure musical sounds from limestone caves and sinks and one had to attempt to relate the sounds and visual impressions that Venter has presumably experienced himself, to what emerged in the music he’d written. It was a shapely sequence, sensitively orchestrated, employing marimbas and a variety of other percussion in an attractive if elusive way. The composer himself conducted his piece with particularly clear and expressive gestures.

Majić with Sibelius
Violinist Nickolas Majić is completing an honours degree under Martin Riseley head of strings at the school. He’s been concert master of the NZSM Orchestra, associate concertmaster of the National Youth Orchestra and a casual player in Orchestra Wellington.

The orchestra supported the Sibelius violin concerto splendidly under Young’s vivid and decisive guidance, providing balanced and rich support for Majić’s violin. His playing was confident and colourfully nuanced, yet perfectly unpretentious. In the past I have sometimes found orchestral performance in St Andrew’s an uncomfortable experience as a result of the position of brass and percussion, not very carefully engaged. Not this time, as brass and timpani were clear of the sanctuary which tends to amplify excessively.

This is a taxing concerto, in no way accommodating an any less than thoroughly accomplished violinist, and there was hardly a moment when a less than fully professional performance would have been heard by an unknowing listener.

Prokofiev Five
The second half was rather in recognition of Ken Young’s long involvement with the orchestra: Prokofiev’s 5th is a celebration of victory by the Red Army over the Nazis approaching the end of the 2nd World War, and its optimism and rejoicing was an excellent way of acknowledging Young’s commitment and achievement in his years at the school of music, and leading and inspiring the orchestra.

The last movement epitomises hopes of a new beginning for the Soviet Union, with its renewed opportunities for material and social progress; it’s undoubtedly one of the most brilliant celebratory orchestral works of the mid 20th century – never mind the cruel realities that were soon to emerge.

For the audience it was a dynamic and stirring musical experience, drawing attention to the musicianship of the players as well as the ensemble coherence and polish of the orchestra under pressure.


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