A Midday Education in the Organ, at St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace

Organ Recital at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace
Organist – Paul Rosoman

Review by Maya Field

J.S. Bach – Alla Breve in D Major, BWV589
Bjarne Sløgedal – Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune
Heinrich Scheidemann – Alleluja Laudem dicite Deo Nostro
J.S. Bach – Two Choral Preludes: Cantata BWV22, Cantata BWV75
Marcel Dupre – Lamento
Dieterich Buxtehude – Praeludium in G Minor, BuxWV150

Lunchtime at St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington
Wednesday, 15th May,

Nothing can prepare for how the organ sounds in person. No matter how many times you watch Phantom of the Opera, or listen to Bach, you don’t realise how much the organ surrounds you in sound until you’re sitting in a room with one. At least, this was the case for me. To me, the organ means the masked Phantom and loud, heavy chords that ring through churches. This was partly true, as it was at St Andrews on the Terrace, but I didn’t realise the full range of the organ until Paul Rosoman opened with Bach’s Alla Breve (D Major).

The audience was seated below Rosoman, with his back turned to us. This is quite unique from other recitals, as you can’t look to the musician’s face for clues of enjoyment or feeling. Instead, it’s all in the body language of the shoulder and the back of his head. I probably should’ve realised this before the concert, but I didn’t quite put two and two together until he sat with his back turned to us.

For an organ recital, Bach is a fantastic way to open the programme. The organ underpinned much of Bach’s career, and he was primarily considered an organist in the 18th century. While he composed brilliant works for a variety of instruments, including other keyboard instruments, the organ is Bach’s home instrument. At least, that’s the way his pieces feel. The Alla Breve introduced us to the programme very nicely, as it showcased the weight and beauty of the organ. Rosoman had a perfect balance of all parts, which is crucial for the classic Bach counterpoint.

Bjarne Sløgedal is a more obscure composer. Norwegian, lived from 1927-2014, an organist and composer, studied at Julliard, was an organist in Kristiansand Cathedral for 45 years. That’s the summary of his Wikipedia page, which I had to google translate from Norwegian to English, so hopefully I didn’t get incorrect facts from a poor translation.

This was when I realised how little I knew about the organ. It’s absolutely beautiful. I didn’t realise that the organ could take on such a soft, almost wind-like quality. Sløgedal’s Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune felt like a walk through a forest. There were slight pauses in between sections, as (I’m assuming) stops were changed, or pages were turned. It started with a soft gasp, then a full gust. An airy breeze filtered in, then wind began to build to a gorgeous and rich howl.

The programme went onto Heinrich Scheidemann, one of the important predecessors to organists like Bach and Buxtehude (who will be played later on in the programme). The Alleluja Laudem was originally played on an organ twice the size of the organ in St Andrew’s. Rosoman explained how he had to alter and adjust different stops to achieve the same effects as Scheidemann’s organ. I admit, I had to look up what stops were after the concert: they’re the knobs on the organ that alter the sound quality of the organ. Rosoman’s alterations were very good, and the piece felt very balanced, with no overpowering or underwhelming parts of the piece.

We then returned to Bach, with two Choral Preludes. The first was “Ertot uns dutch dein Gute” (Mortify us by Thy goodness, Cantata BWV 22), which Bach auditioned (successfully) with for the role of Cantor in Leipzig. This cantata felt like a soft walk to a countryside chapel. Quite an idealised image from me, I know, but I can’t help it. As an organ-layman, I have to resort to some nice language and images to make up for my lacking knowledge.

The second was “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (Whate’er my God ordains is right, Cantata BWV 75), another important piece in Bach history, as this was the cantata he presented for his first service In Liepzig. I particularly enjoyed the gorgeous counterpoint near the end, classic Bach.

Dupre’s Lamento was my favourite. I listened to it on repeat immediately, and have added it to my playlist of favourite classical pieces. The piece was dedicated to friends of Dupre, whose son had died at three years old. There were two themes of the piece: a quiet theme, and a childish theme, both of which had the deep anguish of the parent’s grief. The quiet theme was melancholic and beautiful. The childish theme was haunting. It was grief itself, and Rosoman understood this. There was a cacophony of ripping-heart-out-anguish in loud sequences, followed by a final counterpoint of both themes. I remember thinking that I could’ve cried. Rosoman did a beautiful job at such a devastating piece.

We finished with Buxtehude’s Praeludium (G Minor), the piece that Bach famously walked 280 miles to hear. I understand why he would’ve walked so far, but perhaps because I was so moved by Dupre, I don’t know if I would’ve done the same as Bach. The piece had three fugues which grew in animation as they went on. The first was mild, then it grew more animated, then the third grew to a “wildly extravagant” finish (Rosoman’s words). It was a great way to finish the programme, and a fantastic performance from Rosoman.

As a performer, Rosoman is wonderful. He’s an expert at the organ, and takes time between pieces to explain important parts of the pieces and the instrument. He’s affable and a great showman. Even though I couldn’t see his face while he played, you felt that he was feeling the same emotion as you while he played.

The lunchtime concerts at St Andrews are a great way to share classical music to the public. The concerts are free, take an hour, and showcase a great range of music and instruments. This organ recital, for me, is a great example of how important these lunchtime concerts are. I went into St Andrews only knowing the organ in terms of Phantom of the Opera, but I left absolutely enamoured with Lamento and a new appreciation for the instrument. If you can spare the hour between 12 and 1pm on a Wednesday, I strongly urge you to spend it at St Andrews on the Terrace.

Sighs, spontaneities and serenade snatches from the NZSM String Ensemble at St. Andrew’s

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Review by Maya Field for “Middle C”

The NZSM String Ensemble, conducted by Kira Omelchenko

EDWARD ELGAR – Sospiri (Sighs) Op. 70
RACHEL MORGAN – Armannai (2003)
ANTONIN DVORAK – Three Movements from Serenade Op.22 –
Scherzo, Larghetto and Finale

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 7th May, 2024

If ballet is my first reason for loving classical music, then string instruments are my second. A few years of Viola in high school orchestra (hardly a maestro but at least I have some leg to stand on, I suppose) has given me a lot of stubborn opinions about composers and repertoire, but it also has given me a deep love and excitement for string ensembles. Safe to say, I was happy to take a break from my studying to watch the NZSM String Ensemble.

It was particularly cold and clear on Wednesday, but fortunately, St Andrews on the Terrace was nicely warmed by heaters. The ensemble opened with the Adagio by Elgar, which was a lovely and melancholic opening for the crisp early winter day. There were some gorgeous swells of crescendos and diminuendos. An especially good moment was the melody from the Firsts, while the rest carried a nice tremolo.

The second piece was Armannai (2003) by the New Zealand composer, Rachel Morgan. The conductor, Kira Omelchenko, paused before the piece started to explain that this piece is not set in a certain direction for performers. Instead, the performance directions are interpreted by the musicians themselves. As they started playing, it was clear there was some strong interest in dissonance. While some parts were slow, there were harmonies that made you bolt upright. The first movement was nice, but at a slow tempo. Because it followed the Adagio, the two slow pieces sort of blurred together. The second movement was faster, with a strong start from the Cellos and Violas. It was a nice change of pace, with percussive moments and a real ferocity, especially from the Bass and Cello sections. The third movement was a sort of balance between the previous two, and the Cellos had a lovely melody at one point.

The three movements from Dvorak’s Serenade were strong. The ensemble took a moment to settle into the liveliness of the Scherzo Vivace, but they got into the swing of it quickly. The Larghetto felt the most unified, and was my favourite piece from the programme. There was a really nice pizzicato from the Basses that lay under the swelling melodies. The Finale: Allegro Vivace was lively. The Cellos especially created great tension, and the ensemble’s final swell at the end was very strong.

It was a lovely way to spend my lunch break, Kira was a great conductor, and the ensemble did an excellent job. My one critique is sometimes it felt that the ensemble weren’t enjoying themselves. They performed well, but I didn’t get the sense that everyone was excited about playing. I suppose I enjoy performances the most when it feels like the entire ensemble is also enjoying it, and I didn’t always feel this from the ensemble. There were definitely moments, but it would be nice if there were more.

Then again, midday on a cold Wednesday, I’m hardly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and in the end, I really enjoyed the performance, and if applause is any indicator, so did the rest of the audience.

RNZB’s production of Swan Lake – a Triumph of Balletic Tragedy

Swan Lake – a Ballet in Four Acts
Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Royal New Zealand Ballet with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Choreography – Russell Kerr, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov

Conductor – Hamish McKeich
Staging – Turid Revfeim
Principal Coaching – Amber Scott
Lighting – Jon Buswell
Artistic Director – Ty King-Wall
Executive Director – Tobias Perkins

Odette/Odile – Kate Kadow
Siegfried – Branden Reiners
Rothbart – Joshua Guillemot Rodgerson
Jester – Timothy Ching
Princess Mother – Kirby Selchow
Wolfgang – Paul Matthews
Pas de Trois – Jennifer Ulloa, Dane Head, Cadence Barrack
Cygnets – Tessa Karle, Cadence Barrack, Monet Galea-Hewitt, Catarina Estevez Collins
Big Swans – Gretchen Steimle, Macy Cook
Spanish – Calum Gray, Jemima Scott, Laurynas Vejalis
Hungarian – Zacharie Dun, Hannah Thomson, Luke Cooper
Neapolitan – Levi Teachout, Ema Takahashi, Shaun James Kelly

St.James Theatre, Wellington,

Friday 3rd May 2024

Reviewed by Maya Field

I feel it’s very fitting that my debut onto the Middle-C scene is a review of a ballet, particularly Swan Lake. I’ve been in love with ballet since I was five years old, and I would go to RNZB productions with my mother as often as possible. Most of the classical music I listen to are ballets. It’s no wonder then, that I was so excited for last night’s performance of Swan Lake. I was not disappointed.

Aside from the crinkling of ice cream wrappers, the opening piece was beautiful, and opened to a sumptuous set of mossy trees and classical columns. The dancers were in restored costumes, originally designed by Kristian Fredrikson in 1996. The Corps de Ballet had beautiful unison, in perfect time with the orchestra. All dancers have a vital part, but frequent RNZB attendees will always notice dancers like Shaun James Kelly, who shines just as bright in the Corps as he does in solos. The Princess Mother (Kirby Selchow) was elegant, with even her walk and simple hand gestures displaying grace. The dynamic between the Jester (Timothy Ching) and Wolfgang (Paul Matthews) was very funny. Ching especially had amazing height and lightness to his leaps, and the audience was especially impressed with his turns. The Pas de Trois (Jennifer Ulloa, Dane Head, Cadence Barrack) were lovely, perfectly synchronised with each other. Their solos were lovely as well, with great energy and timing. The prince Siegfried (Branden Reiners) was also excellent. He felt truly alone and despondent to his coming of age, and his long, fluid movements never seemed to be totally still.

The Second Act was met with excitement, as the audience murmured and sat up straighter as the famous melody on the oboe began, and opened to the lake. Rothbert (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson) was hawklike, and had excellent musicality. He truly moved with the orchestra. The Corps de Ballet of Swans had beautiful lines and unity, a real flock of swans. Kate Kadow as Odette, however, is nearly impossible to write about. She was so stunning that I forgot to take notes. I was absolutely entranced by her movement and characterisation. You simply cannot write how Kate Kadow dances.

The rest of Act 2 was also excellent. The Dance of the Swans was beautiful and synchronised. Carolyn Mills on the harp sounded beautiful. The Dance of the Cygnets, the iconic dance, was almost entirely synchronised, and was met with loud applause.

Act 3 was rich and ornate, with costumes of red, gold, black and green. Perfectly sumptuous. The Spanish, Hungarian and Neapolitan dances all had excellent energy and charm. Kate Kadow as Odile was just as perfect as her Odette. Before, she was shy, mournful, innocent, and elegant. Now, she is confident, alluring, and far more brazen, while still dancing with the same beautiful fluidity. The Pas de Deux between Odile and Siegfried was seductive – the strings felt sexy! There’s no other way to phrase it, I’m afraid. The Coda was just breathtaking. Kadow and Reiner’s fouettes and turns were incredible. Reiner really seemed to fly in this part, truly soaring as he believed he was in love with the right girl. The reveal that the girl was not Odette, but Odile, was brilliant, and there was a slight undercurrent of dread in the music as Siegfried swore fidelity to Odile. Rothbart’s cloak made amazing use as wings.

If Act 3 was the dramatic act, then Act 4 was the tragic act. The opening music was melancholic as the curtains opened on a distraught Odette in the middle of the lake. I remember the audience gasping at this. The timing with the music in this Act was excellent, with Siegfried and Odette’s embrace being perfectly in time, as well as their various lifts with the swell of music. As for the final Pas de Trois between Odette, Siegfried, and Rothbart – call me melodramatic, but I was happy that all three died! Rothbart was defeated, a moment which had great physicality from Guillemot-Rodgerson as he died, as well as the swans condemning him. Odette and Siegfried had to sacrifice themselves to defeat him, and after seeing a previous version where they appear to live ‘happily ever after,’ I was glad that the traditional ending of them dying was chosen. It’s a tragedy, after all. The final moment of dawn breaking on the swans was breathtaking – the orchestra felt like the sunrise.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the RNZB worked incredibly well together to bring justice to Tchaikovsky’s ballet. No section in the orchestra overpowered the other, and the orchestra didn’t overpower the dancers, nor did the dancers overtake the orchestra. It was all balanced perfectly.

When I imagined myself writing reviews, I thought I would be an eagle-nosed critic, able to pick apart the performance, finishing with a witty and brilliant line about art and music. Instead, I’m just writing “excellent,” and “lovely,” over and over again. I’m sure I know other words, it’s just that last night’s performance seems to have taken them from me.

JS Bach and Mahler – worlds of sensibility from Inkinen and the NZSO

MAHLER 7 – Mysteries of the Night

JS BACH – Double Violin Concerto in D Minor

MAHLER – Symphony No.7

Vesa-Matti Leppänen and Pietari Inkinen (violins)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Pietari Inkinen (conductor)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday 10th November, 2012

Guest review by Ben Booker

There is something distinctly summery about Bach’s D-minor Concerto for Two Violins, and the fairly full audience suggested that this particular programme was not at all disagreeable to Wellingtonians following one of the city’s rare but sparkling summery days.

Bach’s music seems to have fallen into comparative orchestral disuse in recent times, so it was refreshing to hear it live, by a condensed edition of the NZSO. And what spectacle it provided! Such beauty! Such elegance!

While the very opening of the Vivace may not have been quite as metrically precise as rehearsed, the orchestra quickly showed itself to be a force not of accompaniment, but of thoughtful and involved musical collaboration with the soloists. Orchestral cohesion thereafter was remarkable, and despite the use of less rubato than many historically-informed performances (something this writer’s Romantic tastes have a weakness for around internal cadences!), the soloists’ micro-changes to tempo made such unity of movement impressive, especially in the absence of a conductor.

The regular conductor, of course, was playing first violin. Pietari Inkinen demonstrated an incredibly expressive tone quality – clear and bell-like, but with a certain hint of melancholy and loneliness that is quite impossible to adequately describe here. The usual concertmaster, Vesa-Matti Leppänen, was the other soloist, and the effortlessly broad sounds in his superb playing provided a great contrast with Inkinen, really demonstrating the contrapuntal and conversational design of the concerto.

The famous Largo ma non troppo was introduced by a wonderfully timeless piece of internal musical ponderment from Leppänen, and the entire movement demonstrated such a clarity of texture, such deep concentration upon the unfurling melodic lines, that at times, it seemed as if Bach’s harmony was just an exquisitely happy coincidence amongst the matchless counterpoint and dialogue of the two players and amongst the orchestra.

Following that, the bustling Allegro provided much in the way of contrast to the preceding movement, though I could not help but wish for a touch more industriousness and volatility in the orchestral parts. The soloists’ articulation and dialogue, again, was excellent, and both made wonderful use of vibrato; it was used sparingly – less as a general seasoning, and more as a special spice, which made its expressive effect enormously more powerful.

The orchestra certainly found this elusive industrious sound in then opening of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, however. The brass, as throughout, was dark and clear, and the rather Enid Blytonesque sense of mischief and the unfamiliar was portrayed very well in the opening movement. During most of the movement, there was a sense of a solid sonic foundation, yet a more whimsical and explosive surface, which suited the music perfectly.

A common problem in performing Austro-German music of the later Romantic period is the temptation to lapse into ‘parade syndrome’ – where the music disintegrates into a passing parade of shallow effects. At times in the first movement, I was worried that this was about to occur, as there seemed to be a slight lack of hierarchy in the passagework: every passage was being treated as a very important section, and this was a little too much to digest easily.

Nevertheless, changes to momentum were handled well by conductor and orchestra, with sudden variations in colour and style bringing in other-worldly characters, leaving the listener only to wonder what might have happened had Mahler been a cinematic composer in the more recent past.

This all built up to a dreadfully thrilling climax before recapitulation. While I sometimes found Inkinen’s string-dominated textures a little too pretty for the music, there were excellent moments of brass interjections, including a very flatulent low F sharp from the tuba! A sense of despondency and internal struggle in the coda was captured well, making the slightly troubled march to conclude the movement all the more memorable.

The second movement began with a very expressive horn conversation, and Inkinen’s rock-solid tempos proved to be a real asset in this movement. The creepy eccentricities of the part writing were brought out hilariously well – isolated accents, portamento, sudden changes in dynamic, exaggerated entrances, and sarcastic ritenutos abounded, creating a personified atmosphere.  Creepy and unsettled strings really pulled the spooky Scherzo off well, its title not referring so much to a literal ‘joke’ than to the post-Beethovenian connotations of dark amusement and fright. The solos were all first rate, as they had been the entire evening – my favourite had to be Julia Joyce’s precarious and eerie additions on the viola, played with exaggerated vibrato and dynamic mastery.

The second Nachtmusik movement had its share of quiet scherzo-like mutterings, but offered a complete change of aural scenery, quite in concordance with the amoroso instruction! Tension was nicely regulated by the returns to pastoral F-major sections, and the guitar and mandolin offered a nice touch, played by Doug de Vries and Dylan Lardelli respectively. While the concluding interjections were slightly too active for the nocturnal feel, the very end was as magical a moment as any.

And then the Rondo finale brought a celebratory awakening! Majestic in most places rather than overly extroverted, I could not decide whether the wonderfully-timed crescendos back to the main tune were satiric or if they were eccentric; either way, it was amusing and interesting. The movement provided much in the way of pandemonium and industry, and was just a jolly good time. Tubular bells rang bravely and wonderfully loud, and the finale just roared. I cannot recall seeing Inkinen so completely involved and immersed in the music, and his second bouquet of flowers for the evening was richly deserved. Bravo, NZSO!

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Another view: from Peter Mechen

One would immediately think that the only possible reasons for coupling Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with Mahler’s Seventh Symphony are, firstly, that each work is an absolutely wonderful piece of music, and, secondly, that because they are so different each piece acts as a kind of foil for the other – two very different worlds of sensibility, there to enjoy in splendid isolation, but to appreciate all the more when juxtaposed in the course of a single evening.

Considering further, one could regard the bringing-together of these two works as an extension of philosophies, both of the individual composers and of their respective eras. Bach’s music belongs to that inexhaustibly rich world of the Baroque, a world of inclusion and great flexibility, of gathering-together, of elaboration and increased complexity and extension of new techniques of playing, and the development of new modes of expression such as opera.

Mahler’s music, in the form of his symphonies and song-cycles, has a similar philosophy of inclusion and great flexibility, of a gathering-together, of elaboration and increasing complexity, of enormous scale and great drama, qualities that one associates with the theatre more than the abstract world of instrumental music. Mahler once described his symphonic philosophy in the words “Symphony is like the world – it should contain everything.” In a sense it’s a very “baroque-like” attitude, and one responsible for that fantastic diversity one finds in the composer’s output.

Beginning with the Bach work, this particular performance was a treat indeed, one of the violinists being the orchestra’s Music Director, Pietari Inkinen, here in partnership with his Concertmaster and fellow-Finn, Vesa-Matti Leppänen. Any suggestion of gimmickry in having one’s Music Director step into a soloist’s role in front of his or her own orchestra was here blown away by the sheer quality of the playing. What I noticed immediately was the sweetness of Inkinen’s tone as a violinist, quite different a sound to the more austere, grainier tones of his concertmaster, a difference which made for a fascinating dialogue between the two.

In terms of bowing and articulation they were a well-matched pair, with Vesa-Matti a trifle stronger and with more control when it came to keeping the bow on the strings for held notes in the midst of frenetic passages – undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to the difference in tone-quality between the two. But in most other respects they seemed to think and move as one in pursuit of the same ends, so that their separate characters met at the point of musical exchange – what one could call a creative partnership, here producing something unique and satisfying.

For the first two movements the focus seemed to be firmly upon the soloists, especially during the divine slow movement, where the “echoed” exchanges between their voices resulted in a truly affecting intensification of beauty, and the precisely “terraced” dynamics built up sequences of the figurations into beautifully-arched structures at once pure in their serenity and suffused with surrounding ambient feeling.

The finale brought the orchestra more obviously into the picture, the playing dynamic, detailed and sharply-etched; and sounding like a true partnership with the soloists rather than mere accompanying – the figurations were given terrific emphasis and point in places, and the lines seemed to really “speak” to one another and be responded to in a wonderful three-way interchange that had me on the edge of my seat throughout.

My “benchmark” for this concerto has always been the Oistrakhs, pere and fils, in a recorded performance that has come to sound increasingly romantic over the years with the rise of “authentic” string-playing. There’s a gorgeousness about it all which still melts my heart on the occasion of every “listen”, but apart from some unashamedly saturated string-tones in the finale, the orchestra does tend to stay in the background, seemingly to leave the two stellar soloists to “get on with it”, and be content with some dutiful accompanying. This NZSO partnership made more of things than that, to our great delight.

After a short interval we were back in the hall for Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, the latest in what one hopes will prove to be a complete traversal of the composer’s works by these particular forces. With memories of last year’s stellar NZSO/Inkinen performance of the Sixth Symphony continuing to resonate in our memories, this performance from the orchestra of one of the most complex and enigmatic of Mahler’s works was awaited with great excitement.

My most recent “live” experience of the symphony was in this same Michael Fowler Centre in 2009, when guest conductor Paul Daniel led the NZSO National Youth Orchestra through an almost scarily vivid performance of the work. The young players (as is usually the case with the NYO ) rose magnificently to the occasion, coping even with the conductor’s almost manic tempi throughout much of the finale. There was certainly no chance of the work “sprawling” with such a high-octane approach, even if one felt that there was more light-and-shade in some of the music’s places than was realised.

That light-and-shade was given full dues on this occasion by Pietari Inkinen and his players, as part of taking their not-quite-capacity-audience on a fantastical and far-flung symphonic journey. As is well-known, Mahler had enormous trouble with this work’s first movement, getting inspiration for its main idea only after the two middle “Nightpiece” movements had been completed, and while being rowed across a lake on his way home, his imagination stirred by the rhythm of the oars in the water. What the composer came up with could be clearly heard in the work’s portentous opening bars, the euphonium solo most expressively played here by David Bremner (“Here nature roars” as Mahler told his wife, Alma). – incidentally, Mahler specified a “tenor horn” here, which, perhaps for reasons of unavailability, wasn’t used.

After the opening, Inkinen encouraged more momentum but avoided rushing things, allowing the music time and space in which to move – and even when feelings of urgency irrupted and the march began to flail and grimace, those distinctive Leviathan-like steps whose downward lurch recurs throughout the movement served as steadying ballast, keeping feelings of panic at bay.

Here one could register Mahler’s increasingly “unmoulded” orchestral style, instruments and instrumental blocks not so much “blended” as contrasted, as the composer increasingly sought to express a sense of life’s disillusionment and dissolution. But this was a journey of startling contrasts – and how beautifully conductor and players led us into the lyrical mid-movement interlude, harp glissandi drawing back a magic curtain of nostalgia and dream-like imaginings. And then, how disturbingly the radiant climax plunged downward into darkness! – taking everything right back to the leviathan’s lair, the tread as portentous and as baleful as at the work’s opening.

From here until the movement’s end there were further irruptions of energy, regretful backward glances at happier times and a no-nonsense concluding march, Inkinen and the players risking orchestral poise in rightly stressing the music’s somewhat manic excitement and desperation. And if not every instrumental detailing was perfectly dovetailed with its neighbour, what mattered far more was the real sense conveyed of great territories traversed and different emotions registered and explored.

The first of the two Nachtmusik movements was ushered in by beautiful horn-playing, and some initial instrumental flurries, before falling in with a dark and richly mysterious processional, its “tempo giusto” allowing sufficient momentum as well as room for things to blossom. By contrast, the Scherzo evoked a volatile set of impulses, its sinuous, half-lit world poised between mockery and unease, spectral lines alternating with moments of rumbustious glee, its spookiness creating a kind of “All Hallows’ Eve” for orchestra – great fun! As for the second Nachtmusik movement , it featured the evening’s most beautiful and heartwarming orchestral playing, the detailing from solo instruments (violin, mandolin, horn, harp) simply exquisite in places – and the ending of the movement was nothing short of celestial in its effect.

And so to the finale, a movement which continues to divide critical opinion and polarize interpretation – as befits a Symphony subtitled “Song of the NIght”, the last movement is thought of by some as a return to day, especially in the wake of those two “Nachtstücke”, and the spooky Scherzo. However, the music’s extreme volatility is interpreted by others as suggesting that the day is the real culprit regarding life, that the music’s colour, energy and celebration turns into something over-wrought and oppressive, something that, by the end of the movement, has turned into a kind of nightmare of its own, a portrayal of the sickness of the society in which Mahler lived at the time, and a precursor of the horrors of the century to come. In my view, one pays one’s money and one takes from the music what one wants to take.

When I heard the NYO’s performance with Paul Daniel I thought the finale on the edge of being a madcap scramble, the players having little or no space to do more than get their fingers around the notes. While I would still prefer to hear the greater amplitude and richer detailing that Inkinen and the NZSO gave us, I think more of Daniels’ approach now, having heard other recordings; and in fact wish that I could go back and hear and enjoy the performance again. How fascinating to have had two recent “live” experiences of this work, and each strongly and differently characterized!

Interpretatively, Inkinen’s was a riskier approach in its way than Daniels’ was, because of the music’s far-flung, episodic nature, but for me it worked – and this could be attributed to both the conductor’s overall grasp of where each detail fitted into the whole, and to the concentration and skill of his players in maintaining their playing-focus over such long spans. I thought the concert in overall terms a triumph for everybody concerned, and heartily recommend to people in both Auckland and in Christchurch that they make a priority out getting themselves to hear it when the concert comes to them.















Grant Tilly at the Southcoast Gallery, Cuba St.


by Peter Coates

June 25th 2010

Cuba Street in Wellington is developing its own special character when it comes to galleries.Amongst my favourites are Cameron Drawbridge’s South Coast Gallery the Fibre Art “Minerva” Gallery and the” Thistle” with its enterprising youthful exhibitions. All are worth visiting, all bring something special to the Wellington Art Scene. Is Cuba Street doing what our Wellington Gallery should be doing ?

Although very small,  the Southcoast Gallery hosts a delightful exhibtion by the Wellington icon Grant Tilly. I have known Grant for ages – since our times at Wellington Teachers College, and illustrating children’s stories for David Crewes’  “Merry-Go-Round” children’s television programme. Later he played the good soldier Schweyk in my first stage production and fronted and voiced many of my television programmes. Grant is always a delight to work with  and his wonderful sculptural pieces (I will avoid boxes) are a permanent reminder  of  his art and friendship in my home.

Grant’s greatest gifts to his Wellington home have been the seemingly endless brilliant displays of character acting with the professional theatres of Wellington, and his legacy of beautiful drawing of the older parts of Wellington, a legacy that constantly reminds us of what we have lost and warns us of what we must not lose in the future. One of the strong features of his current exhibition are two dimensional  street scenes that take you on walks around some of our lovely old streets. Included in this exhibition also are abstract paintings developed from segments of these unusually perspectived works.

Just to keep us up with his recent artistic developments there are examples of his colourful parrot series and the circus exhibition he had at Pataka. The ingenius is evident in everything he does, and Grant like every good artist moves steadily into new challenges.

Keep it up Grant. Everyone who calls himself/herself a Wellingtonian should have one of his works in their home.

Wallowing in International Art while staying at home

The Habit of Art, by Alan Bennett

The National Theatre production, directed by Nicholas Hytner

Richard Griffiths (Fitz/W.H.Auden), Adrian Scarborough (Donald/Humphrey Carter), Alex Jennings (Henry/Benjamin Britten)

Film screened at the Penthouse Theatre, Brooklyn

Tuesday 25th May

Musings and a review by Peter Coates.

This week has been a very exciting one for me. Last Sunday I saw a performance of Wushu martial arts by twenty-four Chinese visiting experts. This was spectacular, colourful and beautifully choreographed and performed in front of an appeciative audience at the Wellington Town Hall. Modern dance choreographers in Wellington should have been along to witness it.

This was followed by another Chinese delight on Thursday. In this case it was an illustrated lecture by visiting sculptor Prof. Zhao from Shanghai. Prof. Zhao was visiting Wellington for a week, working with Richard Taylor, of Weta fame, on ideas of mutual interest.In a sensitively interpreted lecture, illustrated by a long parade of excellent visuals, we saw the dynamic sculptures of the professor, huge in size, using a wide variety of sculptural media mainly on what one would describe as ‘politically viable’ subject matter. Despite this he manages to gain strong individual expression in the subjects he chooses, and his technical brilliance is undeniable. His combination of technical skill and perceptive observation won his an award at a Venice Biennale. Prof. Zhao brought with him formulae for a form of clay unused in New Zealand which he demonstrated to Richard and his team, producing four portraits of Weta colleagues at a rate of 25 minutes each. We were lucky to have Richard along to add his experiences in China to Prof. Zhao’s story.

But this was only one aspect of his lecture. It was followed by an amazing collection of slides of the professors own collection of Chinese tradition craft – thousands of shadow puppets, pottery items, household utensils, weaving, printing blocks, painting ,calligraphy and sculpture. All had been assembled since the cultural revolution. Now highly regarded as important cultural heritage, the Chinese government is building a special museum to house this amazing collection. One day I would love to see this collection “in situ”. So much for the Chinese section of my week.

Next, the British section. On Tuesday I visited the Penthouse theatre in Brooklyn to see the British National theatre production of Alan Bennet’s “Habit of Art” . This is an example of the  relatively new technique of recording top performances overseas and playing then a matter of weeks later in  specially selected theatres throughut the world. This was originally recorded on  April 22nd ,and shown here last week. It is a system already used successfully in opera,but which is now moving into theatre. Having both produced and designed work for the stage and television – Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale” in 1982 and recorded an opera “live” from the stage for television – Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” in 1979 – the prospect for me of seeing the effect of such work today outside my DVD library was very appealing.

Alan Bennet had constructed  a play that was particularly appealing to me. It was set as a  rehearsal for a play about the relationship between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden,who had originally worked together on documentary films for the British Post office –

“This is the night mail crossing the border,

bringing the cheque and the postal order,

letters for the rich, letters for the poor…

For the shop at the corner and the girl next door……” etc. etc….

They must have had impact on my memory because I saw those films sixty years ago ! The other work I remember was Britain’s first opera “Paul Bunyan”- with the libretto by Auden –  which I saw at London’s Sadlers Wells in the 1960’s. I must admit to not remembering much about that opera, which was originally written when Britten was sheltering in the USA during the second World War.

“The Habit of Art” is a play within a play. The actors played themselves playing Auden and Britten, moving in and out of character as the rehearsal concept demanded. Richard Jennings as Auden (Fitz as the actor) was particularly brilliant, his size and facial characteristics being very appropriate, while Alec Jennings as the less charismatic Britten (Henry as the actor) caught the character of Britten brilliantly and played the piano accompaniment needed in scenes with a boy soprano,with great aplomb.

The action of the play was set while Britten was having trouble with the composition of what turned out to be his last opera “Death in Venice”. His apparent fascination with the theme of “lost  innocence”, a theme that permeates most of his operas, was getting his friends down. Even Peter Pears tried to dissuade him from completing the opera.  Britten in this play went to his friend Auden for reassurance. Despite having a similar homosexual background which allowed him some appreciation of Thomas Mann’s original text, on which the opera was based, the friends did not manage to resolve Britten’s concern. The play was full of brilliantly witty dialogue,which we are beginning to expect from Bennett, and it is well worth seeing if you are fortunate enough to go to London.

But not here in this production. The problem is that the Screen actors Guild will only allow three performances of these video productions over a very short period of time, so it is unlikely to be seen here again. What about a local production, Circa or Downstage ?

I personally thoroughly enjoyed the whole production. I could easily believe  that I was in the National Theatre, and joined in the reactions of the recorded audience. I heard every word  and the close-ups gave me a great appreciation of the  important detail of the acting performances of Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings. As for the future don’t miss Dion Boucicault’s  “London Assurance” a National Theatre production coming  to the Penthouse soon. It is “an absolute corker of a production, one that will be talked about and chuckled over with reminiscent affection for years to come”says London’s Daily Telegraph critic. Later in the year we will be able to see the new NT production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that is coming in the next season.

Now to the last, but certainly not the least, of my splendid cultural week. This time from the Metropolitan Opera, New York. It was the Sunday 29th May screening of Rossini’s  “Armida” production, starring the great Renee Fleming and five top coloratura tenors!!! I didn’t know the world had so many!

I suppose most of us have got used to the use of microphones on singers to allow most of the modern music theatre classics to be performed. But this is opera, and it is untainted accoustic sound we are dealing with. Singers must be able to project their voices through an eighty piece orchestra, and communicate to several thousand in a large, often accoustically unsympathetic, theatre.

The main problem is balancing the sound, and the placement and use of microphones so that they are not seen, but can balance the sound to fit the perspective of the picture. This an artform for the sound engineer, but I did spot one shotgun microphone in the orchestral pit. When recording the one opera that I recorded “live” from the stage with an audience I was lucky to have John Neill working with me to solve such problems. John is currently “Head of Sound” for Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post.

Although I did detect six “dropouts” during the four hour performance I was not at all put off the performance by these. I have only had the experience of two Rossini operas ‘the Barber of Seville” which I produced for television,and a brilliant “Count Ory”production by Antony Besch which I saw in London in the 1960’s. “Armida” was totally unknown to me, and because it was a first ever production by the Metropolitan Opera, it would be unknown to most opera lovers.

Unknown it might have been, but like all Rossini operas it was full of very tuneful music, the usual wonderfully accelerating finales that are a Rossini trademark, some absolutely wonderful tenor-soprano duets, coloratura tenor arias and duets, a tenor trio worth paying the thirty dollars entrance fee for, alone, and a dramatic coloratura aria of immense difficulty sung by the great Renee Fleming, that ended the opera with amazing elan.

Described by Renee Fleming as “the most difficult soprano aria in opera” this is amazing in its demands – especially with its wide vocal range and the coloratura gymnastics involved.  But this was not a one woman show. I must also commend the work of yet another great lyric tenor on the international scene – Lawrence  Browlee, a young negro singer who has featured in “The Barber of Seville” and “Cinderella” productions at the Met. He had plenty of top “C’s” and at least two top “D’s” to contend with in the opera, which he did comfortably; and his articulation of the coloratura was accurate and neat. Juan Diego Florez – who is my favourite tenor and who will be in next year’s Met Season playing the principal tenor role in “The Count Ory”- beware!

The opera, we are assured, is about love and revenge..but what opera isn’t ? To emphasize this point the producer creates two miming characters who play the roles of these two emotions – characters who press the point throughout the production. I was initially uncofortable with their use, but by the last act ,when they interacted successfully with Renee Fleming in her demanding final aria, I was persuaded. The concept was entirely justified.

Amongst the other gems in this production is a ballet involving female dancers dressed as soldiers, who become ballerinas and devils that become ballerinas and finally go back to being devils. Sounds odd ,but it is very amusing. The costuming throughout the opera is sumptuous and colorful, especially for the demons.The set is simple but accoustically excellent. The production had its weird elements – with huge insects inhabiting the stage during the third act – but most of the time it was highly entertaining.

One of the features that I particularly enjoyed was to hear the singers and producer talk about their roles during the intervals. Very interesting – but how do they do it, when it is obviously recorded during a performance of a a three hour opera that is so physically demanding for them?

Getting back to the theme of my article, isn’t it wonderful how we are no longer as isolated as we have been from the glories of world culture ? How we no longer have to pay vast fortunes to travel to Europe, Britain ,the United States or China to enjoy the cultural heritage of others and the latest plays and operas and the wonderful new stars that are seemingly being discovered all the time. In one week I saw some outstanding entertainment from Britain, the United States and China. It’s a sign of the times.

But this is only the beginning. In November the 2010 Met season will begin with eleven  new productions including both “Rheingold” and “Walkure” with Bryn Terfel, “Don Pasquale“ with Anna Netrebko, “Lucia du Lammermoor with Natalie Dessay, “Boris Godunov”,”Don Carlos”. “Il Trovatore”, and the “Count Ory” with Juan Diego Florez, and ”Capriccio” with Renee Fleming. Further film delights include “The full Monteverdi” in June…which looks and sounds – according to the brilliant trailer – absolutely  scrumptious. It looks like I’m going to be going to the Penthouse a lot over the next year…if my pocket can bear the strain !

The Tudor Consort – an afternoon of choral filigree

J.S.BACH – The Six Motets BWV 225-230

Tudor Consort, directed by Michael Stewart

St Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Saturday September 12 2009

Review by Anna McGregor

Seats were scarce at St Andrews on the Terrace on Saturday afternoon as the Tudor Consort presented their programme of six motets attributed to J.S. Bach. Admired by generations of musicians, these works have been described as ‘a pinnacle of absolute vocal music’, and greatly influenced the choral music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms. This was a rare opportunity to experience all six works in succession and provided the listener with a unique platform to compare the facets of each.

Under the direction of Michael Stewart, the Tudor Consort produced a well-blended and clean sound, successfully negotiating highly demanding vocal lines with stamina. The 21-strong ensemble split into two antiphonal choirs for the first half of the programme, opening with Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), accompanied by Douglas Mews on chamber organ and Emma Goodbeheere on baroque cello. The balance and colour between the choirs was well matched, enabling the ensemble to smoothly interplay during alternating passages. Unfortunately the continuo was often overwhelmed – subtleties of articulation and timbre may have become more apparent with the addition of a small string section.

The group re-united in the second half for the centrepiece of the programme, Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227) with soloists Anna Sedcoe, Erin King, Andrea Cochrane, Richard Taylor and Richard Walley emerging from within the ensemble. Almost in defiance of its conception as a funeral motet, this is a colourful and highly emotive masterpiece as well as a gauntlet of textural demands for any ensemble. The Tudor Consort shifted with ease and breadth of expression between highly contrapuntal fugues to reduced chamber sections to strident but lyrical chorales.

What better way to spend an afternoon than fully immersed in Bach – credit to the Tudor Consort for fantastic programming and a very fine performance.