Review / Big Apple concert delivers a big thrill

Music / “New York, New York”, Canberra Wind Symphony. At The Street Theatre on August 9. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

Geoff Grey conducts the Canberra Wind Symphony.

IT is always a delight to attend on concert with no firm expectations and leave having thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

The Canberra Wind Symphony is, as the name suggests, a symphony-sized orchestra of wind instruments. It was formed in 2015 by Geoff Grey, former head of the RMC Band and has presented concert series for the last two years. For this concert there were 36 musicians on stage, including five percussionists. Otherwise, the rest were wind players, with the exception of a piano and a string bass.

As the title suggests, this concert had an American focus, with the three works all having a distinct New York City connection. John Mackey’s “Asphalt Cocktail” opened the program. This is an angular and, at times, dissonant piece of music, written for concert band. There are hints of minimalism in repeated patterns and I did keep thinking it would be ideal music for a fast-moving documentary on Art Deco trains and skyscrapers.

This was followed by the “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story”. This is an orchestral suite adapted by Leonard Bernstein from the original Broadway show score and well suited for this large group. There are lots of contrasting textures used in different sections, although there was an odd mismatch of tonal colour between a horn and a clarinet at a couple of points.

The second half of the program was Symphony No 2, “The Big Apple” by Dutch composer Johan de Meij. As in “Asphalt Cocktail”, there are lots of musical renditions of automotive horns (seemingly mandatory for any piece of music concerning New York) but this work goes well beyond that. It starts with a cascading chord over three octaves and takes off from there. I suspect the flutes and clarinets took the string parts of repeated arpeggio patterns and the music certainly captured the relentless energy of the city. The composer felt that a traditional slow second movement was not appropriate for a descriptive work about New York.

The replacement is several minutes of actuality recordings of Times Square with rumbling piano bass and an ephemeral gong in the background before launching into a frenetic second movement. This seemed to consist of climax after climax before an eventual climatic ending.

This was a concert of the highest quality, both in conception and execution. The Canberra Wind Symphony is apparently totally unfunded and dependent, one might expect, on the generosity of the performers as much as anything else. There is one more concert this year, on November 11 with a Remembrance Day theme. It should be worthwhile attending.

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