HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts and shows in Canberra.
The first stop was the Pleiades star cluster, or Seven Sisters, located in the Taurus constellation, a mere 444 light years from Earth. A photo of the striking colours and form inspired Australian-American composer, Natalie Williams, to write “Chambers of South”, the title coming from Job 9:9. The orchestra rose confidently to the challenge of depicting the colours and form with shimmering strings interplaying with assertive brass and colourful woodwinds, all traversing the brightness of the seven stars and the darkness in between, with the celeste imagining the mysterious sounds of space along the way. It was easy to create the picture in the mind’s eye.
Williams herself must have been able to paint that picture, for she clearly was very pleased with the orchestra’s performance.
Perhaps the Seven Sisters’ role was to introduce us to “Belkis, Queen of Sheba”, for that was the NCO’s next destination, with the ballet music of Respighi, whose compositional style reflected his interest in music of the 16th-18th centuries. This work, in four movements, carries some constantly changing rhythms and time signatures, including some quite unusual ones. Weiss kept a close eye on proceedings, giving the orchestra very clear directions. The musicians responded beautifully.
The final work was Brahms’ Double Concerto in A-minor Opus 102 and featured an enlarged orchestra to accompany cellist, Julian Smiles, and violinist, Dimity Hall. For Brahms, this composition was something of a peace offering to his estranged friend, the violinist, Joseph Joachim. Joachim had sought a divorce from his wife, accusing her of infidelity, and Brahms had written a letter of support for her. The divorce was refused.
But we didn’t have to worry about that. We could just enjoy Brahms’ lovely music. At times there was a little imbalance in some sections of the orchestra, but overall, the ensemble provided expert backing for the two virtuoso soloists. The interplay between them was seamless, the music passing from one to the other and back where their instruments overlap in pitch. The long runs from the top of the violin to the bottom of the cello created quite a stereo, surround-sound effect. It was stunning to hear.
During the first half, Weiss told the audience about the orchestra’s fortunes in securing funding for more concerts in Llewellyn Hall and gave a run-down on their 2018 season. If this concert was any indication, it will be worth getting along to some of their presentations next year.