Arts / Music school back on message

Music / ANU School of Music Gala Concert, Llewellyn Hall, September 22. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

AFTER all the utterly unnecessary upheaval of a few years ago, it’s good to see the ANU School of Music pulling itself up by the bootstraps and getting back to what it has always done well – turning out good musicians.

This Gala Concert showcased some of the best in students and faculty staff alike, along with a little help from some friends.

Set up on the left side of the stage, the aptly-named Side-by-Side Chamber Orchestra, comprising ANU students and staff, and members of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, presented an attractive program, with violinist Tor Frømyhr as concertmaster, and orchestral double bass player Max McBride conducting. There was Mozart’s “Divertimento in E-flat” K113, Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from his tragic opera, “Orpheus and Eurydice”, and CPE Bach’s “Concerto for Flute in D-minor”.

While McBride perhaps took the Mozart (particularly the middle movement) and Gluck a little slow, there was a very nice ensemble sound created, beautifully balanced, and very responsive to McBride’s crystal-clear direction.

The Bach piece featured virtuoso flautist, Sally Walker, a graduate from the University of Sydney who has spent much of her career in Europe performing with a range of orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic. She now is back in Australia and teaching at the ANU.

This was a performance full of energy and brilliance from both ensemble and soloist. The spirited third movement motored along with even more vigour, calling for absolute precision in long, prestissimo phrases from Walker. I wondered if the myriad notes she had to play would fit into those phrases, but her dextrous finger-work and triple-tonguing was breathtaking. It was indeed flawless playing by a truly virtuosic artist.

Over on the other side of the stage, the second half began with members of the School of Music Jazz Faculty. Note only are these musicians fine teachers in the faculty, but they are leading lights in the jazz scene, not only in Canberra, but nationally and internationally.

Their set of six tunes, showed the diversity and flexibility of their skills, from standards like “Skylark” (featuring vocalist, Rachael Thoms) and “Green Dolphin Street” to a jazz interpretation of Chopin’s “Prelude in E-minor” (“sort of,” said bassist, Brendan Clarke) and a contemporary take on Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane”, which featured sax player, John Mackey, and Miroslav Bukovsky, on flugelhorn,

Taking centre stage for the final segment of this enjoyable concert was the ANU Jazz Collective, made up mainly of students, and led by Bukovsky, who needed to keep them in check only occasionally. In a big band format, they rolled through tunes by Rollins, the Gershwin brothers, a collab between Strayhorn and Ellington, and finishing up with “Brilliant Corners” by Thelonious Monk.

There was a little nervousness at the start, but they obviously enjoyed themselves, most notably trombonist, Daniel Duque. There were standout solos from the alto sax player, and flautist Joel Dreezer.

This is good reassurance to the Canberra community of a return to the ANU School of Music’s former greatness. And that reassurance is underscored by some great talent. Long may it continue.

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