Arts / The ‘other’ orchestra has a world premiere

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The National Capital Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Weiss. Photo by Peter Hislop

AN unusual blend of musical tradition will be at the centre of the National Capital Orchestra’s first concert for this year, with the world premiere performance of the new work “Zodiac Animalia” by the Australian composer Jessica Wells.

Wells, a graduate in composition from the Sydney Conservatorium and in screen composition from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, has orchestrated more than 50 films and is perhaps best known for composing the theme music of ABC TV’s “Q&A” program.

In “Zodiac Animalia”, to be performed under the baton of musical director Leonard Weiss, she fuses Chinese and Australian heritage as the orchestra “describes” each of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, challenging the instrumentalists to bring each of them to life.

The composition was workshopped last year at the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Composer Reading Day. In a set of 12 approximately one-minute episodes, Wells says she has “attempted to capture the personality of each animal, or perhaps the anthropomorphism that humans project on to them”.

In order, the animals are, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

After the premiere, Weiss and the orchestra will then perform Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s concerto for guitar and orchestra with Matt Withers, the well-known classical guitar pedagogue and performer who has performed as a member of Guitar Trek and with musicians such as William Barton, Sally Whitwell and the Carl Pini Quartet.

After the interval, Withers will be joined by fellow guitarist Callum Henshaw, first prize winner at the 2012 Cordoba International Guitar Competition, the 2014 Tirana International Guitar Competition and the 2017 Melbourne International Concert Artist Guitar Competition, for which he secured a 10-concert tour in 2018.

Withers and Henshaw will join to play the “Concierto Madrigal” by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo and a final work, also in the Spanish mode, “Capriccio Espagnol”, by Rimsky Korsakov.

Playfully tagged “Canberra’s OTHER orchestra”, the NCO sees itself a driving force in the presentation of works by living Australian composers, and has premiered works by Sean O’Boyle, Sally Greenaway, Graeme Koehne, Carl Vine, Christopher Gordon, Nigel Sabin and Natalie Williams.

In line with this, Jessica Wells will give a pre-concert talk about her work at 6.30pm.

National Capital Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, April 7, bookings to

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Helen Musa
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