Weiss brings out the best of the orchestra

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Weiss had the orchestra sounding the best I had heard… Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / National Capital Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, August 3. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

FOR his last appearance with the National Capital Orchestra before winging his way to the US to study conducting with Marin Alsop at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Leonard Weiss chose an interesting, if somewhat subdued program.

Two standard but quite challenging works, for orchestra and conductor alike, bookended the world premiere of a work by young Canberra composer and guitar teacher, Dante Clavijo, “Images of Obsession: 0-2-3-6”.  The numbers represent the semitones between the notes, which can ascend or descend, and be in any key.

In this, his last year at the ANU School of Music, Clavijo has already won awards for his compositions, and, in this piece, has crafted some clever adaptations of the numerical, and orchestrated it such that it becomes something of a concerto grosso with the many themes passing through and around the orchestra so that every section enjoys some of the limelight.

It’s dark and brooding, beginning in the cellos, punctuated by menacing tympani, it sets the scene for the three short movements to follow. Not quite melodic in structure, it has some rich harmonies and some very nice orchestrations. Whilst not filmic in structure as is very often the case with contemporary compositions, it could very neatly be the soundtrack for a video game, something in which Clavijo already has experience.

Weiss had very fine control of his orchestra, not allowing the quite slow tempi, sustained notes and generally subdued volumes to make the piece drag. With the work concluding as it started, Weiss let the silence hang, even to the point of some awkwardness, because the audience wasn’t sure if the work had finished. It was only after some of the musicians began to applaud that the audience joined in, also welcoming a delighted composer to the stage.

In the other two works, Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” and Respighi’s very programmatic “Pines of Rome”, Weiss had the orchestra sounding the best I had heard. There was gorgeous balance between sections, the strings really shone, especially in the beautifully measured second movement of the Berlioz, and superbly controlled expression throughout.

In the Berlioz, the solo viola player, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan, drew some really beautiful expression and warm smoothness from her instrument. At times, though, it was difficult to hear it above the orchestra, even though they responded perfectly to even the subtlest of gestures from Weiss.

Whilst not an especially celebratory concert in terms of programming, especially for a farewell, this performance by Leonard Weiss showed that he has developed the National Capital Orchestra to a very high standard and very well prepared for whoever takes it over next year.

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