Young players triumph over new work

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Clarinettist Nicolas Hilderson performs with the Canberra Youth Orchestra… What a find he is! Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / ANU and Canberra Youth Orchestra Collaboration Concert. At  Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, September 21. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THIS was an innovative and interesting collaboration between the CYO and the ANU School of Music composition faculty that had an added bonus of showcasing the winner of the 2019 CYO Concerto Competition performing in a formal concert setting.

Fourteen soloists contested the Concerto Competition with clarinettist Nicolas Hilderson ultimately judged the winner. 

What a find he is! He performed the taxing Weber “Clarinet Concerto No 2 in Eb Major” in a most satisfying and engaging performance displaying clear and clean tonal quality, mature expression and marvellous dexterity. 

From the opening three-octave leap of the “Allegro” through a well-phrased “Romanza” and on to the virtuosic “Polacca” finale, this was an emotive and exciting performance. Rhythm at the start of the third movement was not rock solid but the technically most demanding phrases towards the end were a joy to hear. 

The orchestra began a little tentatively and there were moments of untidiness in the winds and brass, but all settled well to provide solid backing throughout. Strings were particularly impressive with light, neat and dynamically well controlled accompaniment. Nicholas is a highly talented clarinet player and a young man to watch as he balances his love of music with his economics “day job”.

Five new works by Canberra-based composers presented the CYO players with a rare opportunity to perform in a wide array of contrasting musical styles. 

Not having a chance to read the comprehensive program notes before listening, I found the short “Figheadaireachd” by Alexander Hunter creating images of Swiss mountains with alphorns sounding across the valleys. I’m not sure that is the image intended, but that’s the beauty of music – each individual is transported to their own little spot.

Soloist Katrina Wiseman performs with the Canberra Youth Orchestra. Photo: Peter Hislop

“Beach Holiday” by Chris Sainsbury featured the strings again with expansive and melodic phrasing in keeping with the title. Percussion and piano added delicate touches.

“Alice’s Common Sense Suite” by Frank Millward was reminiscent of the lush-sounding British light orchestra pieces written by the likes of Gilbert Vinter and Clive Richardson. It was theatrical in its presentation with four young female vocalists dressed in the classic Alice costume. The music was melodic and appealing though the vocal work lacked surety of pitch and intonation.

After interval an exciting “Autonomy” by Chloe Sinclair contrasted complex rhythms in unusual time signatures against warm melodic phrases. The opening brass fanfare lacked the intensity and fire necessary to fully kick the dynamic piece off but, overall, it was fascinating and interesting writing.

Kim Cunio is the head of the ANU School of Music and he contributed “21 Mantras for Tara”, a work composed in collaboration with monks from Tibet. The opening string pizzicato section introduced soprano soloist Katrina Wiseman, currently a third-year student at the school. Her powerful clear voice filled Llewellyn Hall with lovely tone and beautifully accurate pitch. Torrid cello pulsating rhythms were also impressive.

The concert concluded with a mature reading of Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg Overture”. Highly acclaimed and musically passionate Max McBride returned to the CYO podium (he previously conducted CYO for 17 years from 1992 to 2008) to conduct this concert and his experienced baton guided the players through this concert of vastly contrasting works with great surety and control.

CYO artistic managers are to be commended for boldly programming new orchestral works and congratulations to Max McBride and the CYO players for rising to the challenge of performing those works competently and confidently.

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