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Review / CSO goes to the movies and dreams come true

CSO conductor Jessica Gethin… held the orchestra in tight command.

Music / “Canberra Symphony Orchestra at the Cinema”, at Llewellyn Hall, August 7. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE.

JOHN Williams is alive and well and composing in America. 

Astonishingly, his latest work, the Violin Concerto No. 2, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on July 26, with violin soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, arguably the greatest living violinist, was ignored by “The Boston Globe” and “The New York Times” – no reviews. 

It’s disappointing that the scent of a career writing Hollywood film scores degrades the composer in the eyes of some of the world’s classical music press.

Opening with the “Star Wars Suite” by John Williams, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra played stylishly and with excellent dynamics to produce a most convincing performance of this great score for, what was at the time in 1977, a groundbreaking and highly acclaimed film. Eight sequels followed, all with scores by Williams.

At the completion of the first movement, the capacity audience erupted into deafening applause with shouts and screams of delight. In traditional “suite” format, another five movements followed, some displaying the orchestra’s ability to create delicate pianissima and engaging love themes, before returning to a finale of grandiose proportions, leaving the audience spellbound and delighted.

Williams was also represented with his suite from “Harry Potter”, which began with a beautifully played main theme by Stephanie Neeman on celeste, followed by a suite from “Schindler’s List”. In the latter, violin soloist and also leader of the orchestra, Kirsten Williams, played with extreme beauty of tone production and phrasing, accompanied superbly by Rowan Phemister on harp.

Arguably the most highly anticipated piece on the program was Ennio Morricone’s magnificent “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 film, “The Mission”.

Oboist Megan Pampling delivered this most expressively, her sound filling the concert hall with beautiful tonal shadings. It was a sensitive and heartfelt reading, received with great delight by the audience.

Morricone himself conducted this piece with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at Elder Park in 2012, only to have it unceremoniously drowned out by the V8 car race nearby.

Two Australian film score composers were represented. Selections from “To Rest in Peace” by Leah Curtis, revealed mournful, ravishing playing from the strings, along with beautiful solos from Alan Vivian on clarinet and once again, Megan Pampling on oboe.

CSO strings. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Nigel Westlake’s score for 2014’s “Paper Planes”, is an absolutely beautiful orchestral piece, requiring the entire orchestra. With lush, sweeping melodic phrases, a huge sound and beautifully modulated harp playing from Phemister, the players slowly dwindled into a triple pianissimo at the conclusion, breathtakingly held by conductor Jessica Gethin.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for “Psycho” in 1960. The much anticipated “shower scene” was delivered with incredible conviction by the string section, leaving everyone suitably terrified, but also amazed at the unusual playing style and skill of the players.

George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” closed the concert. Originally composed as a stand-alone orchestral piece, reflecting his own impressions of Paris in a stunning musical snapshot, it was later used in an 18-minute ballet sequence for the movie of the same name.

It is magnificent in structure, was superbly played by the orchestra, including excellent trumpet solo work from section leader Brendon Tasker and delivered with a realism and conviction that had the audience once again in raptures of delight with deafening applause and many callbacks for conductor Gethin.

Throughout the concert, Gethin held the orchestra in tight command. Entries and cadence points were all very finely executed, with a dynamic range of immense proportions.

For many years, I’ve dreamed of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra paying tribute to the world of movie music. Finally, my dream has come true!

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Ian Meikle, editor

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