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Youth orchestra takes to a new stage with gusto

Twilight Tales. Canberra Youth Orchestra conducted by Louis Sharpe. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Twilight Tales”, Canberra Youth Orchestra. At Belconnen Arts Centre, June 17. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

CANBERRA Youth Orchestra took centre stage in the main theatre at Belco Arts to perform an evening of music titled “Twilight Tales”.

This was, Music for Canberra’s newish CEO Shane Dobbin explained to the audience of family and well-wishing music lovers, the result of a new deal between Belconnen Arts Centre Arts and Music for Canberra.

It saw the space reconfigured into a conventional end-staged concert format, imaginatively lit using lighting techniques more usual for dance performances.

Conductor Louis Sharpe fairly leapt into the space, explaining with some animation how important it was to honour both past and musicians, thus offering young performers varied and challenging performance opportunities.

Sharpe’s welcoming informality set the tone for an accessible evening of music, which he has described as “a change from the typical classical music concert.”

The concert began with the Canberra premiere of “Happy Occasion Overture” by Australian composer, classical pianist, music educator, and poet, Miriam Beatrice Hyde, who died in 2005.

Conductor Louis Sharpe. Photo: Peter Hislop

An animated, optimistic work as the title suggests, it gave the orchestra’s impressive brass section a chance to shine.

Next up, replacing “Lake Ice” by Mary Finsterer, which had been withdrawn at the last minute because of covid, was the work “Ancient Forests Once Stood Here” by Queensland composer Sarah Hopkins.

This work, only once before performed by the orchestra, was full of atmosphere, with three percussionists placed around the stage shaking “rainsticks” to evoke the sounds of rainfall and insects in the forest, followed by whirlies (hosepipe purchased by the composer) twirled to create an otherworldly effect.

“Ancient Forests Once Stood Here” offered the chance for the strings to assert themselves, as, backed by almost Scottish drone effects from the brass and woodwinds, they created a sense of the stateliness of old-growth forests.

Fun and sun returned to the stage with Canberra composer Sainsbury’s “Beach Holiday”, but this in fact proved to be a complex, solemn piece, though punctuated by occasional mischievous percussion effects suggesting a sportier element.

This was the Australian part of the concert but Sharpe, from the podium, promised they’d return from interval to “bash out a bit of Dvořák”.

They certainly did, with a spirited performance of Dvořák’s “Eighth Symphony”.

This began with a most beautiful, liquid melody played by the cellos and violas, after which the movement moved into a fuller exploration by the strings, which were not always well-synchronised.

After a firmly-played adagio, the orchestra rose to the strident final with great power, enhanced by flute and the brass, and of course those lyrical cellos and violas.

This symphony, which incorporates children’s songs observed by Dvořák, proved a very suitable choice on which to end the orchestra’s first performance at a new, sympathetic venue.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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