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NZSO dedicates concert to enduring classical favourites

NZSO dedicates concert to enduring classical favourites

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra extends another warm welcome to British maestro Mark Wigglesworth in a concert dedicated to all-time favourites.

Voted the most popular piece of classical music*, Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending paints a stunning landscape of the British wilderness. Inspired by the poem by English novelist and poet George Meredith, Vaughan Williams’ music, perhaps more than any other composer of his time, has a specifically English pastoral quality.

His teacher Ravel recognised this, describing him as “the only one of my pupils who does not write my music”. Passionate about past traditions, Vaughan Williams dedicated a significant part of his life to collecting English folk songs and hymns and as a result, his music often evokes an idealised British past. Completed after the First World War, The Lark Ascending takes a nostalgic look back to a simpler time.

With our Concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen as the solitary lark, lyrical melodies soar over a gentle body of sound in this popular romance. Bright ascending and cascading phrases pour fourth from the violin, as the lark soars higher and higher before a central melody is found, and the orchestra returns to create a supportive body of sound within which the soloist can wander.

In contrast, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 provides drama to stir you from your reverie. Its extended virtuosic passages offer ample opportunities for the acclaimed pianist Yevgeny Sudbin to dazzle. The young Russian, known for his scorching performances, is perfectly matched to this tempestuous concerto.

We return to England for Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1. Surprisingly, Elgar waited until his early fifties before composing a symphony, although it was widely known that he had been planning one for more than 10 years. The wait was worth it; his First Symphony, completed in 1908, is now one of the most beloved in the repertoire.

Unashamedly romantic, Elgar’s symphony is overwhelmingly majestic. From its opening bars a quiet theme grows, before marching rhythms emerge, transforming its humble beginning into an expansive, grand melody, recalling past glories. It is no surprise that within a year of its premiere, Elgar’s eagerly anticipated first symphony had been performed a hundred times worldwide.

Join the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this May and hear three of the most memorable works in our popular national concert series The Lark Ascending.

Enjoy an evening of glorious music to stir the soul, in association with the New Zealand Listener.

*Radio New Zealand Concert 'Settling the Score', 2012 and Classic FM (UK) Hall of Fame, 2007-2010.


· The Lark Ascending was voted number one in the popular UK radio station Classic FM’s annual Hall of Fame poll for four years running (from 2007-2010). It was selected over Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and another work of Vaughan Williams', the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

· Vaughan Williams reportedly sketched The Lark Ascending as he watched troop ships cross the English Channel at the outbreak of the First World War. But he was arrested by a police officer after a boy reported him to the police for “jotting down a secret code”.

· Originally, The Lark Ascending was a violin-piano arrangement composed in 1914. Edward Elgar’s pupil Marie Hall first performed this version in December 1920 before a violin and orchestral version was completed in 1920.

· Following its first orchestral performance in London on 14 June 1921, under conductor Adrian Boult, a critic from The Times quoted: "It showed supreme disregard for the ways of today or yesterday. It dreamed itself along". This “dream-like” meditative quality could perhaps be blamed on the solo violin cadenzas, which were written without bar lines.

· Beethoven did not hold his Piano Concerto No. 2 in much esteem, remarking that it was "not one of my best” to the publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister. But despite his initial remarks, this Concerto has become a gem in the piano repertoire and is as popular as ever.

· In order to establish himself as a virtuoso, a young Beethoven regularly performed his Piano Concerto No. 2. He was even the soloist at its premiere performance on 29 March 1795, at Vienna's Burgtheater.

· Beethoven uses one of trademark musical jokes in the third movement. Before the last appearance of the rondo theme, Beethoven brings the piano in in the "wrong" key of G major, before the orchestra "discovers" the discrepancy and returns to the correct tonic key.

· Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 was an instant success. Within weeks of its premiere, on 3 December 1908 in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, it was performed in New York under Walter Damrosch, Vienna under Ferdinand Löwe, St. Petersburg under Alexander Siloti, and Leipzig under Artur Nikisch. Within a year, Elgar’s eagerly anticipated first symphony had been performed a hundred times worldwide.

· Dedicated "To Hans Richter, Mus. Doc. True Artist and true Friend”, Elgar’s first symphony was only one of two written by the popular composer.

· Unusually, Elgar’s symphony was composed in Ab and, according to the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, its equally unusual transition to the clashing key - D minor – in the opening theme, arose because someone made a bet with Elgar that he could not compose a symphony in two keys at once.


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