Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Unusual Symmetries

 

Shed Series: Symmetries

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Friday 31 January

Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke

The NZSO’s expanding Shed Series – this year taking in Auckland as well as Wellington – kicked off the classical music year with an intriguing mix of styles and textures. As ever, the orchestra made good use of the Shed 5 space, switching from end to end across the three sets, as conductor Hamish McKeich tends to call them. (Though I still liked it best when they were right in the middle with the audience shaped around them, almost like a stage play being performed in the round.)

The Shed concerts are evolving a tradition of deliberate contrasts across short pieces, giving a (partially) new audience a taste – a degustation menu, if you will – of what classical music has to offer. This was never more evident than in the Symmetries concert, which began with two of the Brahms Hungarian Dances (nos 1 and 3). In the first I especially enjoyed the contrasts between the martial strings playing the main theme and the more languid passages.

Then, as Monty Python used to say, it was a case of ‘now for something completely different’: Tuning the head of a pin, by contemporary New Zealand composer Lissa Meridan. Not being familiar with the piece, I couldn’t exactly give chapter and verse on the quality of the interpretation. But it was undeniably beautiful, full of shimmering, otherworldly textures and sharp dynamic changes that suddenly exposed single notes. Reminiscent of Estonian composer Arvo Part’s work, it juxtaposed jokey moments with plaintive flutes; you could have just about drawn a jagged line-graph of the stark ups and downs in intensity. Even someone in the audience accidentally smashing a glass didn’t break the mood, in fact somehow seemed to add to it.

Providing a very different kind of contrast was the Rondo from Mozart’s Divertimento No 11. A sunny, dancing interlude, it struck me – perhaps unkindly – as a familiar example of Mozart on autopilot, but again, it gained its impact from its delicate balance with the preceding pieces.

After the first interval we were treated to what you might call a Measure Sandwich: a few of Harrison Birstwhistle’s Bach Measures played either side of the Allegro from Russell Peck’s Drastic Measures. All seems to be enthusiastically received by the large audience; the people sitting next to me on a bench even stood up to get a better view.

Birtwhistle’s reworkings of Bach cantatas were thoughtful and exploratory, an interesting change from, as McKeich put it, the more aggressive nature of much of his work. Not all the Measures sounded quite right: the first, for instance, had moments of reverential beauty, but many of the entries didn’t feel well integrated, and the overall effect was slightly jerky. The same could be said of the second measure, although nos 3-5 were much better, their punchier moments contrasting with fluttering woodwind lines.

For the Peck, a saxophone quartet took (a small) centre stage in the Shed, and gave us a brisk, exuberant and well-integrated rendition of a piece that draws delightfully on the 12-bar blues tradition without ever feeling like pastiche. Then it was back to Birtwhistle for more Bach Measures; the seventh was an especial delight, both graceful and stately, distinctly modern but also baroque.

Finally, after the second break, the third set was taken up with John Adams’s Fearful Symmetries. As ever with Adams, it was filled with driving, dancing motifs; dancing, in fact, seemed like a second, submerged theme for the whole evening, given the way it carried through almost all the pieces. The Adams was all powerfully done: there was so much to enjoy in the juxtaposition of rhythms and intensities; the hints of rock ‘n’ roll (and even the Peter Gunn theme) were well handled; and McKeich conjured up a full, rich sound despite the inherent percussiveness of the piece.

He also exercised superb control over the structure, including the moments when the rhythm almost threatens to collapse. My final scribbled notes read, ‘Seamless transitions, seamless whole’ – a remark that could have stood for the whole evening.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Gordon Campbell: On The Addiction To Chinese Student Fees

Last week, Australian PM Scott Morrison extended its ban on foreign visitors from or passing through from mainland China – including Chinese students - for a third week. New Zealand has dutifully followed suit, with our travel ban ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Coronavirus, And The Iowa Debacle

As Bloomberg says, the coronavirus shutdown is creating the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment. On the upside, the mortality rate with the current outbreak is lower than with SARS in 2003, but (for a number of reasons) the economic impact this time ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Dodging A Bullet Over The Transport Cost Over-Runs

As New Zealand gears up to begin its $6.8 billion programme of large scale roading projects all around the country, we should be aware of this morning’s sobering headlines from New South Wales, where the cost overruns on major transport projects ... More>>

Gordon Campbell:On Kobemania, Palestine And The Infrastructure Package

Quick quiz to end the week. What deserves the more attention – the death of a US basketball legend, or the end of Palestinian hopes for an independent state? Both died this week, but only one was met with almost total indifference by the global community. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Double Standard That’s Bound To Dominate The Election

Are National really better political managers than Labour, particularly when it comes to running the economy? For many voters – and the business community in particular - their belief in National’s inherent competence is a simple act of faith. More>>


Gordon Campbell : On Dealing With Impeccable, Impeachable Lies

By now, the end game the Republican Senate majority has in mind in their setting of the rules for the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump is pretty clear to everyone: first deny the Democrats the ability to call witnesses and offer evidence, and then derisively dismiss the charges for lack of evidence. For his part, does former security adviser John Bolton really, really want to testify against his former boss? If there was any competing faction within the Republican Party, there might be some point for Bolton in doing so – but there isn’t. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Why The Dice Are Loaded Against Women..

If they enter public life, women can expect a type of intense (and contradictory) scrutiny that is rarely applied to their male counterparts... More>>