ActewAGL Llewellyn Five, Canberra Symphony Orchestra Season 2018. Wednesday 7 November, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm.
The final CSO concerts for 2018 are taking place at a time of reflection for the music community. On October 28, Richard Gill - celebrated conductor and much loved teacher and mentor - died at his Sydney home. Gill’s faith in the power of music to enrich life for all and his commitment to bringing music to the widest possible audiences will not be forgotten, particularly, in this concert series, by members of the CSO who played under his baton.
As we mourn the loss of this courageous advocate for the arts, how wonderful that 18-year-old Australian violinist Grace Clifford is stepping onto the international concert stage. Clifford plays with exceptional tone, emotional integrity and technical brilliance, and she articulates her ethical values with conviction akin to Gill’s.
When asked in a recent interview for her Melbourne Symphony Orchestra appearances what she would like audiences to know about her, Clifford said: "I wish politicians were more engaged with the environment and the arts. I’m disappointed by the political process where climate change can be denied, human rights can be ignored and greed is good. Thankfully music is indiscriminate and universal, and a performance is always about the composer and the music."
Clifford's instrument is a violin made by Jean-Baptise Vuillaume, constructed just outside of Paris in 1859. The violin and violinist are a near perfect match. What a joy to hear how Clifford hones her musicianship to seek out the beauty of the rich lower register and soar with equanimity to draw out sweet, clear, high notes in the upper register. This kind of honest conversation between a young soloist and musical instrument is rare and a privilege to hear. Her version of Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Op 14 revealed great heart in the interpretation of the first two movements and surprisingly mature virtuosity in the final Presto in moto perpetuo.
The orchestra began the evening with a fine, crisp performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare. Woodwinds, brass and brooding cellos described the developing narrative of the doomed lovers, building to an emotional climax expressed in a hurricane of roaring strings. As the double basses played the final sombre pulse beneath the melody, throbbing flutes and bassoons dissolved into the rippling harp culminating in the dramatic percussion climax.
I never cease to marvel at the complexity of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and how orchestras bring new colours and structural emphases in each interpretation. Nicholas Milton was in his element conducting the dances – and of course – dancing to the music and encouraging Maria Lindsay’s splendid light footed solo as well. The CSO entered the challenge and fun of the performance with great vigour, concluding the evening with a standing ovation.