National Capital Orchestra features Canberra composer Sally Greenaway on program
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National Capital Orchestra features Canberra composer Sally Greenaway on program

Scriabin & Suk. National Capital Orchestra. Conducted by Leonard Weiss. Llewellyn Hall, ANU, Saturday, October 15, 7.30pm. Tickets $20 to $40 from premier.ticketek.com.au. nationalcapitalorchestra.com.au.

The National Capital Orchestra will present the Canberra premiere of Worlds With Worlds, a work by Canberra composer Sally Greenaway, at its next concert at Llewellyn Hall on Saturday, October 15.

Canberra composer Sally Greenaway, whose work Worlds Within Worlds will be given its Canberra premiere by the National Capital Orchestra.

Canberra composer Sally Greenaway, whose work Worlds Within Worlds will be given its Canberra premiere by the National Capital Orchestra.Credit:Ivor Hind

"It's my second piece performed by the National Capital Orchestra," Greenaway says.

The first piece, The Blue Mountains, was performed a couple of years ago. It was from a film score and was written while she was undertaking postgraduate study in London after completing her undergraduate study at the ANU School of Music.

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Worlds Within Worlds was commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

"It was inspired by a couple of things." Greenaway says.

One of them was a painting by Paul Summerfield, Chaos at the Sky Regatta, in the Canberra Hospital, with flying objects above a cityscape; the other, in London, is Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven, featuring hundreds of small birdhouses in among the trees of the city's parklands.

Given this, it's not surprising the piece contains musical representations of flying as well as highrise buildings reaching up to the sky and the bustle of the city.

The piece premiered in Melbourne earlier this year in a chamber version.

Now Greenaway has completely rearranged it for a larger ensemble, quadrupling some of the instruments, and this new version will be performed for the first time by the National Capital Orchestra.

Conductor and musical director Leonard Weiss says when he was formulating this year's NCO program he wanted to include Australian repertoire in each concert.

"I was inspired to end this year with a Canberra composer. Sally, I think, is a very expressive composer who captures nature well."

And, he says, the National Capital Orchestra and the Canberra audience are "really quite lucky" being able to experience the expanded version of Worlds Within Worlds; in effect a new work being premiered.

"We're realising her full vision of the piece."

Weiss has enjoyed working with Greenaway on preparing the work for performance and says that's a unique opportunity of performing a work by a living Australian composer, as opposed to most of the classical repertoire.

"Usually there's so much guesswork ... how did they want it?" he says.

Having the chance to invite the composer to rehearsals and consult them on how a piece should be performed is something he relishes and intends to do more of next year.

He won't have that chance with the other items on this program, though – large-scale pieces from the early 20th-century repertoire.

Alexander Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy, written between 1905 and 1908, deals with the "creative spirit", the ascent into consciousness and the victory over darkness and the arrival of the "time of ecstasy".

"He was tuned into mysticism, philosophy and theosophy," Weiss says.

The musical piece, he says, has an array of colours and feelings and develops into delirium and enchantment.

"It ends in exultation at everything – it says 'WOW!' in all caps."

Finally, Josef Suk's Asrael Symphony (1905-6) – named after the Old Testament angel of death Asrael – had a somewhat more poignant genesis. Suk was the son-in-law and student of the composer Antonin Dvorak who died in 1904 and began the symphony as a celebration of the older man's life and work. While Suk was midway through the work, his young wife Otilie, Dvorak's daughter, died, in July 1905.

"Suke took a year off without doing anything and when he came back, his grieving process was the last two movements of the symphony."

He dedicated the Asrael Symphony to the memory of both Dvorak and Otilie.

Weiss says the work contains "a lot of anguish, a lot of pain – that's a big part of the symphony" but there are many lyrical moments too and that while the work begins in the darkness of C minor, it ends on a more upbeat note in C major.

"It's absolutely beautiful."

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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