Canberra Youth Orchestra 2018 Concert Series – Concerto Competition Winner, Soloist, Serena Ford – Flute, Saturday June 30, 2018, 7.30pm, Llewellyn Hall.
In a commendable initiative, the opening works of Saturday’s Canberra Youth Orchestra concert were contemporary compositions by Australian composers Natalie Williams (Sonic Boom) and Sally Whitwell (Running-Resting-Reeling). Williams’s fanfare, composed in 2011 for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, was a joyous welcome to the night’s music, setting the spotlight for the evening on the brass who worked extremely hard throughout the performance.
Sally Whitwell’s Running - Resting - Reeling in three movements exercised the woodwind and brass sections, particularly in the lively opening movement. The cello section established a firm musical foundation for the second, tranquil movement allowing the orchestra to show its skill at creating sound textures that contrasted well with the first and final movements.
In the concluding movement, Tahni Chan gave a virtuoso performance of the solo opening theme and the movement built up a great swing as the orchestra gathered momentum – although why it is called "reeling" when the foundation is supposedly an Irish jig is beyond me.
Serena Ford’s evocation of Jules Mouquet’s La Flute de Pan (1904) was the highlight of the evening and it was delightful to hear the legacy of Kiri Sollis’s teaching in the clear soaring notes and beautifully executed chromatic runs. Ford also looked beautiful in a becoming gown decorated with twining floral tendrils and her strong stage presence built a warm rapport with the audience. Ford not only played confidently, but also listened astutely to her colleagues, adjusting her dynamics and tonal quality to ensure that her solos shimmered against the orchestral accompaniment.
While it provided a great experience for the young musicians playing it, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was a challenge for the CYO to imbue with sufficient energy and spice to breathe something new into such a well-known work. I felt that the tempo often dragged and there was a sense that the musicians were ticking off each "picture" on the list rather than bringing each vignette to life.
That said, trumpeter Samuel Hutchinson gave a triumphant introduction and the woodwinds, particularly Nicholas Hilderson on clarinet and the bassoons, Milan Kolunzija and Anna Sharp, seized the opportunity of Mussorgsky’s generous scoring to shine.
I would like to see more discipline in the orchestra when they move on and off stage. This might seem picky, but it is all part of maintaining focus for both the musicians and the audience – part of respect for live musical performance and demonstrating that you know what you’re doing. Think of the rigor and effervescent energy of Australian Youth Orchestra concerts – that is the bar to aim for. It is a great privilege to be on stage and present the work of fine composers and the audience needs to see and hear that every ounce of concentration is devoted to giving the best performance possible.
Grumbles aside, I look forward to hearing how the CYO seizes their next concert opportunity in partnership with Lucy Sugerman on September 29.