The National Capital Orchestra's 2016 program. Opening concert, Passion. Sunday, March 20, 3pm, the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Bookings: nco.org.au or 6285 6290
From small beginnings many years ago as the Canberra Community Orchestra, this group of dedicated amateur instrumentalists has grown to become a 50-strong ensemble, the National Capital Orchestra. It's a group that is proud to offer programs as challenging and engaging as its professional counterpart, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
The NCO attracts top professional musicians as soloists and receives funding from Arts ACT for special projects.
This year young musician and composer Leonard Weiss adds the position of musical director and conductor of the NCO to his already demanding schedule as director of the Canberra Youth Orchestra, Canberra Qwire and the ANU Choral Society. He's brimming with enthusiasm and ideas to extend the orchestra's repertoire with emphasis on the promotion of Australian works and the introduction of lesser known works, while still presenting audience favourites by composers such as Dvorak, Beethoven and Haydn.
The first program in the five-concert 2016 series features Canberra guitarist Matt Withers as soloist in one of the best-loved guitar works, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. Withers not only plays classics such as this work, but is well known as a member of the quartet, Guitar Trek, which is noted for its interpretation of Australian guitar music and for his partnership with Bradley Kunda as the Brew Guitar Duo.
The concert on March 20 will begin with Nigel Westlake's Antarctica Suite and conclude with Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor. From a contemporary Australian composer's impressions of the frozen continent to a 20th-century guitar masterpiece and then a taste of 19th-century symphonic mastery, it's quite a journey for a Sunday afternoon.
"The Q is a great venue," Weiss says.
The orchestra has risers stored at the theatre, NCO president Martin Elias says, so that the stage can be properly converted for an orchestral performance. "And what a great foyer space!"
The second concert in the series, on May 29, will also be at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, and will feature Alice Giles as soloist in Concerto for Harp and Orchestra by French composer Francois-Adrien Boieldieu, who is often called the French Mozart. The work has an operatic flavour, as Boieldieu's principal works were written for the operatic stage. This diverse program will also include Graeme Koehne's Elevator Music, scored for the full gamut of orchestral instruments, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 4.
For their third concert, Classic Series 01: Orff, on July 23, the orchestra will move to Llewellyn Hall at the ANU School of Music and join the Canberra Choral Society to present Orff's great work, Carmina Burana. Also on the program will be Wagner's prelude to his opera Lohengrin and a work by contemporary Australian composer and conductor Sean O'Boyle, River Symphony. This work was placed 85th in the ABC's Classic 100 Symphony, and another O'Boyle composition, Concerto for Didgeridoo, was 87th in the ABC's Classic 100 Twentieth Century.
"We believe that this will be the first time River Symphony has been performed in Canberra," Weiss says.
Romance, on August 20 at Llewellyn Hall, will feature three soloists: pianist Edward Neeman, cellist David Pereira and violinist Barbara Jane Gilby. The program will begin and conclude with Beethoven works, his overture to Fidelio and his Triple Concerto, and include an Australian piano solo and Haydn's Symphony No. 49.
The NCO's final program of the year, on October 15, again at Llewellyn Hall, will begin with a work by Canberra composer Sally Greenaway, a piece commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Worlds Within Worlds.
"This piece has only just been premiered," Weiss says, "and its Canberra premiere has been funded by Arts ACT."
Greenaway's compositions range from classical chamber works to compositions for big jazz bands, and are always highly innovative pieces of music.
Two works on this program that may be new to many in the audience are The Poem of Ecstasy by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, described by American writer Henry Miller as "having that far-off cosmic itch", and Asrael Symphony in C minor, Opus 27, by Czech composer Josef Suk, a 60-minute piece for a large orchestra that Suk wrote in memory of his wife, Otilie, and his father-in-law and teacher, Antonin Dvorak.
The NCO's ambitious series of concerts for the year reflects the promise of its new director to bring to audiences fine Australian works and to introduce music beyond the standard orchestral repertoire.