Even with modern music its rare to have the composer on stage. So it was a bonus to have the softly-spoken Gerard Brophy at the world premiere of The Book of Clouds to introduce his work. He saw a book of that name in a museum and then “all I had to do was write the piece”, he explained. And what a piece it was adding Taikoz, Synergy and shakuhachi guru Riley Lee to the mix, with some rarely-seen instruments – like the Himalayan singing bowls that made an evocative opening to the work. From the moment the strings picked up the low sound and introduced the first subject it was evident that this was music that surpassed traditional definition: with Asian overtones, but grounded in a European symphonic tradition. It worked. As Lee ascended the steps to the platform in monk-like garb, bringing the shakuhachi sound with him, it was evident that this work was also about theatre, which was to be at its most spectacular when the percussionists swung into the extended, very physical and thrilling routine that was the climax of the work. After interval, the gentle Takemitsu piece, I Hear the Water Dreaming, continued the “landscape and memory” theme of the concert, and was most notable for the performance of soloist Prue Davis. Principal flautist with the MSO, and luminary on the Melbourne music scene, Davis is all too rarely heard in a solo role – and the reaction both of the audience and her colleagues in the orchestra showed that she should be on centre stage more often. Mussorgskys popular Pictures at an Exhibition (arranged by Ravel) was the logical “traditional” piece to end the concert. There were no surprises to be had, but the MSOs performance showed yet again why it deserves the title of “best orchestra in Australia” (as Brophy had called it early in the evening). The final movement, The Great Gate of Kiev, with the orchestra giving its all, was a satisfying end to a concert that had been rich in imagery and sound.