MSO: Nostalghia

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Published: 11th May, 2015



The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra treated the large audience at the Melbourne Recital Centre to film music of all types, as Dr Mario Dobernig writes in his first review for Classic Melbourne …

The concert, part of the Metropolis series, started with Toru Takemitsu’s Nostalghia, written for violin solo and string orchestra and dedicated to the famous Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The title is borrowed from Tarkovsky’s last film before he defected to Europe. The work, however, is not descriptive of the movie’s narrative but depicts the film’s elegiac mood. The MSO strings under André de Ridder delivered a balanced performance, with the Maestro beautifully shaping the string sound and allowing the music to breath. The soloist of the performance, the MSO’s associate concertmaster Sophie Rowell, found the right balance between being the soloist, leading the ensemble and following the Maestro’s directions in an avant-garde context.

Arnold Schönberg’s Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene) was definitely the most avant-garde of all of the given works. Nevertheless, the work—composed in Schönbergian twelve-tone style—evokes a narrative character and could easily have been a film score, but it was not – and has never been. It starts slowly and is followed by a rhythmic section, including percussive strings, and a near-romantic part reminiscent of some of Schönberg’s earlier works. The orchestral piano, convincingly played by Leigh Harrold, supported the narrative and evoked the impression of watching one of those early black and white movies. The ensemble work between woodwinds, brass and percussion was first rate.

The highlight of the evening was definitely kaleidoscope by Australian composer Harry Sdraulig, who recently won the Cybec 21st Century Composers Award. The witty young composer has been mentored by eminent Australian composers Brenton Broadstock and Julian Yu and admits to be a grand admirer of Takemitsu. After Sdraulig’s kaleidoscope commenced I could not help but thinking of Takemitsu’s soundworld and evident similarities in style. Although the work has never been conceptualized as music for film it would work well as such and fitted the concert’s theme perfectly.

After an explosive start the music turns spheric immediately and later becomes a dance. The work has been written for a small string group (double strings and double bass) juxtaposed to a rather large woodwind, brass and percussion group. Sdraulig balanced the instrumental sections with finesse and the powerful grooves—solidly supported by the MSO percussion section—enhanced the overall impression. The MSO seemed to enjoy playing the work and the audience loved their home-grown music.

The last two composers on the program Nico Muhly and Daníel Bjarnason share their interest in both composing music for classical as well as popular genres. Muhly’s Cello Concerto has been composed for the night’s soloist, British Cellist Oliver Coates, an acclaimed composer himself. The form is rather traditional with a fast first, slow second and fast third movement, but, as the composer mentions “with steadily developing content …[with] constant progression … [and] … no looking back”. De Ridder’s clear direction enabled the orchestra to unify their rhythms in the first movement of this minimalistic work. The second movement could not be more film-like, creating a feeling of rest, whereas the final movement was very playful and energetic with juxtaposing lyrical lines. The cello solo reminded one of an improvisation in pop music, a guitar solo perhaps? Coates’ performance was always refined, thoughtful and well prepared and his iPad plus foot pedal instead of the printed music worked a treat.

Similar to the Cello Concerto, Daníel Bjarnason’s Blow Bright is also based on the concept of minimal music and depicts the brightness and energy of the Pacific Ocean. The work features a lovely violin solo, performed exquisitely by concertmaster Rebecca Chan with a subtle accompaniment by the MSO.

This was a great night with accessible music of our time.

The picture is of composer Toru Takemitsu (1931-1996).