William Dart: Competing on our own terms

By William Dart

Soprano Anna Leese will perform next Friday with the APO and Graduate Choir. Photo / Supplied
Soprano Anna Leese will perform next Friday with the APO and Graduate Choir. Photo / Supplied

A galling press release for Orchestra Wellington claims, "As the arts capital of New Zealand, Wellington can count on a population of sophisticated classical music lovers."

Wellington certainly benefits from the fine and generously financed New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and New Zealand String Quartet but Auckland more than competes on its own terms. This has been a year of great musical diversity around the city, much of it due to the commitment of our chamber orchestras and choirs.

Peter Scholes and his Auckland Chamber Orchestra surprised and stimulated us with works by Friedrich Gulda and Elliott Carter turning up in their concerts.

Rita Paczian's Bach Musica took us back in time to the Russian Imperial Chapel with Bortniansky's enthralling Litany of Psalms, while Indra Hughes and Musica Sacra memorably paired Masses by Stravinsky and Frank Martin; and John Rosser's Viva Voce brought out the often operatic splendours of Handel's Solomon.

Local operatic initiatives have supplemented NBR New Zealand Opera's imaginative takes on fairly standard repertoire. Eve de Castro-Robinson and Roger Horrocks' Len Lye the Opera was a triumph, combining tenacity and tunes, all wrapped up with a snazzy multi-media production - a project with a brain, a heart and, hopefully, legs.

While LLTO had a sell-out season, Auckland Opera Studio/Auckland Chamber Orchestra's Cosi Fan Tutte, with its vibrant young cast around Madeleine and Anna Pierard, was restricted to just one spellbinding night.

Youth was to the fore when the Opera Factory showcased the winners of its composers' competition. Anthony Young's exquisitely drawn Ulla's Odyssey wanted only a few instrumental colours to blossom fully, while Callum Blackmore's zany Love Thy Neighbour was a nudging delight.

On the recital front, the New Zealand International Piano Festival returned in April with five concerts in six days, while the museum's Fazioli series had all four dates clashing with major orchestral and operatic events in town.

NZTrio moved from the Museum to Q Loft and proved that the earthy Dvorak was the perfect companion for contemporary Kiwi composers Gareth Farr, Karlo Margetic and Alex Taylor.

Chamber Music New Zealand continued to transform our town hall into the Wigmore for far too few evenings, the highlight being the superlative Takacs Quartet.

Inevitably, the NZSO and APO are the most visible aspect of the city's music, particularly with both awaiting the outcome of the Government's orchestral review. Why not just top up the orchestral fund to $30 million, matching what the Education Ministry gave to Novopay for botched-up pay-rolling?

But seriously, Auckland would be much poorer without the NZSO. It has the assurance and polish that come from decades of supported professionalism, and it showed in its recent Mahler and Bruckner concerts.

Andrew Litton's Shostakovich Fifth Symphony was a predictable blast but the visceral thrills of Schumann's Fourth under Andrew Grams were less so. Of the NZSO's solid soloist roster, Stephen Hough in Saint-Saens, flitting from willowy to pugnacious, was the star turn.

Mid-year, Wagner's Die Walkure proved a coup, with heldentenor assoluto Simon O'Neill and strong support from American and European singers.

The energy and sheer verve of the APO know no bounds. It commissions major works - this year, a Ross Harris Cello Concerto - as well as bringing South Auckland into centre city for its Mix the Orchestra and turning tots on to the classics.

All this as well as many marvellous concerts, treating us to the hard-hitting contemporaries like Thomas Ades, Schnittke and John Corigliano's Aids Symphony. The APO also has a knack for matching conductor and composer, as when John Nelson took on Berlioz and Stephen Layton Bach. Exemplary soloists included Dame Evelyn Glennie, Anthony Marwood and Maxim Rysanov.

As the year tapers to a close, with just a handful of concerts remaining, next Friday sees the APO as one of the last to sign off, celebrating Christmas in style, with the Graduate Choir and soprano Anna Leese.


Performance:

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Celebrate Christmas
Where and when: Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, Friday at 7.30pm

- NZ Herald

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