William Dart: Fresh treatment for Four Seasons

By William Dart

Peter Scholes offers an unorthodox interpretation of a Baroque classic

Peter Scholes Musical Director Auckland Chamber Orchestra.
Peter Scholes Musical Director Auckland Chamber Orchestra.

Peter Scholes has always had a very clear vision for Auckland Chamber Orchestra. "Our motto is to play music that no one else is doing," he says. "This means we're exploring a massive variety of repertoire and possibilities. I certainly don't think there's been much George Antheil played in Auckland so far," he adds, with a mischievous smile.

Scholes refers to the ACO's June performance of the American composer's Concerto for Chamber Orchestra and Antheil returns in September - his Jazz Symphony provides the title and centrepiece for an evening of Martinu, Berwald and George Crumb.

The ACO's June concert was one of its best. The adventurous Scholes had searched out Recollections by Australian Brett Dean. "He had a presence in Auckland and had come on to my radar. I was carried away by the poetry of the piece, especially the nostalgic final quotation from Clara Schumann."

On the night, a spirited ensemble did Dean proud and many players went on to do the same for Stravinsky in the Russian's piano concerto with soloist Henry Wong Doe. "Henry had suggested the piece," Scholes explains. "It was wonderful that he brought it into our world and he came up trumps. It was perfectly suited, too, to the acoustics of the Raye Freedman Arts Centre. A concert can be so many things," he muses, explaining how his selections range from duos to the full contingent of 40 players required in December for John Adams' Fearful Symmetries, just one of the many Auckland and New Zealand premieres Scholes has staged.

"I'd like to think that we can get back to some larger scores," he adds. "I like the real 'orchestral' feeling that comes with them, but they do require extra funding."

In the meantime, this tireless maestro is happy with the mix that works so well in ACO programmes. "I suppose it's the kind of concert I'd like to go to," he shrugs.

Tomorrow's performance is one such event. It opens with Mendelssohn's sparkling Octet followed by the eight string players accompanying Scholes as he tackles Vivaldi's The Four Seasons on various clarinets, saxophones and recorders.

He describes the venture as "baroque in the wider sense of the word, meaning something slightly strange, and I'm hoping to bring that out. Above all, it's really fun to play."

Although most of Vivaldi's music is accounted for on regular clarinet, Scholes turns to bass clarinet in two movements. "It's perfect in Autumn, where all the drunks fall into a sleep that's slightly more troublesome as caught in the bass clarinet's rumbling arpeggios," he explains.

The instrument's low, brooding register is also ideal for realising the dark and threatening mood at one point in Winter.

Scholes also takes the opportunity to pick up the humble recorder, using both sopranino and bass in the Summer concerto.

He studied recorder with Steve Rosenberg in the 1970s, as a sideline to his clarinet duties in Auckland Symphonia, and was a chirpy piper in Auckland's early music group, Digorie, alongside violinist Cath Newhook and his brother Jeff on lute.

"I like the recorder because you can just pick it up and there's no keys to worry about," he laughs, going on to tell me about the complicated fingering needed for the right tonal finesse.

Be prepared, too, for alto saxophone when the dogs bark in Spring, and the elegant soprano instrument has the task of evoking fireside contentment in the middle of Winter.

Scholes admits purists might sniff at a saxophone intruding into the pastoral calm of the 18th century. "But there's a slight connection between the saxophone sound and that of a Baroque oboe, giving Vivaldi a special lyricism and reediness."


What: Peter Scholes plays Vivaldi

Where and when: Raye Freedman Arts Centre, 6 Silver Rd, Epsom, tomorrow at 5pm

- NZ Herald

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