British violinists assist young Kiwi musicians

By William Dart

British violinists bring their expertise to assist young New Zealand musicians.
Jonathan Morton instructs a student from the Pettman National Junior Academy.
Jonathan Morton instructs a student from the Pettman National Junior Academy.

The title of tonight's Pettman National Junior Academy concert is an inviting one - Transfigured Night - the translation of Verklarte Nacht, the lush string orchestra score that made the name of Arnold Schoenberg just a few years into the 20th century.

There's no need for a dissonance alert as this music is so sumptuously romantic it could be described as the love child of Wagner and Brahms. Along with a Chamber Symphony transcribed from Shostakovich's popular Eighth String Quartet and a set of Dvorak Waltzes, it is on the bill when the Academy plays at Auckland Art Gallery tonight.

These young string players represent the cream of New Zealand's musical talent and will be on top form after 10 days of intensive training with leading British violinists Clio Gould and Jonathan Morton.

When I visited rehearsal rooms last weekend, Gould was working with a circle of violinists on Schoenberg's soaring lines while husband Morton led a quartet through a Chausson concerto.

Both have expertise that reflects their status in the music world. Morton is concert-master of London Sinfoniette, an ensemble that, since the late 1960s, has championed the new and explorative. The affable Englishman enjoys "being part of the constantly changing and evolving world of new music, especially over the last few years.

"It's so much more eclectic," he says. "It's like all these different currents of activity have exploded, making all these different scenes."

He talks of fascinating projects with the likes of avant-garde American composer Christian Marclay and working with his own Scottish Ensemble alongside Swedish choreographer Orjan Andersson in a presentation of Bach's Goldberg Variations that has been successful on the European circuit.

"I like being thrown into unexpected situations and having to come up with something that's not routine and not necessarily what you've been trained for," he explains.

Sometimes it's good to be thrown in the deep end, as students so often are, facing new challenges, he laughs.

"Here in Auckland, I feel it's a similar situation. There's not the same feeling of them-and-us, on different sides of a barrier."

Gould joins us, having spent a few extra minutes with her young charges. She's enjoying her first visit to New Zealand, after recently relinquishing Concertmaster duties with the London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra after 13 years.

"You need more time now with the children growing up," she explains. "Unfortunately you can't make an orchestra fit around your own life. Now I have the space for more projects that I want to do."

Although such projects are often on the contemporary side, one of her fondest memories is taking the solos in Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade in a 2011 recording with the RPO under Charles Dutoit. "It's such an exquisitely written solo part, with so much drama," she sighs. "You do your solo bits and then there's that enormous swell of orchestral support around you."

She admits the Transfigured Night programme is ambitious.

"We couldn't have found a more demanding piece than the Schoenberg," she says. "However the students are wonderfully prepared for what will be an intense period of rehearsal. This is such a valuable experience for them, especially as so much of it is up to them, working as a team. Jonathan and I will be playing as well but we won't be spoon-feeding them."With no conductor, it will be totally up to the musicians to set a new tempo whenever it's needed."

And this is an experience that's not always possible in a professional orchestra under the rule of a baton, Morton points out.

"This is the place to mix things up," he points out. "It's a great way to give young musicians a voice and an opportunity they would not have otherwise had."

Performance
What: Transfigured Night
Where and when: North Atrium, Auckland Art Gallery; tonight, 7pm.

- NZ Herald

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