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There was an air of celebration at the opening concert of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's New Zealand Herald Premier Series, an event that marks the official launch of the city's musical year.

Auckland responded by filling the Town Hall and, after chief executive Barbara Glaser had delivered her customary welcome, the audience was served a solid three-course meal of Wagner, Corigliano and Stravinsky.

Unfazed by a bumpy start for Wagner's Meistersinger overture, conductor Eckehard Stier focused on textural richness and subtleties; there was clarity in the complex threading of lines while reflective pages attained an almost Straussian languor. Punchy brass fanfaring was all it should be and then some.

Stier is a fan of John Corigliano and took delight in introducing the American's 2003 violin concerto, The Red Violin, assuring us we did not need to have seen the movie to appreciate the emotions.


This was a brave and shrewd choice - a contemporary work that complemented the offerings around it.

As the composer has commented, this project was an opportunity for him to strip away any inhibitions and write a passionate and romantic essay. The 17-minute first movement is epic, encompassing centuries of music and drama. Soloist Chloe Hanslip's poised entry, almost improvisando, against a wash of strings, soon gave way to fiery tussles with some belligerent orchestral writing.

In the lento section, Hanslip spun some lovely pianissimo, courageously on the brink of audibility. Yet she did not hold back with her involvement in the high-spirited scherzo and the exciting and sometimes raucous finale.

Was I the only one to hear hints of Petrushka in the strange little waltz that insinuates itself into the scherzo, following bold, colouristic writing after the style of Ligeti? I am sure I was not alone in being swept away by the unreserved emotionalism of the poignant slow movement.

After interval, Stravinsky's Petrushka received a performance that bristled with theatrical brio. Stier revelled in the jump-cut musical patchworking of the opening scene, going on, with his exemplary musicians, to explore every last detail of those many connecting episodes, just as revolutionary in their way as the composer's later Sacre.