What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Organ Symphony
Where: Auckland Town Hall

The under-representation of female conductors on concert stages is a cause for concern and it was heartening to see Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, playing to its second full house in a week, introducing the first of three women who will take on baton duties this season.

Gemma New is a young New Zealander making a mark in North America. Back home now, she clearly relished the chance to launch this concert programme with Douglas Lilburn's Overture: Aotearoa.

It was a remarkable reading. With broad, sweeping gestures, New invested the opening pages with a sense of majesty. Moving on to a brisk and purposeful Allegro, she drew out the composer's often tetchy to-and-fro between instruments, punctuated with sonorous strings and brass.


Violinist Francesca Dego faced a considerable challenge, competing with Janine Jansen's superb Sibelius concerto in this very venue just six months ago.

However, a sense of unwelcome tension ran through its expansive first movement, muting what the late Marshall Walker, our eloquent homegrown Sibelian, pictured as a yearning violin, reaching out into the harmony of water, hill and sky.

Dego was at her most convincing in the central Adagio di molto, threading shafts of lyricism through New's neatly sculpted textures. But her encore was a disappointment, a Paganini Caprice far too capriciously treated in terms of what its composer had prescribed.

After interval, Saint-Saens' Third Symphony offered Australian organist Christopher Wrench the chance to liberate some foundation-shaking chords from the town hall organ.

But let's not judge this score by its flamboyant finale. Conductor New brought the perfect poise and airiness into the composer's opening Andante, responding incisively to his later melodramatics. And there is no denying the enchantment when Saint-Saens doffs his cap to Bach, with a heavenly string choir floating its chorale against the tinkle of piano.