Review – Bold Worlds – New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at Claudelands Events Centre, Hamilton, conducted by James Macmillan

Bold WorldsBold Worlds was not your usual NZ Symphony Orchestra concert. In fact, it was so unusual that it included a piece featuring an aluphone, a tubular bells-like instrument only invented six years ago.

Artist in Association at London’s Southbank Centre Colin Currie proved to be a master of the unusual instrument in the second piece in the Bold Worlds concert, at the heart of Scottish conductor James Macmillan’s Percussion Concerto No. 2.

At times Macmillan’s Concerto felt a wee bit like a musical joke in the best of traditions, and it seemed second violins section principal Andrew Thomson thought so too, smiling his way through the Concerto as he played along. It was so good to see as well as hear. Either that or Andrew was just thoroughly enjoying himself. And quite right too.

It was hard to say where Macmillan’s 26-minute -piece belongs. Close your eyes, and drift away to the music and at times it felt like incidental music from Doctor Who of the 1980s. Coming from me that’s a compliment. But there were times when it was more like Murray Gold’s music from new Who, feeling even a little experimental in place. It sure kept the listener interested.

The opening piece, Polaris composed by Thomas Ades, was a disparate work, each section of the orchestra telling its own story in a collision of sound which unified for a short time before going their separate ways again.

Commissioned by the New World Symphony in 2011, Polaris is both dark and edgy, at times reminiscent of part of the incomparable John Williams’ score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If ever there was a short orchestral piece that sounded like incidental music for movie, this 14-minute piece was it.

After the break, it was much more business as usual, with the four movements of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 in F minor. Allegro , Andante moderato, Scherzo: Allegro molto and Finale con epilogo fugato: Allegro molto all conjured images of the British landscape, mostly because Macmillan explained that was what his music was usually about beforehand. A reading of the programme notes, however, still leaves experts divided. Regardless, it was exquisite.

A nice touch was associate principal trumpet Cheryl Hollinder introducing the programme before the orchestra struck up.

Bold Worlds plays in Auckland on Friday, July 7 and Wellington on Saturday, July 8. The NZSO is on tour with Alexander Shelley July 22-29 and the NZSO National Youth Orchestra July 14 and 15 in Wellington and Auckland with the Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.


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