From the New World – 2 April 2023

From the New World
Derwent Symphony Orchestra
Damien Holloway, conductor
James Anderson, cello
Stanley Burbury Theatre
UTAS Sandy Bay
02 April 2023

It was good to have this longstanding community orchestra back and tackling such big masterworks as these after a relatively quiet 2022 season. Indeed, the task of bringing technically challenging pieces such as these to performance standard only really faltered in the opening Barber Adagio for Strings (1938) where the difficult central section was let down by intonation and ensemble issues.

However, Dvorak’s Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104 (1896) came up wonderfully well. Soloist James Anderson played with fine control and variety of expression. He was particularly sensitive in the second movement Adagio ma non troppo with notable support from the wind players – flautist Gianni Posadas-Sen deserving special mention. The brass tuttis in the outer sections brought some splendid moments and the first movement horn solo was well taken by Aidan Connors. James’s cello sounded especially poignant in that elegiac coda towards the end of the final movement.

Conductor Damien Holloway gave an introductory talk concerning Amy Beach’s Symphony in E minor (Gaelic), Op. 32 (1895). This first symphony by an American woman (1867-1944) to be published and performed by a major orchestra was composed at the same time that Dvorak wrote his famous concerto. The programming of this little known work was a brave decision and rumour has it that the rehearsals were difficult with key brass players available only at the last minute. The conductor’s clear enthusiasm for the 4-movement piece was certainly warranted and the orchestra gave of their best for him. This symphony, with its frequently turbulent mood and abundance of Irish tunes, has a powerful sweep and forward momentum that is infectious. Although the performance standard inevitably had some rough edges, overall this was hugely enjoyable with excellent brass and first-rate solo work from concertmaster Kevin Kang. The woodwinds gave their best playing of the day in the second movement Alla Siliciana – Allegro vivace. This was a considerable achievement for both the DSO and conductor Damien Holloway.

Peter Donnelly

Music of Film – 13 June 2021

Music of Film
The Derwent Symphony Orchestra
The Cradle Coast Orchestra
David Bird and Robert Bentley, conductors
Stanley Burbury Theatre, UTAS Sandy Bay
13 June 2021

This concert brought together some 80 performers consisting of the DSO and visiting Cradle Coast Orchestra from the NW Coast along with augmenting players. The resulting ensemble was easily the largest orchestra heard in Tasmania since pre pandemic. While the title ‘Music of Film’ was a bit misleading with the program only including one actual film score, there was a well-chosen selection of fun pieces.

Things got off to a shaky start with some clearly under rehearsed results in the Bizet L’Arlesienne Suite No 2 where good wind playing was a redeeming feature. However from the arresting opening snare drum of Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’ Overture under David Bird’s taut direction, standards were high with crisp, alert articulation and good coordination if at a rather stately tempo. The famous Rossini crescendo was well handled as the piece proceeded to its climax.

The Richard Rodgers/Robert Russell Bennett collaboration for the 1952 television series ‘Victory at Sea’ was sumptuously orchestrated, rousing, tuneful stuff with the American flag flying triumphantly in a very aspirational 1950s way. I’ve always loved this music and a suite from the full score was robustly performed here under the direction of Robert Bentley with all the verve, colour (and volume!) one could want.

David Bird again led the large ensemble with authority and control in excerpts from John Williams’s wonderfully memorable music for the original Jurassic Park movie. DSO concertmaster Joseph Phillips contributed extensive, informative and entertaining program notes to complement a most enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment.

Peter Donnelly

Schubert & Tchaikovsky – 18 April 2021

Schubert & Tchaikovsky
Derwent Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rodrigues, conductor
Kevin Kang, violin
Hobart Town Hall
18 April 2021

The Derwent Symphony Orchestra’s last concert took place in November 2019. In June 2020 following the Covid lockdown they recommenced regular rehearsals with conductor Alexander Rodrigues every Monday night, working their way through orchestral repertoire staples including all nine Beethoven symphonies and featuring a number of soloists from their ranks. This program was the DSO’s first public performance in 17 months.

It should be noted upfront that the standard and consistency of playing and ensemble here was the best that I can recall from this source based on many years of attending their concerts. Clearly the period of long preparation and work with the one conductor has enabled the attainment of standards only rarely approached in the past.

With the orchestra of 44 occupying floor space in front of the stage of the Town Hall and a capacity audience, the sound quality was loud and immediate. Schubert’s Symphony No 4 in C ‘Tragic’ certainly sounded bigger and grander than usual. The tempi were broad but also trenchant and convincing with plenty of intensity where needed as well as real warmth in the Andante slow movement.

Kevin Kang brought remarkable assurance and virtuosity to the solo part in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D. Careful preparation was everywhere in evidence from the soloist, and orchestra which was obviously stretched to its limits but nonetheless nearly always managed to surmount the constant technical challenges under the guidance of conductor Rodrigues. The woodwind playing in particular was consistently fine. Thrilling stuff indeed! To top it all, Kevin Kang offered the hair-raisingly difficult violin solo in Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Variations on ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ as an encore. 

The excellent program notes by concertmaster Joseph Phillips also deserve commendation. This was a special occasion and full marks go to conductor, soloist, and orchestra for their considerable achievement.

Peter Donnelly