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Featured image: Above: Piano soloist Phillip Shovk joined Woollahra Philharmonic Orchestra to perform the Saint Saens Piano Concerto No 2.

Innovation was a keyword and theme for the recent Woollahra Phillharmonic Orchestra concert. I’d like to add a few more to describe this event. Communication, sophistication, elevation, demarcation, introduction, formation, elocution, production.

This nicely structured programme pivoted around  Saint Saens’ masterpiece of demarcation between bravura and beautiful sentiment, the Piano Concerto No 2. This work was elevated to a thoughtful level by guest pianist Phillip Shovk tracing the musical architecture intelligently, with stunning cadenza climaxes assisted by a healthy sounding Woollahra Philharmonic.

Production of new music was an exciting part of this event. Always an electric moment of any concert run, a world premiere is always worth celebrating. In this case it was made special because the composer was the orchestra’s patron and local resident  Elena Kats-Chernin. The orchestra under the clear guidance of Warrick Tyrell, were guided skilfully to outline the relentless textures and maintain the momentum needed in this new work, concerned with the use of time in the lives of busy musicians.

Kats-Chernin is the epitomy of a busy musician, as the orchestral players interpreting her inimitable swirls of energy are too. Tyrell opened this concert endearing the new work to us by demanding solid drawing of textures, a nice flux of focus across the orchestra as well as playful and dynamic details layered within the communcation at all times. This commission work was on brand for the composer, with innovative shapes and exciting consistency of blend. The concept of using time when you are a composer, rehearsing musician and performer was well depicted in this rich, compact soundtrack.

Dance of the Time Fairy featured signature Kats-Chernin momentum and her inimitable voice with innovative motivic trajectory and driving development moments that still manage refreshing lightness. Woollahra Phillharmonic provided a dynamic first reading of the programmatic scena, deserving the ownership of this piece and the right to introduce it to the world..

Elena Kats-Chernin, patron of Woollahra Philharmonic Orchestra and composer of the orchestra’s commission work, ‘Dance of the Time Fairy’

‘Dance of the Time Fairy’ was a fine celebration of this orchestra’s ability to render a scene or feel. It also championed their patron, one of Australia’s well known composers, whose descriptive, tightly crafted works with their unique groove are a welcome addition to any concert event.

Welcome too at this event was Phillip Shovk’s nuanced reading of the second piano concerto by Saint-Saens. His poise and pivot was just what was needed in this work, which demands a skilful pivoting between the raucous and the restrained. Such sophistication goes past mere showy virtuosity, and in this concert the orchestra was a secure layer underneath the soloist.

This was richly sympathetic accompaniment, with the conductor preparing suitable highlighting of keyboard direction where possible, especially in wind and brass lines brought to the fore. This admirable communication from WPO also did not disappoint when admirable orchestral strength was required for shrieking climactic chords. There was a high level of dialogue on display during this concerto, with firm orchestral support and conversation ballooning around the consistently colourful pianism on display.

The huge momentum and elecricity from the piano and orchestral synergy and Saint Saens’ signature excitment was well harnessed by Warwick Tyrell. Following a fun interval celebrating the eloquence of the first half and the birth of the newly commissioned work, it was time for a change of pace to the more contained motto moments of Grieg’s Holberg Variations.

These tribute movements reached us as a nicely shaped and rendered celebration of lyricisim and  sentiment. From the strong, jubilant opening the orchestra traced Grieg’s skill at expanding material and creating motto moments and hero statements. The tribute narrative was quite well achieved here, via a reduction in drama and tone from previous works on the programme. Internal communication and a joint elocution of themes and mood ensured an intimacy and contrast essential for Grieg’s lyricism.

Especially effective was the elegant third movement, with nice reiterations across the orchestra and controlled, delicate rendering of the material as a compact performance unit. The fourth movement featured an admirable smoothness and blend. Balance and boundaries set  between oboe and accompanying layers served to enhace the expressive development and innovation in this svelte, sophisticated variation model.

All movements however, contained the successful shaping and momentum as heard in the other two works of the programme. There was clear storytelling here, with a warmth of tone and moments of resounding jubilation.

This concert showed us innovation from three very different composers, from the nineteenth centruty to now. The convincing performances highlighted the unique approach in the chosen works, with controlled interpretative innovations hitting the mark to communicate on a high level.

The next WPO concert , ‘Rapturous’ is on september 7 and 8. It features the Bruch Violin Concerto and works by Poulenc and De Falla



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