Australian Youth Orchestra February Season 2016: Blog 1
By Giovanni Vinci
Romeo and Juliet; the tale of tragic love and languish coupled with the intensely evocative music of Sergei Prokofiev equipped the Australian Youth Orchestra with all the inspiration needed to produce yet another successful season of music making. If this were not inspiration enough, the return of the reputable and vivacious Alexandre Bloch to the AYO would have no doubt instilled excitement and anticipation into each musician attending.
92 musicians, all alike in dignity, from across the nation gathered in a balmy Brisbane, where we lay our scene. Once acclimatised with the thick air of the city, a short walk over the Victoria Bridge brought us to South Bank. A destination that caters for all people, South Bank presents us with not only our rehearsal and concert venues, but also museums, cafes, restaurants, lush foliage, a beach and a nearby boardwalk down the Brisbane River. Rehearsals in Studio 2 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre have been refreshing, and brought a much-needed breeze of air conditioning to keep us cool.
The return of Alexandre Bloch to the podium has been much anticipated. Since conducting the Bishop Orchestra on National Music Camp 2014, Bloch has risen to the world’s stage, becoming internationally renowned and appreciated for his vibrancy and enthusiasm. The program has seen Bloch work closely with musicians in a number of sectionals, cultivating a desired communal sound. Equipped with his descriptive analogies and a comprehensive contextual knowledge of each piece in the program, Bloch’s intentions with the orchestra have been precise and thoughtful. As he is such a young and exuberant force of energy radiating throughout the orchestra, Bloch strengthens morale among all musicians and works professionally to achieve a high standard of musicianship.
In addition to this, tutorials were held at the Queensland Conservatory of Music where we had the opportunity to work closely with musicians of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and faculty of the Griffith University and the Queensland Conservatory of Music. This allowed us to access the minds of professional musicians as well as working more thoroughly and intimately within our sections.
The diverse program of this season first takes us to the town Galánta, now in modern day Slovakia. Galánta was an important place for composer Zoltán Kodály, as it marks his initial experience and interaction with genuine Hungarian folk music, especially in the characterful dance rhythms of the Verbunkos. This was originally a Hungarian recruiting dance structured in two sections: a lassú (slow) and friss (fresh) section. Kodály’s Dances of Galánta explores Hungarian culture, complete with folk inspired melodies and harmonies. A defining feature of this piece is the rhythm, which strongly corresponds to the declamation of Hungarian speech, dictating an array of articulate, angular and syncopated rhythms. Bloch capitalises on the traditional improvisatory character of this piece to engage each musician in a range of exciting tempo changes and stunning melodies.
Joining the Australian Youth Orchestra for this season is the inspirational young performer, Maxwell Foster. Recognised as one of the most sought-after pianists emerging into the musical sphere, he demonstrates an incredible technical ability as well as a dramatic colour palate showcased through Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. He dazzles his way around the piano with accuracy and energy. Composed in C minor, the work delves deeply into the personal challenges that Rachmaninov faced at the time of its composition. Listeners are introduced to a solemn solo piano introduction with a series of chords – each building in ferocious intensity until the orchestra joins in with a rich Russian timbre. As the piece progresses, the orchestra indulges in a variety of personas, notably the pensive and reflective moods of the second movement. The playful introduction of the third movement maintains forward momentum and progression, gathering intensity in the fugue section towards the end. The soloist and orchestra join together in a triumphant and emphatic conclusion, with the declamatory rhythm of Rach-ma-ni-nov!
We have been so privileged to witness Bloch and Maxwell combine forces in rehearsal, a truly rare experience of youth and vitality. Working with Maxwell has proved to be an incredible experience, with all of us receptive to his musicianship and gentility.
Prokofiev’s ability to orchestrate a narrative through his Romeo and Juliet Suites encapsulates an array of colour, texture and timbre. The inclusion of the tenor saxophone and cornet into the symphony orchestra adds a new dimension to the sound world that was rarely explored before. Featuring eleven movements across Prokofiev’s three suites, the orchestra embarks on a journey to portray the woes and romance of this Shakespearean tragedy. As it is scored for the ballet, this music transports the listener to a world saturated with intense emotion. Prokofiev’s extensive knowledge of each instrument shines through in this creative manuscript, calling musicians to consider their part thoughtfully. We find ourselves conveying dances, duels and deaths, vengeance, villains and victims, love, languish and loss, and scenery, solemnity and the inevitable silence, once the heart stops beating. Concluding with an eruptive climax, the work leaves each musician satisfied at the end of this orchestral journey having endured a whole spectrum of emotion. Bloch’s ability to transform Prokofiev’s score into an evocative narrative transports listeners to a realm of wonder.
A good friend once said to me, “It is amazing what you notice if you just look up”. I took this advice on board. At several moments during rehearsals throughout the week, I sat back on my stool and scanned the orchestra. There were cheeky smiles thrown from one desk to the other, eyes darting across for communication, sheer passion dripping from faces, congratulatory shoe shuffles, graceful movement, but above all, a sense of camaraderie. In and out of the rehearsal room, the sense of companionship that the Australian Youth Orchestra forges is second to none. Being able to witness this and be a part of it is an incredible feeling and a true testament to the AYO. We are also extremely lucky to have such a dedicated team of AYO staff that work around the clock to make these incredible experiences happen. Unprecedented gratitude must go to Colin Cornish, Lucy Ericson, Qian Ying Ong, Hannah Verkerk and Warren Lenthall.
The stage call for AYO now,
Maestro Bloch, Maxwell and musicians alike.
The end is nigh, and we take this vow,
Before another dagger strike.
For listeners shall be aware,
Of this orchestral love affair.