Icons: Master Series 2 - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Icons: Master Series 2 by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is an eclectic, well constructed program in Icons, by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under the direction on renowned conductor Vladimir Askenazy.
Icons: Master Series 2 - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
A virtuosic performance by violinist Janine Jansen on the ‘Barrere’ Stradivarius was a highlight of an eclectic, well constructed program in Icons, by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under the direction on renowned conductor Vladimir Askenazy. Starting with the Australian premiere of Before the Icons by Finnish composer Rautavarra, this piece was commissioned jointly by the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. This fascinating composition started out 50 years ago as a series of piano pieces, much like Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. However, in this case, the composer has revisited his youthful work, and combined the pieces in an orchestral work, counterpointing world views 50 years apart: the young and the old composer. Almost programmatic, this journey was very approachable on first listening, and I’m sure that audience members familiar with the piano works would have got even more out of this performance. The mature orchestrator utilised his full range of voices to bring colour to this work, however still preserving some of the pianistic elements from the original pieces, resulting in some intriguing and reflective ironies. Askenazy did a wonderful job of bring these vivid colours alive. In a complete change of tone, this was followed by the incredible violinist Janine Jansen in Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3. From her opening solos phrase, you had no doubt who was in charge here. She has great technique and is not afraid to use it. I could be polite and say that the opening phrase was played with vigour, but I think the work “grunt” would be more accurate! Don’t get me wrong – this effect was breathtaking and totally musically appropriate, and really set that stage for a great performance. In total contrast, her pianissimi were exquisite – extraordinary tonal colours with a singing tone. Her violin was very soft, and Askenazy achieved a subtle balance with the orchestra, who would have had to work very hard to achieve this level of quiet, not to mention some superb solo playing from the ranks. I found Jansen captivating from beginning to end, which was shared by the audience who gave her 5 or 6 returns on the applause! With the last program item, Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Askenazy was on firm ground, with this serious classic perfectly complementing the other program items. Every time I hear this piece in the concert hall, I’m reminded of the importance of hearing such well known works live, which is the only time they become truly alive. The scale, majesty and spectacle of such a performance really have to be witnessed to be fully appreciated. Being part of the standard orchestral repertoire, this gave the orchestra the opportunity to show what it can really do, and under Askenazy, they certainly delivered. During his Melbourne visit, audiences also had plenty of opportunities to hear Askenazy, the man himself, speak about music and music making. These appearances have left a lasting impression on audiences, with his extraordinary musicianship and his humble demeanor No wonder the concert was called Icons! Icons: Master Series 2. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra When: 12 - 14 Mar 2009 Venue: Hamer Hall

Ronald McCoy

Monday 16 March, 2009

About the author

Ronald McCoy is a Melbourne medico and educator with a passion for the arts. He is a singer and musician of classical and traditional music, and is the National Library of Australia, National Folk Fellowship Fellow for 2007-08. He has been a regular reviewer on the Melbourne scene for the past couple of years, has published on a wide variety of arts and medicine topics, but still spends far too many hours putting pen to paper writing.