Dvořák said “In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music”. And so Orchestra Wellington named their 2018 season Great and Noble, and included five Dvořák Symphonies in their programmes. The final concert on Saturday 1 December featured the 9th symphony, popularly known as the New World.
The concert began with the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a great overture, full of the opera’s themes. According to legend, Mozart composed it after a night out drinking the night before the premiere and the orchestra had to sight-read its first performance.
Marc Taddei, the Orchestra’s popular Music Director, handed over to the Orchestra’s young assistant conductor, Andrew Atkins, who rose to the occasion with energy and assurance. It was a largely crisp, vibrant, alive reading that always found the drama in the music.
Sama, the new Violin Concerto by Michael Norris, was much anticipated, for the work itself and also the performance by the Orchestra’s starry young concertmaster, Amalia Hall. She has already gathered many fans and an international reputation as an accomplished and charismatic musician.
Michael Norris has written a highly virtuosic concerto, but also responded to Hall’s lyrical abilities with very beautiful moments in an intriguing work.
Sama is the Arabic word for ‘listening’, and a Sufi ceremony including whirling dervishes, spinning in a trance-like state. The work has shimmering exotic timbres and harmonies with unusual percussion sounds adding colour and atmosphere.
The central slow movement has very beautiful otherworldly sounds including sliding harmonics, with the solo violin a thread in the texture, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes floating above.
The whirling dervishes are in charge of the very fast third movement, with lots of glissandi, the whirling picked up from the soloist by the winds and other sections. It builds with galloping drums and virtuosic timpani and then the piece disappears upwards into the ether with delicate string harmonics.
It was a magical performance by Amalia Hall who handled the demands effortlessly.
The programme ended with a persuasive and well-received performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Marc Taddei making the most of his resources.
It cracked along at an energetic pace with excellent solo work from the Orchestra, especially woodwinds and brass.
The enthusiastic audience gave a special ovation to Louise Cox, who played the famous 2nd movement cor anglais melody.