10 Apr 2019

The “sex, drugs and rock & roll” of classical music

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 10 April 2019

Orchestra Wellington is putting the “sex, drugs and rock & roll” of classical music front and centre this weekend.

On Friday night the orchestra will perform fan-favourite Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, which tells the story of a love-sick, drug-addled artist who descends into psychedelic hallucinations while on the search for love.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - May 25: Wellington Orchestra May 25, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/ http://marktantrum.com)

Photo: 2018 Mark Tantrum

Conductor Marc Taddei is a Berlioz fan and has conducted the symphony numerous times. He’ll be adding his own touch to it, making it at times “unhinged”, “ethereal” and “jagged sounding”.

“[it’s] the ravings of a besotted young man who turns to drugs to get over the supposed love of his life. It’s an extraordinary work,” he says. “This is the ultimate version of musical romanticism; the ultimate definition of hyper-expressive romanticism.”

Symphonie Fantastique is part of the Orchestra’s opening concert of its 2019 season, named Epic! Also on the programme for Friday night’s concert at the Michael Fowler Centre is Berlioz’s sequel to the symphony, Lélio.

Lélio represents the return to life and will include the Orpheus Choir of Wellington along with Outrageous Fortune and Shortland Street actor Andrew Laing, tenor Declan Cudd, and baritone Daniel O’Connor.

Andrew Laing

Andrew Laing Photo: Supplied

Taddei says playing the two pieces back to back allows the audience to understand Berlioz’s obsession with Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson who inspired the pieces. He “stalked” her then ended up marrying her; which didn’t turn out all that well.

“[You hear] how Berlioz got out of his funk by immersing himself in the genius of Shakespeare,” he says.


Berlioz by Emile Signol Photo: Commons

Friday night will be the New Zealand première of Lélio, which has been slightly altered to cater for modern audiences. But Taddei says it was important to keep the “tortured young artist” at the core of the story.

Orchestra Wellington performs Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio at the Michael Fowler Centre on Friday 12 April. The performance starts at 7.30pm with a pre-concert talk being given by David Armstrong and Marc Taddei about Lélio beginning at 6.30pm

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