The latest concert of the APO Premier season narrowly avoided shipwreck this week when the conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov was indisposed only days before the performance.
Fortunately, New Zealand conductor Hamish McKeich was available and stepped up to the podium at only several days’ notice.
It may have been a stressful few days for both conductor and musicians but it didn’t show last night with an evening of memorable music delivered flawlessly by all onstage.
Khachaturian’s Adagio from the 1942 ballet Gayane is popular with filmmakers for its mysterious and other worldly air.
The APO’s strings delivered a suitably atmospheric performance that highlighted the music’s gentle melancholy.
The Russian connection continued in the concert’s second half with a spirited and at times epic version of the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony.
The first movement emerged from silence and the McKeich and the APO built up to a fiery development section.
The third movement was exciting to the point of frenzy as the musicians caught its ambiguity between its tone of rejoicing and the chill at its hollow centre.
A heartfelt performance captured the tragedy of the last movement and capped this fine performance.
Ligeti’s astounding violin concerto was the concert’s centrepiece and for me was the major work on the programme.
This concerto, finished in 1993, is a musical universe with its rich constellations of styles, techniques, tunings, and instruments.
Taking the soloist’s role, APO Concert Master Andrew Beer, gave a consummate performance of this fantastic piece.
From the opening John Adams-ish, twinkling sounds of string harmonics through to the last movement’s slashing end, this was exhilarating and exciting music and the musicians revelled in it.
Beer provided his own cadenza as per Ligeti’s suggestion in the score and this was a highlight.
The concerto’s textures are rich with all sorts of unusual tunings and rhythmic combinations being used.
The effect of the ocarinas in the second movement was hilarious and typical of the often witty and sardonic score.
It’s hard to sum up this concerto.
It contains everything from medieval techniques like hocketing through to the tuning clashes and use of overtones found in Spectralism.
Last night’s performance was one of the most exciting things I’ve heard for a while and thanks to the APO for giving us such living and vital music that is about our times.
APO Premier Series Pathétique
Auckland Town Hall, 17 June 2019
Hamish McKeich - Conductor
Andrew Beer - Violin
Khachaturian - Adagio from Gayane Suite No. 1
Ligeti - Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’