12 Aug 2019

NZSO Shed Series review

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 12 August 2019

It’s been wonderful seeing the Shed Series turn from an interesting experiment into a well-oiled machine. Where at first everything felt a bit haphazard the format is now set and the changes in music feel natural and effortless.

That said, 'Sinfonietta' was the most intellectually challenging of the concerts I’ve attended.

Literally a collection of tiny symphonies, Sinfonietta was an eclectic mix of mostly 20th century pieces. From Piazzolla’s Argentinian tango-inspired pieces to Mozart’s comedies to, well, let’s say the more avant garde Cyprian’s Dance.

Sinfonietta Concert, NZSO's Shed series

Sinfonietta Concert, NZSO's Shed series Photo: Hadyn Green

I have to give many thanks to conductor Hamish McKeich (more than normal). His explanations and background made the complex pieces more digestible to my palate (which is accustomed to pop-orchestra). This went so far as breaking down the components of Webern’s 'Symphony Op 21', playing the first section and explaining it before playing the variations.

It’s this sort of thing, along with the sit-on-the-floor vibe of the concerts that I really enjoy about the Shed Series. We found seats directly behind the harpist, and I mean directly behind. Being so close to one instrument not only gives you a clear insight into in the intricate movements of how they are played, but it also changes the music.

View from the harp - Sinfonietta concert from the NZSO's Shed Series

View from the harp - Sinfonietta concert from the NZSO's Shed Series Photo: Hadyn Green

As my wife pointed out after the Mozart work, in a proper hall the acoustics are designed so you hear the orchestra playing together to create the music. At the Shed Series you might be sitting closer to the piano or the violins, so their sound will dominate and the piece will sound different. Making it a unique experience for you, compared to someone even 10 metres away.

I felt the music for this concert was a touch more challenging. Eve de Castro-Robinson’s 'Cyprian’s Dance', for example, was in strict juxtaposition with Piazzolla’s 'Sinfonietta' and Mozart’s 'Symphony No 32 in G', that sat either side of it. 'Cyprian’s Dance', styled after Castro-Robinson’s overactive toddler, was musical but without a strict form. I found myself hoping for a melody, which only came in brief intervals.

The piece was mirrored by John Adam’s 'Chamber Symphony', that rounded out the evening. Complex and moving, it demanded concentration more than the “simpler” offerings. But concentration doesn’t mean it was good, and I found myself searching for form where there was none.

However, musical tastes are subjective and the crowd seemed to love the evening in general. Another diverse post-work crowd, with orchestra regulars and newbies. Still, nobody clapped between movements, but Piazzolla did receive a “whoop” at the start of the concert.


NZSO Shed Series – Sinfonietta
Shed 6, Wellington, 9 August 2019

Hamish McKeich – Conductor

PIAZZOLLA: Sinfonietta
MOZART: Symphony No 32 in G K318
PIAZZOLLA: Histoire du Tango III Nightclub 1960
BACH arr Webern: Ricercar in six parts, from A Musical Offering
WEBERN: Symphony Op 21
J ADAMS: Chamber Symphony