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Reviews

The River | Regional News

The River

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 27th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Every year, Orchestra Wellington partners with a group of young string players from the Hutt Valley. Arohanui Strings is part of a world-wide programme designed to provide children from less privileged backgrounds with opportunities to learn an instrument and play in an orchestra. The audience took the young people – some very young – to their hearts as they joined Orchestra Wellington in Infinity Mirror, composed by Simon Eastwood specifically to allow beginning and highly skilled musicians to create music together. After a beautifully weird soundscape came more simple, strong lines for strings with lovely colour created by brass, wind and percussion. It was a serious bit of business, followed by some more relaxed collaboration including a spirited rendition of Poi E.

Works by Smetana, Bartόk and Dvořák followed. In Smetana’s wonderfully melodious The Moldau, the orchestra presented a rich flow of sound that was unmistakably a river forming, growing, and majestically travelling through a variety of landscapes. This was a disciplined performance with crisp rhythms and forward drive uncompromised by any temptation to over-milk the romantic melodies.

Bartόk’s Piano Concerto No 1 presents the piano as primarily a percussive instrument, rather than as the conveyor of complex melody and harmony. It is not to everyone’s taste and enormous technical and rhythmic challenges face both soloist and orchestra. The orchestra was undaunted by the difficulties and Christopher Park, the young German-Korean piano soloist was truly impressive in his mastery. By way of contrast, he played an encore that showed his ability to draw music of great delicacy and beauty from the piano.

The concert concluded with Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. It is a work that teems with tunes – tune after tune after wonderful tune, particularly for the lucky cellists – without ever sounding as if the tunes are merely stitched together. The orchestra did the work justice.

Lars Vogt Plays Mozart | Regional News

Lars Vogt Plays Mozart

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Lars Vogt

Michael Fowler Centre, 26th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

Who says men can’t multi task? Conductor pianist Lars Vogt showed us how he does it in this wonderfully lively programme.

The Beethoven Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 opened with a bang. Years ago I played in a youth orchestra and because our conductor loved Beethoven, we played his music often. We became a little disrespectful and would ham up the last few bars to make the most of the ‘Beethoven ending’. The NZSO and conductor Lars Vogt also made the most of several of Beethoven’s musical signatures but in a much more professional manner. Crisp and balanced are the adjectives I’d use. (Not words I think our long-suffering parents would ever have thought of our efforts.)

Vogt really wowed us with his composure and musicality in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467. Conducting is an art in itself but conducting while playing the solo instrument adds another layer to the experience. The music was delightful, as Mozart often is, and the fine interplay amongst sections of the orchestra and between orchestra and piano reflected the counterpoint also heard in the earlier Beethoven. Nimble conducting and extraordinary playing on Vogt’s part added the flourish Mozart would have been looking for.

Part two began with Webern’s Langsamer Satz, Orch. Gerald Schwarz. After the spirited and animated Mozart, I found this a strangely different piece. It wasn’t so much the difference in the romantic and harmonious nature of the music (good programming ought to give the audience variety) as the oddly disjointed structure of the piece. The changes in the orchestration just didn’t seem to flow very well.

A return to Mozart for the finale, Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425, Linz was a welcome resolution. If you Google ‘Mozart playful’ you get about 1,020,000 results and this performance added another to that compendium.

A Star is Born | Regional News

A Star is Born

(M)

136 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

I love that Bradley Cooper chose A Star is Born for his first outing as a director. The Hollywood warhorse first appeared in theatres in 1937, and has since been remade four times. In this defiantly fresh 21st-century take, Cooper sings a love song to the movies without compromising on his methodical artistic integrity.

You know the story. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a country-rock superstar overly reliant on booze and pills. One night, he drags those cowboy boots and twinkling blue eyes to a cabaret, where he meets waitress and singer-songwriter Ally (Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga). Jack convinces her to join him on tour, and as quickly as the pair fall madly in love, Ally’s star begins to rise.

The first half of A Star is Born is seamless. The moment Ally takes the mic with Jack for Shallow is perfect – despite, or even because of, the fact that we’ve seen that scene a thousand times before. It works principally because of the beautiful chemistry between Cooper and Lady Gaga, which aches not only with sexual tension, but with kindness and care. Both leads are astounding, but it’s Lady Gaga that takes you by surprise. Her performance, unlike her famous musical persona, is completely without artifice. Her Ally (very different to Judy Garland’s or Barbara Streisand’s) is no naïve ingenue, but a modern woman with both street smarts and a heart given to dreaming.

It’s only in the second act that the plot hits a few flat notes. The attention to detail given to musical sequences is less often applied to dialogue, so that some developments feel rushed. You could attribute this to the world of showbusiness these characters inhabit, but it is just as often the dated source material poking through. The final and most devastating development doesn’t quite hit as hard as it deserves to, mostly because the preceding scene had me questioning its verisimilitude.

Despite its faults, A Star is Born is Hollywood done right. It’s nothing short of a modern classic.

In It Together | Regional News

In It Together

Written by: Catherine Zulver

Directed by: Imogen Prossor

BATS Theatre, 16th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Three 20-somethings try to sort their lives out in a paddling pool installed in their lounge whilst drinking copious amounts of gin. Fran (Jayne Grace) acts as ‘mama bear’, looking out for ‘the middle child’ Kate (Catherine Zulver) and their new flatmate Daniella (Charlotte Thomas), ‘the runt’. Though the women are friends and flatmates, they behave more like a family. Their relationship is dysfunctional and totally charming.

With a little bit of fat trimmed off its bones, In It Together could be a spectacular work. Originally staged as a 10-minute piece in the Short+Sweet Festival, Zulver has done an excellent job of extending the work – but I’d argue it could lose 20 minutes. Cutting it down to an hour would prevent the action dragging in the middle section and the main event losing its impact.

On to the main event. The climax of the play comes from one character’s decision to have an abortion, which is met by a resistance from her friend that dismays me. Personal views aside, it seems odd that the crux of a feminist work would be a relationship breakdown resulting from an issue that women already cop so much flack for. It’s sad to see such fantastic females and friends pitted against each other onstage in response to it too.

Performance-wise, the actors’ chemistry is convincing and touching. Grace is a feisty matriarch, conducting everyday conversation in a no-fuss, professional manner that takes a while to warm to, but soon delights. Zulver brings layers of understanding to her role, presenting a façade that’s as messy and complex as it is confident and natural. Just like her character, Thomas grounds her castmates. Her performance appears effortless, with a filthy drunken look and a statement about pyjamas being a show highlight.

In It Together shines in its depiction of sisterhood. I don’t think it quite hits the nail on the head for its emotional exploration, but it’s fun, funny, and a pleasure to watch.

Johannes Moser Plays Shostakovich | Regional News

Johannes Moser Plays Shostakovich

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Peter Oundjian

Michael Fowler Centre, 13th Oct 2018

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans and Jennie Jones

Coming off a week of performances, the NZSO hardly needed to warm up with Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor, but it was a great start to a big Russian programme.

Conductor Peter Oundjian, cellist Johannes Moser, and the NZSO were all in superb form and it showed from the opening notes of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat major. Like Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote the concerto, Moser played the whole work from memory. And what a memory. It looked and sounded like a fiendishly difficult piece with a conventional concerto form (four movements) with unconventional elements. Moser stormed his way through the first two movements, well supported by a French horn as ‘assistant’ soloist building up to the third movement – a cadenza. Unusually the composer wrote a fully notated, very technically demanding cadenza and put it in place of the usual third movement. It was a brilliant opportunity for Moser to shine. Regrouping for the final movement, the orchestra led us – with prominent and high-powered cello – to an all-encompassing and energetic finale. It was a stunning performance.

In the second half, we heard a longer than usual selection from the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. Anyone with only a smattering of knowledge of the story would have been able to follow this highly cinematic piece. The narrative came through strongly and even the unfamiliar segments told their part of the story quite clearly.

Guest conductors always add an element of intrigue to the audience experience. The merits of one director’s style as opposed to another will obviously be more apparent to the players than the listeners. For this performance, even the audience could sense the orchestra and conductor were impeccably matched. Oundijan’s direction appeared sensitive, directive, explicit, and precise, and the orchestra responded beautifully. It was a long performance but one worth every note.