East/West: A Symphonic Celebration
Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Brent Stewart
The Opera House, 20th Sep 2022
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Wellington’s usual concertgoers were not much in evidence at this concert: a pity since the occasion was part of an initiative to introduce Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Members of the Wellington Chinese community made up most of the audience.
The programme included Pōkarekare Ana and an early work, Drysdale Overture, by New Zealander Douglas Lilburn, alongside five Chinese compositions.
Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the admirable Brent Stewart, was its usual excellent self, but the warmth of the relationship with its usual audience was missing, reminding me of how important that ingredient is in live performance.
Jian Liu, of the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī and with an international reputation for performance, was the soloist in the Yellow River Piano Concerto. Madame Mao herself directed the collaboration of several musicians to arrange an earlier work to create this concerto. The work’s chequered history probably contributes to it not being the most subtle piece of music ever written. It was great to watch, however, as Liu made seemingly easy work of the runs, trills, glissandi, and thunderous chords that the work demands.
Soprano Joanna Foote sang an appealing version of Pōkarekare Ana and was joined by tenor Bo Jiang in The Song of Yangtze River by Shiguang Wang to great applause from the audience.
Wang Xilin’s The Torch Festival and Bao Yuankai’s Chinese Sights and Sounds showed how Chinese composers have absorbed western idioms and applied them to Chinese subjects, creating descriptive works that incorporate eastern elements. Gift, composed for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra by Tian Zhou, is a more sophisticated work. Zhou has written that he “wanted to create a reminder of the joy of music making, and along the way explore [his] own musical identity after 18 years of living abroad.” Musical identity was the stuff of this concert.
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