Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre, 3rd Jun 2023
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
In both his pre-concert talk and within the concert, conductor Marc Taddei spoke of the arts gaining strength through collaboration across artforms.
Arjuna Oakes, a young singer-songwriter and his mentor, John Psathas, collaborated in the composition and performance of Safe Way to Fall, a short song for voice, piano, and orchestra. It was a deeply personal song. Oakes’ expressive performance and lovely voice, miked as befitted the genre, was well received by the audience which, unsurprisingly, included more young people than usual.
The performance of Béla Bartók’s ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, was a collaboration involving both the Orpheus Choir and BalletCollective Aotearoa. While Taddei could have performed a concert version, he chose to include dancers and present the complete work. The dancing told a horrific story of sexual exploitation and violence extremely well. Alas, for me, the music became mere backdrop to the visual dance. Bartók described the music as “hellish” and “pandemonium”, but even so, I could not pay it much attention.
Also performed was Psathas’ saxophone concerto, Zahara, placing another story of brutality and endurance in the desert. The soloist, Valentine Michaud, won the hearts of the audience before she played a note, with a beautiful, billowing, desert-hot red-pink-orange gown. Using tenor and soprano saxophones, Michaud produced an astonishing range of colour: throaty, drone-like, screeching, quiet, full, and rich. The work evoked a still, hot, empty desert – a desert of mirages, dust devils, and danger – and men trudging through this unmerciful environment.
It was a night for horrific stories. The concert began with Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils by Richard Strauss. Such exotic and seductive music produced by the string section and by the harp, flute, and clarinet! And such drama and import provided by brass and percussion sections! This was a very satisfying performance of a powerful work.