Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: Gemma New
Michael Fowler Centre, 31st Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
Exhilarating. Spectacular. Breathtaking. Magnificent. When something is so good you can’t begin to describe it to others, all you have are words that feel inadequate. Luckily, readers curious as to why words aren’t enough can livestream the entire performance on the NZSO website.
The scene was set by the most beautiful waiata sung unaccompanied and with excellence by the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, and a children’s choir comprising Wellington Young Voices and the Choristers of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Robert Wiremu’s waiata, Tahuri koe ki te maunga teitei, was written to be performed alongside Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor. An unlikely pairing but intimately connected in spirit and intent as well as the music. The 80 singers did an impeccable job, so much so that the ‘ear worm’ Wiremu had embedded (a single bar of Brahms, also found in the Mahler) was at home in my ear for several days.
“I see him as a composer for us and our times.” This was a family member’s response to my report of the Mahler and it captures the feeling I had. 130 years have gone by since Mahler wrote this epic symphony but it sounds entirely contemporary and directly relevant to the complex, disturbed, fascinating, and incredible state of our world in 2023.
There were too many amazing individual and sectional performances to pick out the best, but I cannot let the children’s stamina (a long night for young ones) and Sasha Cooke’s beautiful mezzo-soprano voice go unmentioned. The balance between her voice and the orchestra was just about perfect and her diction was immaculate. “O Mensch! Gib Acht!” O man! Take heed!
We did take heed. The house was full. The applause was long and rapturous and almost everyone got to their feet to congratulate and thank Gemma New, the NZSO, Sasha Cooke and all the singers, over and over, for another spectacular concert experience.