One could not help but be initially impressed by the number of performers on stage for the performance of Wynton Marsalis’s All Rise, Symphony Number One. The combination of the Lincoln Center Orchestra (LCO), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO), the MSO Chorus, the Consort of Melbourne, vocal soloists Emma Pearson and Michelle Nicole, all conducted strictly by Ben Northey, amounted to approximately 200 performers. As a result, the stage was fully occupied by a vast array of instruments and performers. The LCO was situated in the middle of the stage surrounded by the MSO at the sides and rear. The MSO Chorus, vocal soloists and the Consort of Melbourne were situated well above at the rear, right and left-hand sides of the stage. Credit must go to the stage management of this event as it is firmly imprinted on my mind how every available space on stage was meticulously planned, yet sufficient room remained for the performers to have some comfort in the execution of their roles.
The All Rise, Symphony No.1 is structured in three sections of four movements. The first four movements are concerned with birth and self-discovery; they are joyous. The second four movements are concerned with mistakes, pain, sacrifice and redemption; they are sombre and poignant. The last four are concerned with maturity and joy. Even though this composition is in symphonic structure, the audience decided it was most appropriate to generously applause each separate movement.
The pervasive and epic theme of All Rise was, in the words of Wynton Marsalis, “to give thanks to God and to reaffirm commitment to creativity”. It is an epic statement of journey and intention towards uniting humanity in peaceful cohabitation akin to the same sentiments of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, which also employed vocal soloists, very large chorus, and the symphony orchestra. Other thematic, rhythmic, and harmonic references were heard initially with subliminal attributes to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrushka.
Inevitably, the composition’s four sections were interspersed with dalliances between jazz and multicultural world music idioms often juxtaposed against each other. The LCO took judicious prominence with their multi-instrumental virtuosity. The “saxophone” section (Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Victor Goines, Nicole Glover, and Paul Nedzela) was often much more than this, while performing upon the piccolo, bass clarinets, flutes, soprano and sopranino saxophones, unison clarinets and of course the alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Similarly, the ambience of the trumpet, trombone, and rhythm sections (Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, Marcus Printup, Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason, Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez, and Obed Calvaire) was enticing with interspersed glissandi, jungle growls, outpourings of sentiment and multi genre world music rhythms.
And so, to the chorus and soloists. What a magnificent effort was achieved here. The vocal solos of Michelle Nicole and Emma Pearson were excellent, with passionate and sincere phrasing full of fervour and rich timbre. Similarly, the chorus was equally passionate and full of fervour, particularly in the 12th and final movement evoking joyful brotherhood – sisterhood and fraternity! If only we could have had the chorus situated as a whole assembly at the rear of the orchestra, we would then have had the full panorama of sound delivered to the audience. This was not possible due to the limitations of the size of the Hamer Hall. Thus, the compromised seating above and to the left and right of stage was unavoidable. Nevertheless, the chorus displayed visible and infectious enthusiasm with their performance throughout. Notably, at the final movement, Ben Northey had decided to conduct the performance off the podium and directly at stage level. It seemed to me that this conveyed a clear message that the formality of the podium was discarded to liberate the informality of united fraternity. It was a rather inspired decision and the enthusiasm engendered was palpable, culminating in standing applause from the audience.
Of further note were the numerous occasions when the LCO often visibly showed their appreciation of their MSO colleagues. From time to time, solos emanated from the MSO brass section. Each time this occurred this was clearly acknowledged and appreciated by the LCO. Similarly, the MSO took keen interest from the jazz idioms and expertise of the LCO. Further appreciation was displayed by the LCO for the whole MSO string section when they played a very extended solo with rhythmically surging precision, commitment and buoyant exuberance!
In summary, the intentions of the All Rise, Symphony No.1 are noble. There was a lot of territory to cover with a lot to say, and the result was successful from the audience’s point of view. It is a salient thought that cultural statements espousing liberty, equality and fraternity would be well suited to present scenarios throughout this world. Bravo, Wynton Marsalis!
Mark Dipnall reviewed “All Rise: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra”, performed at Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall on August 26, 2023.