The University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (UMSO) presented a superb concert at Hamer Hall on Sunday evening. The entire programme was presented in anticipation of the UMSO preparing for a performance at the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music in Singapore on September 27, followed by a new programme of chamber music on September 28 at the YST; and then another UMSO concert on the following Saturday, September 30 in Kuala Lumpur! The UMSO is a very large orchestra of well over 100 musicians. It is a great credit to the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music that such a magnificent artistic resource exists within this historic institution, so capably led by Professor Richard Kurth, Professor Marie Sierra, Professor Gary Macpherson and their team of supportive experts.
The concert commenced with Hun Tur composed by Melody Eötvös, who has an impeccable background in composition (Doctor of Music and Master of Music) and a plethora of international awards, commissions and acclaimed performances. Eötvös is also a Lecturer in Composition, Aural Studies, and Orchestration, as well as being Director of the New Music Studio at the Conservatorium.
As such, the composition Hun Tur came about in reference to the composer’s Hungarian (Hun) heritage and a fascination with mythological birds, in this case, the Turul Bird (Tur), central to Magyar identity. The performance, most assuredly conducted by Associate Professor Richard Davis, was a resounding success. Throughout this composition, there were swirls of tone clusters ebbing and flowing with turbulence and serenity expertly performed by the UMSO. The composition had an uninterrupted flow of forward progression structured within a panorama of novel tone colours and multiple formations in texture, ambience, and resonance. It was truly an excellent start to the concert. Melody Eötvös was cordially invited to the stage to receive enthusiastic and appreciative applause.
The following Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 28 by Alberto Ginastera featured Timothy Kan as the soloist. Kan was most certainly up to the task of delivering this concerto, opening with a glistening cadenza and ten variations within the twelve-tone idiom. The concerto proceeded forth through the remaining three movements. At all times, both the orchestra and Kan displayed cohesion and a relentless unanimity of purpose preoccupied with the aim of expressing the art form of Ginastera. Maximum contrasts of timbre, virtuosic technique, expressive phrasing, and vivid imagery were evident in abundance.
Timothy Kan, in collaboration with Richard Davis, became the driving force of commitment to the composer’s intentions. Passages of strong contrasts expressing serene composure, hallucinatory imagery, wild turbulence, and explosive tone colours were all delivered with aplomb and conviction. It is a great credit to Kan that he recently won the first prize of the Concerto Section in the Ringwood Eisteddfod and first prize in the Open Section of the Boroondara Eisteddfod. Without a doubt, this performance of Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1 emerged as a triumph of conviction and deep insight. This triumph was equally accorded both to Kan and the UMSO.
The final item was Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler with the UMSO under the meticulous direction of Richard Davis. This four-movement symphony was premiered in 1889 with Mahler himself conducting the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. After four revisions we come to hear the present-day version extolling pastoral themes, lyrical Viennese Waltzes, a funeral march based on the minor mode of Frère Jacques, and a blazing finale with Mahler’s declaration to emerge “From Hell to Heaven”. Once again, the UMSO continued to perform with great conviction.
It was fascinating to view the wind section trumpeting their instruments in an upright direction as directed by Mahler. Similarly, the raised bells of the French horns produced a great effect when required to do so. Even more impressive was the standing position of the horn section (and one trombone) at the final moments delivering a blazing, triumphant and uplifting statement of joy, optimism, and power. It must be said that all sections within the UMSO (strings, wind, percussion, brass, harp, piano and celeste) performed with maturity and excellent musicianship. The direction of Richard Davis was magnificent considering the length of the whole concert and the demanding details within the scores.
The audience was delighted at the conclusion of the concert, immediately standing with applause and rewarded with a generous encore – the Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms. Bravo to the University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra!
Mark Dipnall reviewed “Mahler 1”, performed by The University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall on September 24, 2023.