There is so much potential in youth with life stretching out in front of you, ready for the taking. It’s fitting then that this program for the Melbourne Youth Orchestras would consider the highs and lows of life with inspiration from classic texts that considered life’s great questions. Aspects of humanity from passion to generosity to bravery come together in Angels, Dreams & Fantasies.
The first three pieces of the concert were all inspired by other works, pulling ideas from Germany, Hungary, Russia, and Romani cultures filtered through French, Spanish, and Australian composers. The first piece “Hungarian March” by Hector Berlioz was a grand, heraldic opening with flight and energetic violins that welcomed the audience warmly. The composition was originally imagined as part of Berlioz’s musical adaptation of Goethe’s Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a play based on the story of Johann Georg Faust. To consider the relationship between Faust, a story referenced as a metaphor of human greed and frailty, and this bright, militaristic march is striking for the juxtaposition of greed v glory, frailty v bravery, and personal gain v nationalistic pride.
The second piece was less confrontational but still far-reaching in its scope. Introduced by conductor Brett Kelly as an original commissioned by Melbourne Youth Orchestras for their 2020 European tour, “Inner Angels” by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin was based on a story by Leo Tolstoy about the Good Samaritan. This piece was particularly atmospheric as the orchestra moved through the narrative of an angel coming to understand human generosity and love in the depths of a Russian winter. The first movement was tense with a tinkling percussion section that mimicked the glittering appearance of falling snow. Over the course of the movement, the brass section grew in intensity for a full, immersive sound. The second movement was slower but with a warm sweeping quality to the rhythm and the prominence of the string instruments. For the final movement, again percussion came to the fore with clanging and clashing sounds contrasting with more sombre and deep tones from the rest of the orchestra. This movement rounded the story of the fallen angel out with great drama to represent the significance of their discovery about love.
The third composition of the program and the third inspired by other works was “Carmen Fantasy” in which Pablo de Sarasate borrowed melodies from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen which was inspired by the folk music of Eastern European Romani cultures. For this piece, violin soloist Leon Fei joined the orchestra for an impressive performance that stretched the violin to the height of its range. Across the three movements, the orchestra moved between the instantly recognisable melodies of Carmen, slower more romantic sections, and frantic, racing stretches full of passion and frenzy. Between the second and third movements, Fei’s violin became deeply engaged with the orchestra in intimate conversation before racing off in the final movement with a completely separate voice. This toing-and-froing formed the central sensation of the piece, like bodies moving in and out of formation in dance.
Comparing the three pieces inspired by or working in conversation with other works, they all had markedly different approaches to representing their original texts. Whether through contrast connotations, creating atmospheric narrative spaces, or recreating the movement of bodies in song, each piece brought a complex understanding of the form into their examination of themes of human emotion and experience.
The fourth and final piece of the concert was a return to the big, heroic opening of “Hungarian March” but with a development into something more elegant and refined. In the program notes, “Symphony No. 4, Op. 36” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky works through big concerns of life from fate to melancholia to euphoria. Stand-out moments included the first movement with pretty, fluttering bursts like butterflies flying in springtime that rolled into easy, graceful swells and waves of sound. The second movement featured a prominent woodwind section, particularly from the oboe as played by Michael Liu with a gentle, smooth melody. The third movement also stood out for the dominance of pizzicato which Tchaikovsky described as representing feelings of tipsiness and frivolity, like bubbling alcohol and light emotions. This then fed into the big, bold feelings of the final movement with crashing cymbals and a forceful embrace of uplifted emotion and joyous endings.
Artists have been working to capture the meaning and essence of life in their art for centuries. Angels, Dreams & Fantasies was a comprehensive combination of the highs and lows of the human experience as translated, adapted, and reconfigured through cultures, writers, musicians, and composers and performed by talented young musicians at the beginning of their own lives.
Angels, Dreams & Fantasies was performed at Melbourne Recital Hall and streamed through Australian Digital Concert Hall on June 26th
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