Concert review: Tragedy to Triumph

The music may have been full of tragedy but the orchestra was triumphant!

It was a full house at Adelaide Town Hall for Tragedy to Triumph, the sixth concert in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s 2022 Symphony Series, featuring a world premiere, a little-known gem, and a crowd-pulling masterwork.

The program opened with the little-known gem, D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening) by French composer Lili Boulanger. And sad it is, with haunting lines for the harp and sonorous percussion. At only 12 minutes long, there is a lifetime of pathos in this beautiful piece.

Born into a well-to-do musical family, Boulanger was just 26 when she died of tuberculosis; you can’t listen to this music without reflecting on that cruel hand of fate. This was the first performance of D’un soir triste by the ASO and they did it beautifully under guest conductor Alpesh Chauhan.

There was a change of pace for the next piece, the world premiere performance of a new work, Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, by Australian composer Paul Dean. This was written for Andrew Bain, formerly of Adelaide and now Principal Horn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Bain received a warm welcome as he came on stage and did not disappoint his home-town audience. His fine playing amply demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the world’s leading horn players. Composer Paul Dean was in the audience for the premiere performance and made his way to the stage as Bain and the orchestra took their bows.

Like many contemporary Australian compositions, this is inspired by the bush. It creates a vivid musical narrative of outback animals and mosquitoes, fear and fires. The heavy basses and cellos rumbled and burned through the Town Hall as the piece evoked the unforgiving environment.  

The outback with its bushfires and floods seems to be the favoured muse for contemporary Australian composers. It’s fast becoming our new cultural cliché even though most of us live an unremittingly urban life. But then, we were never really bronzed Aussies or crocodile-hunting adventurers either. 

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After interval came the crowd-pulling Tenth Symphony in E Minor by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Written in 1953, this is everything you expect of a Cold War masterpiece, from the expansive opening Moderato, to the militaristic themes of the second Allegro movement, the folk-inspired third, and the grandeur of the climactic fourth Andante-Allegro. This is music writ large that harnesses the full power and emotional range of the orchestra. 

Alpesh Chauhan is something of a Shostakovich authority and was cellist before taking up the conductor’s baton. He whipped the players into fine form with his athletic conducting, positively leaping from the podium more than once. The ASO rose to Chauhan’s challenge, combining impressive firepower with distinct tempo but still with the occasional moment to pause and catch one’s breath. 

The ties between these three pieces may seem a little tenuous, but taken as a whole they made an engaging and satisfying program and a great opportunity to experience a range of musical styles and emotions. 

There were a number of new faces on stage for this performance with Guest Concertmaster Sun Yi and numerous Guest Principals including Carolyn Burgess on the harp and Jamie Cock on celesta. Even with such a significant cohort of new players, the ASO gave a strong, cohesive, and impressive performance.  

Tragedy to Triumph: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Alpesh Chauhan OBE.

Tragedy to Triumph was performed from 12-13 August 2022 at the Adelaide Town Hall.

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.