Music review: Dreams, Symphony Series 7, Adelaide Town Hall

Musical dreams really do come true at the Adelaide Town Hall.
Dreams. Two men side by side, one on the left in a black shirt, one on the right with a beard, grey shirt and holding a violin.

In Dreams, Symphony Series 7, it was easy to understand why Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts is such a star in the classical music firmament. To see him playing live on stage was to marvel at his immense technical prowess and his incredible empathy with the music he plays. Here with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO), Gringolts tackled Prokofiev’s demanding First Violin Concerto alongside guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth and gave an absolutely thrilling performance. 

Superlatives always abound in any discussion of Gringolts’ virtuosic playing and in this case they are not exaggerations, especially given that this concerto is considered one of the most challenging in the great orchestral repertoire. Playing a 1718 “ex-Prové” Stradivari, Gringolts brought out every nuance in this rich and highly variegated score. From its early dreamy melodies to the scherzo with all its fireworks, Gringolts and Prokofiev are a match made in heaven. 

Full credit also to Wigglesworth for his direction and the robust playing of the ASO under concertmaster Kate Suthers. The rousing applause and hearty foot-stamping, from audience and orchestra alike, gave full recognition of the wonderful performance. Gringolts rewarded the audience with an impressive violin caprice for an encore that left everyone catching their breath. 

The Dreams program opened with a charming work by the young British composer Grace-Evangeline Mason, the Australian premiere performance of The Imagined Forest, a piece written for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Albert Hall in 2021. This is a musical journey through ‘the forest of your own imagination’. And indeed it is picturesque work, creating a landscape of picnics and mountain hikes, fairy tales and fancies. The lovely solo violin, played with meaningful sensitivity by Kate Suthers, filled my own imagined forest with goblins and unicorns. 

All of this delight and passion came in the first half, so what could the ASO play after interval to maintain the excitement? Some 40 minutes of the beautiful Symphony No.1 in E minor by Jean Sibelius made for a more than satisfying conclusion. 

This is the first of his five symphonies; there is drama and loneliness in the music, along with the courage to dream. It opens unusually with a soulful lament on the clarinet, which was played with a fine touch by principal Dean Newcomb, and shadowed by a restrained timpani.

Read: Music review: Clerici Conducts Mahler, Concert Hall, QPAC

From there it picks up the pace with a fire in the composer’s heart. The ASO gave it their all, demonstrating once again that they really are capable of superb playing, especially under the baton of a conductor they obviously know and trust. The mighty climax was delivered with passion and precision, concluding a truly epic performance. 

Dreams, Symphony Series 7
Adelaide Town Hall
The ASO with soloist Ilya Gringolts and conductor Mark Wigglesworth

Dreams was performed on 22-23 September 2023.


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.