Music Review: Ecstasy, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Series 8, Adelaide Town Hall

The ASO's final Symphony Series for 2023 featured outstanding contributions from violinist Anthony Marwood and conductor Chloé van Soeterstède.
ecstasy. Image is a widely smiling man in a black shirt playing the violin.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) ended its 2023 Symphony Series on a high note with Ecstasy, a rich and colourful program of modern classics with a brilliant soloist alongside a charming and engaging conductor.

It has sometimes taken a little leap of the imagination to see the connection between the music and each concert’s nomenclature, but this one was indeed worthy of its name. The concert opened with the Australian premiere performance of Banner by the contemporary US composer Jessie Montgomery. 

This eight-minute work is rooted in the history of the US national anthem and talks to the modern US as a diverse and multicultural society. There are echoes of marching bands, so quintessentially American, and expressions of freedom and liberty. The players even get into some synchronised foot stamping. Acting concertmaster Cameron Hill was excellent in the violin solo and David Schilling was notable on double bass.

International violin maestro Anthony Marwood then took centre stage for the superb ‘Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35’ by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Escaping from Austria on the last unrestricted train at the start of World War II, Korngold became an Academy Award-winning film composer and themes from some of his best-known film scores can be heard in this charismatic Concerto. It features soaring melodies and ample room for the soloist to display his flair and agility.

This was indeed an exuberant display of virtuosic musicianship from both Marwood and the orchestra under conductor Chloé van Soeterstède in her first appearance with the ASO. She’s young, she’s French, she’s in demand across the globe, and we can see why. Van Soeterstède conducted with an elegance and precision that usually takes a lifetime to acquire. Marwood rewarded the fulsome applause, from audience and orchestra, with a rapturous violin solo for encore.

The interval gave the audience (and the players) a welcome moment to catch their breath and then it was into Claude Debussy’s delightful ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune’. Beginning so gently, the ‘Prélude’ is a beautiful piece, so evocative of woodlands and fairytales; its ending is just as gentle, the music tiptoeing to its close. And, along the way, there were those impressive flute solos from guest section principal Joshua Batty.

And then to wake us from our dreams, the ASO burst into the full glory of Sergei Rachmaninov’s big and bold ‘Symphonic Dances’. This year has been a veritable feast of Rach in recognition of his 150th anniversary. Composed only three years before he died, this work shows his compositional confidence and originality. It has it all – dramatic woodwinds, timpani and brass, harp and piano. I think I rather favour Rachmaninov’s working title of ‘Fantastic Dances’ for a score that’s so creative and all encompassing.

Read: Concert review: Blade Runner Live, Arts Centre Melbourne

This has been an impressive year for the ASO, even with a change of CEO along the way. We look forward to more musical majesty in 2024.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with conductor Chloé van Soeterstède and violinist Anthony Marwood.

Ecstasy was performed for two nights only, 3-4 November 2023 at 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.