Music review: Majesty, Adelaide Town Hall

A sell-out performance of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1, Musgrave's Rainbow and Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony.
Alexander Gavrylyuk seated at a piano in concert.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) opened its 2024 Symphony Series with Majesty, a scintillating program featuring two much-loved pieces and an Australian premiere. The Orchestra was in sparkling form, sharing the Town Hall stage with a renowned soloist alongside a dynamic conductor. Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1 was the undoubted highlight of the night and almost certainly the reason for the full house. This is a big, bold work right from its dramatic opening fanfare to the gorgeous passages of colour and emotional depth. 

Ukrainian-Australian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk gave a thrilling account, full of power and passion.  Gavrylyuk’s superb technique and intelligent interpretation of the music combined to make this a truly memorable performance. It’s no wonder he needed to mop his brow between movements! He really offered a masterclass in playing the work of this greatest of Russian composers.

Conductor Douglas (Dougie) Boyd ensured the orchestra matched the piano, allowing the soloist to shine, but also giving the players their share of the spotlight with a superb synchronicity and balance. The concerto ends with a thundering climax, which was echoed in the thunderous applause of the audience who knew they’d just witnessed something very special. He passed his bouquet to Acting Concertmaster Holly Piccoli before taking his seat at the piano again. A short encore piece showed another side of Gavrylyuk’s playing with a tender touch as his fingers tiptoed along the keyboard. 

Majesty opened with the Australian premiere performance of Rainbow, a short work from 1990 by Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave. The piece reverberates with the sounds of rain in a  thunderstorm, only finding the magic of a rainbow towards the end. Commissioned by the City of Glasgow, this is a wonderful musical conversation about the weather – something Boyd understands well as a native Glaswegian. 

The highland theme continued after interval with the entire second half devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s colourful Symphony No 3  in A Minor. Known as The Scottish Symphony, this was inspired by a walking tour of Scotland he took as a young man, although it was more than a decade later that it came into being.

This is a delightful work, full of lilting atmospherics and displaying Mendelssohn’s deep affection for the Scottish countryside. Strains of folk dancing can be heard in the melody of the second movement and the third brought forward the subdued grandeur of the clarinet and timpani. And then the finale, described as allegro vivacissimo – very fast and lively – brought The Scottish to a joyous conclusion.

Read: Performance review: The Lion King in Concert, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

One of the highlights of this performance was the obvious rapport and respect between the players of the ASO and the conductor. It’s to be hoped we see more of Boyd on the Australian concert stage.

Majesty, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Series 1
Adelaide Town Hall

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with conductor Douglas Boyd and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk.

Majesty was performed for two nights only, 9-10 February 2024.

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.