Music review: Orchestra Unwrapped – Magic, Festival Theatre

Family-friendly and bite-sized musical offerings from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was broad enough a selection to please all.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) started its 2023 season on a high note with the delightfully whimsical concert, Orchestra Unwrapped – Magic. There was merriment, faraway kingdoms and mysterious woodlands, enchanted forests and bewitched broomsticks. There was even Ricky the Rat, a ballet dancing life-sized rodent with rattitude.

Hosted by the ever-popular conductor Guy Noble as ‘the savvy sorcerer’, this was a perfect season opener full of short and sassy audience favourites. The ‘wizards and witches of the ASO’ responded enthusiastically to Noble’s ‘magic wand’ and gave an enthusiastic account throughout.

The concert opened with the much-loved Overture from Mozart’s Magic Flute. Next came Bach’s magnificent Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a piece probably destined for a limited audience when it was originally written for two organs around 1705. It found an entirely new lease of life when Leopold Stokowski arranged it for orchestra as the opening to Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The Toccata and Fugue has an inherently dramatic narrative that really comes out when played live on stage by a full orchestra.

Violinist Emily Sun joined the orchestra for Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy on Themes of Bizet. Dressed in red to honour the eponymous heroine, Sun dazzled with her technical excellence and sensitive playing. Sun is the ASO’s Artist in Association for 2023, so Adelaide audiences can hope to see much more of this impressive musician. She plays a 1760 Nicolò Gagliano violin, kindly loaned to her through the Beare’s International Violin Society.

Then it was a brief segue into Howl’s Moving Castle before the familiar notes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with its wonderful percussion and ominous oboes, brought us to interval. 

Each subsequent piece seemed like a highlight in and of itself. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade took the audience out on the high seas with Sinbad the Sailor. The Thaïs: Meditation by Massenet, Noble’s own favourite piece on the program, was played beautifully with Sun in the lead. She was also featured in Tchaikovsky’s colourful and demanding Valse-Scherzo.

The magical program ended with two well-known pieces: excerpts from the timeless tale of The Nutcracker, including the ballet school favourite Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, complete with a cameo from the dancing Rat, and John Williams’ instantly recognisable Hedwig’s Theme from the Harry Potter movies. These two works, written over 100 years apart, both feature the delicate sounds of the celesta, played with delicacy by Katrina Reynolds.

Read: Music review: Brisbane Tango Orchestra, The Old Museum

This was a family-friendly program of bite-sized musical works that encouraged patrons to bring their kids and grandees along to experience the wonder and magic of live orchestral music on the mainstage. Bravo ASO!

Orchestra Unwrapped – Magic
Adelaide Festival Centre
Conductor/presenter: Guy Noble with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Violin: Emily Sun

Orchestra Unwrapped – Magic was performed 10-11 February 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.