Music Review: Wild, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Series 2

The world premiere performance of a new Australian violin concerto was a wild and wonderful orchestral highlight.

Wild, the recent concert from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO), comprised three parts – Le Corsaire, Fantasie im Wintergarten and Organ Symphony.

It’s a special privilege for an audience to witness the world premiere of a major new work. Such was the privilege for Adelaide audiences with the debut of Fantasie im Wintergarten, the new work from acclaimed Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. The work was commissioned by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, with the generous support of Mary Lou Simpson OAM, and written specifically for the ASO’s 2023 Artist in Association, the superb violinist Emily Sun.

Kats-Chernin has a long and impressive musical CV and has made a unique contribution to our musical life for many years, working across multiple styles and genres. This new work was her first violin concerto and it has echoes of those many influences. Indeed, its sophistication embodied those many years of deep musical accomplishment. She says in the program notes that Fantasie im Wintergarten ‘was inspired by some of the ideas from a 1920s silent film’ and those echoes of circuses and dance and cabaret were all there, but the ultimate sound was something original and distinctive. This was a work that will haunt the listener in the best possible way.

As always, Emily Sun gave a shining performance, playing a wonderful 1760 Nicolò Gagliano violin, on loan to her from the London-based Beare’s International Violin Society. Each of the three movements had a particular style and made its own demands on the orchestra and the soloist, with frequent and dramatic changes. As always, Sun brought the music to life and imbued it with deep emotion.

The concert opened with popular conductor Benjamin Northey taking to the podium and leading the ASO through Le Corsaire by Hector Berlioz. This 10-minute concert overture, written in 1844, was apparently inspired by a tempestuous voyage Berlioz experienced in the Mediterranean. The stormy seas could be heard in the more energetic passages as the music built up and swirled throughout the orchestra. But all was not lost at sea and the piece ended with more gentle lyricism.

After interval, the concert continued with the Symphony No.3 in C minor Organ by Camille Saint-Saëns. And, yes, it did indeed feature the wonderful Adelaide Town Hall organ played by Peter Kelsall. The piece was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and, on receiving the commission, Saint-Saëns told the Society, ‘It will be terrifying, I warn you!’ The resulting work is a symphony in two parts spanning seven movements: ‘Adagio’, ‘Allegro Moderato’ and ‘Poco Adagio’ in the first part, and ‘Allegro Moderato’, ‘Presto’, ‘Maestoso’ and ‘Allegro’ in the second.

It may not sound terrifying these days, but it was certainly big and bold, building to a tremendous climax. The centrality of the organ gave the work an unmistakable sense of religiosity. It did feel like the organ was a little overwhelmed by the full force of the orchestra in some passages, but the impact was powerful nonetheless.

Read: Opera review: Ferruccio Furlanetto In Concert, Melbourne Recital Centre

Wild was a marvellous performance of an interesting and intelligent program. Three cheers to conductor Benjamin Northey, soloist Emily Sun and the ASO, featuring newly-appointed concertmaster Kate Suthers. 

Wild was performed at the Adelaide Town Hall by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on 21-22 April 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.