Burnished Bernstein and Cosmic Cacophony

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2018-05-14 03:37

New Zealand's premier Big Band were in outrageously good form in Wellington on Friday and Saturday nights. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's hallmark precision and passion, their flagrant virtuosity and sinful zest, were on such shameless display that one feared the arrival of some branch of the Fun Police.

Friday was given over to a 100th birthday salute to the late, supremely great Leonard Bernstein. Conductor for the evening (and Saturday), American Brett Mitchell, doubled as Master of Festivities, and performed both roles with class, clarity, wit and flamboyance. The frequently if not openly gay Mr Bernstein would no doubt have approved.

Mr Bernstein was jack of all genres and master of many. It's a pity that in this committed eclecticism he nodded so often in the direction of such musical terrorists as Stravinsky and Schoenberg; however, he'll be remembered not for "feel that air from a new planet" as he played some faddish gibberish in one of his lectures, but the kinds of catchy tunes set to clever rhythms we heard on Friday night. Moreover, as we were eloquently reminded by the Candide overture, Dream with Me and Tonight, he could fit right in with the Romantic school when he wanted to.

Morgan James did the vocal honours with aplomb and amplification. One did wonder if the latter were necessary, given Ms James's obvious classical training and the fact that in the first number, where she was affecting a Shirley Bassey sound, some of the notes got distorted by the microphone. Moreover, one feared that she might be ignominiously undone were she to trip over the humungous speakers plonked in such perilous proximity to her glamorous and shapely presence. Fortunately, no such calamity occurred and all parties made it triumphantly through to the end of Glitter and Be Gay (still no Fun Police—though Israel Folau reportedly turned in a glittering performance on the rugby field!).

Things took on an Italian flavour on the Saturday night. The Orchestra were joined by violinist Angelo Xiang Yu—another glamorous and shapely presence—who performed Vivaldi's seemingly inescapable Four Seasons with aplomb and without amplification.

Later, the Wellington Brass Band came on stage to help out with the finale of Ottorino Respighi's Pines of Rome. No issue of amplification here. Someone on the Internet has said that when there is finally a manned mission to Mars, this is the music that should launch it. It is heroic. And quite loud. After Saturday night, our brass-enhanced premier Big Band can certainly claim first dibs on being the ones to perform it. They were gloriously, cosmically cacophonous.

Any Aucklanders who somehow didn't hear it from Wellington have the opportunity to be cosmically cacophonised in their own Town Hall on Saturday May 19.