Exciting musical chemistry

18 July 2018

Review: WASO Classics Series, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony & Pablo Ferrández plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto ·
Perth Concert Hall, 14 July ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

It’s always exciting to see young, up-and-coming musicians perform with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) for the first time. There’s so much talent lurking in all corners of the globe that it can be hard to keep track of all the fresh faces and names. And frankly, I’m surprised that so many of these internationally-renowned classical musicians even make it to Perth; the fact that they come all the way from their prestigious conservatories and institutions on the other side of the world must be testimony to the calibre of our own orchestra. On Saturday night we had a duo of rising stars: American conductor Joshua Weilerstein and Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrández. We were in for some unique and exciting musical chemistry.

Looking no more than 35 years old, Weilerstein appears clean-cut and unassuming. He greeted the audience with a warm smile and gave a short, well-rehearsed speech about the programmed works. Then, he turned to the orchestra and – baton in hand – launched straight into the first piece of the night: Masquerade by American composer Anna Clyne. Composed in 2013, the piece is an extravagant whirlwind of musical celebration, beginning with silky strands of interwoven string glissandi that entice the listener into Clyne’s imaginary world. We hear evocative musical scenes of dancers, acrobats, exotic street entertainers, fireworks, busy promenades, merry drinkers and guests in elaborate costumery. I particularly enjoyed watching the percussion section, who got to play some wacky-sounding instruments. In fact, the entire orchestra looked like they were having fun. My feelings about the piece were adequately summed up by the one audience member who shouted “yeah!” with fist-pumping enthusiasm at its conclusion.

Next up was the Dvořák Cello Concerto. Soloist Pablo Ferrández – twenty-seven, from Madrid – walked on stage with his 1696 “Lord Aylesford” Stradivarius cello. He looked comfortable, having opted for a crisp white shirt with bluish-grey trousers over the traditional suit and tie (which must be restrictive of arm movement, anyway). He sat down in front of the orchestra and made himself at home; he would have to wait a while before his entry in the first movement. During the long orchestral exposition, I was so entranced – by the mellow woodwinds, the folky dotted rhythms and the subtle rhythmic momentum – that I forgot Ferrández was even there. I was taken aback when he cast his first decisive bow, summoning a deep, rich and woody tone from his cello. He played with passion and intensity, with a wide but beautifully-controlled vibrato. He executed a series of death-defying double stops like they were a walk in the park. He had a great musical connection with both conductor and orchestra, blending seamlessly for tutti sections and singing out with full-toned presence for solos.

The final feature was Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. The entire work was completed in the summer of 1944, while Prokofiev was living it up at a government-run artists’ colony, alongside other big-name composers like Shostakovich and Khachaturian. Prokofiev, like many of his contemporaries, was in and out of favour with the Soviet Union throughout his career. His Fifth Symphony is epic in scale and optimistic in mood. When it premiered in 1945, it became a symbol for Soviet victory against German forces in the later stages of World War II. The first movement begins in a slow and stately manner with the lower strings, gradually unfolding into high lyricism and full-scoring. The sounds of war are echoed through blasting horns, huge gongs, rousing snares and swelling clusters of harmonic dissonance. Throughout the symphony’s four movements, Prokofiev seems to deploy everything in his compositional arsenal – from stomping militaristic textures, to obsessive ticking rhythms – generously painted in rich orchestral colours, with a splash of tongue-in-cheek wit.

WASO and conductor Weilerstein moved through the demands of the piece as if they were a tight-knit brotherhood in combat. And like any great military commander, Weilerstein didn’t simply demand respect; he earned it by leading his troops with confidence, integrity and tenacity. I was impressed by the togetherness of the orchestra under Weilerstein’s direction – by the clean cut-offs, the delicately attuned balance of dynamics, and the carefully considered expressive intent. There is something undeniably stirring about seeing a large group come together under a unified goal – whether it’s nationalism, revolution, or art.

Pictured top is  passionate and intense cellist, Pablo Ferrández.

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Author —
Tiffany Ha

Tiffany Ha is a pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocalist with a soft spot for anything a cappella. She has degrees in Music (Composition) and Arts (English) from UWA and works as a freelance musician. Her favourite playground equipment is anything that involves climbing and balance: monkey bars, rope towers, trees, human pyramids!

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