A bright future

18 October 2021

The annual VOSE Concerto competition took place at the Perth Concert Hall on the weekend and if the three exceptional young musicians competing are anything to go by, the future of Perth’s classical music scene is in good hands, concludes Claire Coleman.

“Unheard”, UWA Conservatorium of Music ·
Perth Concert Hall, 17th October 2021 ·

The three soloists competing for UWA’s coveted VOSE Memorial Prize – Max Wung (cello), Alex Wallace (clarinet) and Jude Holland (piano) – were the embodiment of advice developing performers often receive, to treat their instruments like an extension of their own bodies.

But now and again when they weren’t playing the masks would drop. Someone would brush their hair from their eyes, or adjust their seating position, or gulp a breath once the final notes had died away, and I’d be shocked at the reminder: these guys are really young.

The Gen Z superstars ruled tonight’s stage, with the UWA Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Head of Music Alan Lourens, joining each soloist in turn as they performed three showstopping concerto movements.

Wung started us off with fiery technical brilliance, playing the first movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor. His sforzando double and triple-stopping had such force the strings made percussive contact with the fingerboard. Elsewhere the tone was smooth and sinuous with vibrato for days. The orchestra matched Wung’s dynamism tidily, particularly in a short duo section with flautist Barnaby Beahan.

Wallace was similarly tight with the orchestra in Première rhapsodie by Debussy. In a piece that exploits dynamic and tonal contrasts, control needed to be the skill of the day for Wallace. He did not disappoint, holding equally steady whether the score called for sweet or brash tones, sustained or busy rhythms, grandly loud or lean-forward-in-your-seat soft dynamics.

Rounding out the first half was the winner of both the VOSE prize (voted by 17 staff from the academic faculty of the Conservatorium) and the audience-voted People’s Choice award.

Holland offered a tasteful and playful third movement from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Lyrical passages exposed Holland’s delicate phrasing and ability to precisely balance melodic and accompanying figures. Fast fingerwork avoided blurriness, and big chord passages were performed with the right amount of weight to give power without banging.

Holland’s win was well deserved, though I probably would have made the same comment whichever of the three had won.

Interval was followed by Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 in G minor. Despite being (gasp!) a woman, Farrenc was an acclaimed and widely respected concert pianist and composer during her lifetime in nineteenth century France. Like many women composers of the period, her works were dropped from circulation after her death and omitted from the canon until the recent resurgence of interest in female composers. Including the Australian premiere of her symphony in a performance otherwise dominated by men was smart programming.

Rife with musical devices used by contemporary composers such as Mendelssohn and Beethoven, Farrenc’s symphony has the air of something you’ve heard before but can’t quite place. After the first movement, featuring soaring melodies in the first violins, the lyrical second movement felt like a placeholder, perhaps due in part to slightly patchy intonation. The high energy third movement and drama soaked final movement provided more of the big moments that allowed the orchestra to really flex.

Lourens was a precise guide without being showy, graciously allowing the orchestra to steal his thunder.

Unheard gave a glimpse of the future of classical performance in Perth, and it’s looking bright.

The next Conservatorium of Music concert is the “Electronic Music and Sound Design Exhibition” on 26 October 2021.

Pictured top: Alan Lourens conducts the Jude Holland and the UWA Symphony Orchestra at the VOSE Concerto competition. Photo supplied

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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