Love is in the air as the West Australian Symphony Orchestra rolls out the romantics and a new work from local composer Olivia Davies. Angela Ho is smitten.
Masters Series: Dvořák & Tchaikovsky, West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Perth Concert Hall, 4 August 2023
There’s a real mix in the audience tonight. Everyone from WASO’s subscription patrons to young and excitable classical enthusiasts (there’s a row of them directly in front of me) has turned out and it’s quietly gratifying to see Perth Concert Hall’s swathes of red velvet seats fully occupied from top to bottom.
It’s a fitting reception for the solo masterwork and featured talent of the evening: Tchaikovsky’s (only) Violin Concerto performed by America’s ever charismatic Benjamin Beilman, followed by Dvořák’s self-actualising Seventh Symphony.
The 15-minute show opener is the world premiere of a piece by WASO composer-in-residence Olivia Davies entitled Oscillations for Orchestra, whose central thesis involves temporal expansion and warping of a fast-slow-fast “rhythmic cell”.
Asked what audiences should do when listening to the “provocative” piece, Davies pauses, nonplussed, before delivering her wisdom: “Just let go.” Relentless is an apt descriptor of the work, which opens to a barrage of aggressive orchestral punctuation. On-the-bridge string playing and persistent xylophone rhythms deliver the quasi-palindromic rhythmic motif with metallic effect, before the iterative fragment is shared across the orchestra in a piece that is almost entirely driven by rhythm and texture.
It’s intense. But, like the rest of the program, it’s designed to evoke a reaction — albeit one of a different kind to the romantic exuberance of the subsequent Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. Almost as abruptly as it began, the piece is over, and Davies makes way for Beilman, applause still ringing.
The audience is expectant. The Violin Concerto may have received a lukewarm reception when it first premiered to conservative Viennese audiences in 1881 but, in Perth 2023, Beilman finds receptive listeners who hang onto his every lyrical insight.
Beilman’s tone is as velveteen as his blazer — no easy feat for an instrument as temperamental as the violin — and especially so in his lower register. Outward in his presentation while personal and intimate in delivery, Beilman particularly excels in his ability to evoke richness from double stops.
Everything about his sound is indulgent and convincingly articulated, and I am astounded by the ease with which he executes isolated third and fourth-finger vibrato in his left hand. The effect is expressive and utterly romantic playing befitting the triumph of Tchaikovsky’s first movement, which receives rapturous applause despite being the first of three.
WASO proves — unsurprisingly — restrained and responsive in its accompaniment under Asher Fisch’s familiar baton. The discipline is appreciated, especially during middle-register moments which just miss the mark on cut-through, despite Beilman’s best efforts.
Tchaikovsky ends to ecstatic applause. There’s a real sense of jubilation in the audience, which Beilman gratifies by way of an encore introduced with the charismatic one-worder: “Bach!”
The triumphant energy carries through into the concert’s back half, which is entirely dedicated to Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony. It’s especially satisfying to see WASO reclaim its full dynamic range and colour in the celebrated work, which marks a farewell to the composer’s “confused” identity, and a transition into his own fully-fledged form.
Fisch’s leadership is tasteful but non-intrusive — the best kind — and so effective you don’t notice how easily he compels the orchestra to achieve his ends. The energy and forward momentum from the players confirm the connection is a familiar one.
Passion and celebration are the hallmarks of the performances and the response they garner from an appreciative audience. What a combination.
Pictured top: Violinist Benjamin Beilman performs with WASO at Perth Concert Hall. Photo: Daniel James Grant
Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.