Concert Review: Horizons
Louise McKay. Picture: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian.


WA Symphony Orchestra

Astor Theatre

Judging by the sellout crowd at Horizons, the first concert in the new Latitude Series, I'm not the only one who thinks the return of the WA Symphony Orchestra's new-music concerts is long overdue.

Artistic planner Evan Kennea and principal conductor Paul Daniel masterminded a winning combination of art-house venue and edgy program for the opening concert.

The Art Deco-era Astor Theatre provided a relaxed vibe with clean acoustics and just enough space to squeeze in the 80-piece orchestra dressed in jeans and black shirts.

British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage's Kai put the spotlight on associate principal cellist Louise McKay. The 25-year-old is one of an increasing number of young players bringing zing to the orchestra. Her assured playing wandered easily from sweet anguish to dark aggression and swinging jazz. The accompanying ensemble made smooth work of Turnage's swinging atonality (references to Charles Mingus) and darkly elegiac moments.

John Lennon and Anton Webern were the subjects of James Ledger's Two Memorials. Pithy Webern-like stabs of sound progressed into a flute duet recognisable as the opening riff from Strawberry Fields. Lennon quotes were dissected against a pre-recording (played in reverse) of the Webern section in a tribute to the Beatle's pioneering work in the studio. With lighthearted moments and dramatic impact, Two Memorials is one of Ledger's most engaging works.

Two of electric guitarist Frank Zappa's orchestral works filled out the program with complexity (The Perfect Stranger) and a flashback to 1980s psychedelic rock (G-Spot Tornado) while Esa-Pekka Salonen's Helix was an intense concert opener. All the works on the program were Australian premieres except for Two Memorials, which won the Arts Music best performance award when premiered by WASO last year.

In each piece the orchestra was impressive, nailing tricky rhythmic subdivisions, secure in pitch extremes and injecting atmosphere into every moment. Kennea's witty introductions and Daniel's coherent conducting meant the meaty program really didn't feel like hard work. Provocative, fun and world class, this was an exciting addition to Perth's new music scene.

Latitude concludes on Saturday with Boundaries, featuring DJ Zeke.

The West Australian

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