It would be difficult to find a more musically uplifting weekend than attending performances presented by the Australian National Academy of Music and 3MBS. Listening to the cream of Australia’s young musical talent is always exhilarating, whether performances come in the form of a concert centred on working with an international star, or as the culmination of exacting rounds of a competition. Both occasions were not only a celebration of youthful musicianship, but also a showcase for the beauties of the viola.
Renowned violist, Lawrence Power, returned to Melbourne to lead ANAM musicians in works for orchestral and chamber settings. As a charismatic educator and performer – on both viola and violin – it was plain to see that he inspired the young musicians to give of their best. The Saturday evening program of works by Dvořák, Hindemith, Bartók and Ligeti bore the title “Across Mountains and Valleys”. Although taken from the 15th century song Zwischen Berg und tierfern, on which the first movement of Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher /The Turner (or hurdy-gurdy player) is based, the description could equally apply to Power’s lifestyle of international travel as a much-in-demand artist. Judging from the number of young viola players in the sizeable St Kilda Town Hall audience, his expertise is highly valued by both viola specialists and the general concert-going public alike.
The Hindemith followed a performance of Dvořák’s Four Miniatures, op 75 for 2 violins and viola, with Josephine Chung and Natalie Chung joining Power as equal partners for these contrasting and appealing pieces. Dvořák had originally scored them for string trio so that he could add his viola to the violins of his friend Josef Kruis and his friend’s teacher.
Of all the famous viola-playing composers, nobody has made a greater contribution to promoting the viola than the viola virtuoso Paul Hindemith. His addition to the viola repertoire has been invaluable for all violists, and his Concerto for viola and orchestra, Der Schwanendreher, is an outstanding example. This concert was a wonderful opportunity to hear this work so brilliantly played with orchestra. In addition to skilful direction, Power played with enormous colour and drive, energising the ANAM players with his compelling musicality and vitality.
Is there a substantial composition that doesn’t involve contrasting dynamics, instrumentation/registration or moods? After the marked contrasts in the Hindemith, which included a gorgeous siciliano for viola and harp to bookend the second movement, came Bartok’s Contrasts. Scored for violin, clarinet and piano, this three-movement work is one of the last important works that Bartok completed in Hungary and is infused with Eastern European folk music. Clarinettist Dario Scalabrini and pianist Leo Nguyen joined Lawrence Power in a stylish account of this tuneful idiomatic work with its exciting cadenzas for violin and clarinet.
More folk tunes were to be heard in Ligeti’s Concert Românesc. The program notes made a point of “the young composer’s mastery of orchestral sonorities”, and this was especially striking in the opening passages of the work. Sometimes it is an advantage to sit where different elements of orchestral sound have a chance to merge; from my position, the finely integrated, velvety string tone was breathtaking. And there was more impressive work in the sonority department to come from other sections of the orchestra.
If it had not been for the finals of the 2022 3MBS Victorian Young Performer Award, I would have been back in the St Kilda Town Hall the following afternoon to hear the ANAM Community Concert. As it was, word had spread that the four finalists for the VYPA were all outstanding and not to be missed. Although oboist Michael Liu was sadly unable to play due to illness, pianist Anna Gau, violist Jamie Miles and soprano Lisette Bolton more than lived up to their reputations.
First Prize-winner, Anna Gao says that she “loves performing” – and it shows. Totally immersed in the music and technically advanced, she embraced her program of works by C. P. E. Bach, Debussy, Michael Smetanin and Chopin with confident aplomb and musical maturity. Her playing of Smetanin’s Stroke (1988) was unflinchingly committed in its power and sweep, providing a dramatic contrast to some of the fluid delicacy of the Chopin.
Winner of Second Prize, Jamie Miles may well have attracted even more fans to the persuasive charms of the viola with his program of movements from works by Rebecca Clarke, Hoffmeister, Hindemith and Frank Bridge. Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano is appealingly melodic and ideal for displaying the rich warmth of Miles’ tone. His technical strengths were perhaps most apparent in Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Viola, Op. 25, No. 1. Currently completing year 12 at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Jamie is Principal Viola of the Australian Youth Orchestra. We are bound to hear much more from this gifted young musician.
Lisa Bolton chose a song by Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for her mini recital. A clear, steady voice with commendable resonance in the upper register, plus a delightful personality, resulted in a most enjoyable performance. Pianist Konrad Olszewski gave both Miles and Bolton valuable support as Associate Artist.
While the adjudicators deliberated, a quartet comprising flutes, cello, alto saxophone and vibraphone played the distance between by Robert McIntyre, winner of the 2022 MSV David Henkels Composition Award. Peacefully atmospheric with inventive instrumentation, it was an ideal way to end what had been another day of outstanding music making.
Photo courtesy 3MBS.
Heather Leviston attended “Lawrence Power: Across Mountains and Valleys”, presented by the Australian National Academy of Music at St Kilda Town Hall on October 22, and the 2022 3MBS Victorian Young Performer Award, presented by 3MBS at Good Shepherd Chapel, Abbotsford Convent, on October 23, 2022.