WASO @ Astor Theatre

This review copyright The West Australian 2012

Judging by the sell-out crowd at the inaugural 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 planning team Evan Kennea and principal conductor Paul Daniel masterminded a winning combination of art house venue and edgy program for the opening concert. The retro Astor Theatre provided a relaxed vibe with clean acoustics and just enough space to squeeze the eighty-piece orchestra dressed in jeans and black shirts.

The two musical centrepieces were written in memory of the dead. British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Kai put the spotlight on associate principal cellist Louise McKay. The twenty-five year old is one of an increasing number of young players bringing zing to the orchestra. McKay’s 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-esque stabs of sound progressed into a flute duet recognisable as the opening riff from the 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 light-hearted moments and vivid 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 eighties 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 festival concludes 8pm Saturday Astor Theatre.