Chairman’s Newsletter – April 2018

It gives me great pleasure to invite you to attend the
upcoming concerts being presented by AYO.


Looking back to the last concert… 
Listening to a complex musical composition such as a symphony or concerto for th e first time is like embarking on a journey into unknown territory. There will be constant surprises around each corner and perhaps sudden moments of beauty which will be all the more vivid because unexpected and unanticipated. There may also be times where it is difficult to know at what point on the journey you have reached and how much further you will have to travel. It is not until you have reached the end that you will have any sense of how the landscape you have observed fits into the  journey as a whole.

When you make the journey a second time your perception is very different, and the things that struck you the first time will begin to feel familiar. The downside of this familiarity is that as you feel more relaxed it is not necessary to concentrate so intently, as you know what is about to happen at any moment. For example, events which may have originally caused a sudden shock will no longer do so.  This explains why a painting or musical composition which initially caused shock and outrage when first exhibited or performed can eventually be accepted and even loved. The danger is of course that over familiarity can destroy the very quality which makes a work popular, and result in it being perceived as hackneyed, even its beauty no longer appreciated.

The art of musical interpretation is to perform even the most popular work in a way which makes it seem fresh and new no matter how often the listener may have heard it. This is why live performances are so essential to our musical heritage. One has only to listen to historical recordings of famous works and performers to realise what a constantly evolving and changing thing musical performance is. The constant endeavour is to recreate the work and realise the composer’s intentions, thoughts and feelings so that they are communicated in a valid way to the audience.

At the concert on Sunday the 11th March, in the intimate setting of Baradene College, Antun Poljanich and the AYO with their performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony achieved all that and more. The tragedy and depth of feeling, the intense lyricism and the sheer beauty of the work was revealed in one of the most musically accomplished performances of this symphony that I have ever heard.  It was an interpretation of the highest level, and incredibly moving, leaving me and my two companions almost in tears at the end.

The other works on the programme were also beautifully played. Anna Cooper, the soloist in Nielsen’s flute concerto, was in complete command of this difficult work, as was the orchestra, bringing out all the wit and humour as well the moments of lyrical beauty which delight in this intriguing composition. The soloist was joined brilliantly in dialogues with the woodwind and brass, in particular the bass trombone.
In the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg, which began the concert, I was impressed by the subtle nuances of the muted strings in ‘The Death of Aase.’ The tender pianissimo playing in this movement was exceptionally fine.


Our forthcoming concerts…
The next programme of the season includes Grieg’s ever popular piano concerto. This is a work which is often unfairly put in the hackneyed category. I have no doubt that the performance we will hear will be anything but. The freshness that our young musicians bring to their performances is inherent in the fact that most of them are in fact playing the music for the first time.
The soloist in the Grieg will be the young pianist Sara Lee, who won first prize in the University of Auckland 2017 Graduation Gala Concerto Competition and was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Wallace National Piano Competition.

The other works on the programme will be Wagner’s stirring overture to ‘Rienzi’ and Elgar’s famous ‘Enigma Variations’ which include of course the wonderful ‘Nimrod’, so synonymous with the spirit of England, and which is featured every year in the Last Night of the Proms.


AYO Competitions
From the early days of AYO, or the Auckland Junior Symphony Orchestra as it was originally called, it was quite usual for especially gifted young musicians to be given an opportunity to play a concerto with the orchestra, but in 2011 the AYO Soloists Competition was formally set up, not only to help choose a soloist for one of the next season’s concerts, but also to stimulate and encourage younger players by introducing a category for Under 18s and a section for shorter pieces which have an orchestral accompaniment, called the Gem section. The standard reached by the competitors has been very high right from the start, and I feel that we need to encourage more people to attend the Finals on the 30th September, 7pm at Baradene College, where they will hear finalists from each section.  Baradene is a really lovely venue, with excellent acoustics, and if you would like to hear just how much talent there is in the orchestra do come along and lend your support to the competitors.  Playing to a sympathetic audience is, for the players, a valuable experience in itself.  Entrance is by donation.

AYO has, over the years, also tried to provide opportunities for young composers. This year we have decided to hold a Composition Competition for composers who are contemporaries of the players. Details have yet to be announced, but it will be restricted to composers under 25 years of age, from anywhere in New Zealand. They will be asked to submit a short orchestral work of about 7 minutes in length which will be included in one of the AYO’s main concerts. The winning piece will be fully rehearsed by the orchestra, with opportunities for the composer to attend rehearsals and gain feedback by workshopping the piece. The aim is for the young composer’s work to be heard by a discriminating audience, and for the members of AYO to play new music created by their own generation. We will be actively looking for a sponsor for this exciting project, but even without such an incentive we hope that the chance of having a work performed by AYO will in itself be an attractive prospect for any young composer.

Invitation to Subscribe or Support
Existing Subscribers and Supporters have just received their invitations to renew their financial support of AYO for 2018 and I would like to extend this invitation to all recipients of this newsletter.  General ($60+), Special ($500+) and Golden ($5,000+) Supporters provide the orchestra with a valuable foundation of annual financial support.  In appreciation of such donations, some of the best seats in the Auckland Town Hall are cordoned off at our concerts exclusively for these Supporters – our Supporters find it relaxing knowing that there are good seats reserved for them. The names of Subscribers and Supporters are listed in the printed concert programmes (unless otherwise requested).   I do hope many of you will be in a position to offer this support.


2018 Town Hall Concerts
Sunday 27 May, 2.30pm
Sunday 9 September, 2.30pm

Thank you for your continued interest and support – we appreciate it.  I trust you enjoy our May concerts.

Alexander Cowdell