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News & Recent Performances

Limelight Magazine Review | "Scheherazade (Sydney Concert Orchestra)"

A rapturous program cements our youngest orchestra’s place among Australia's finest.

4.5/5 Stars Review


 

Since its inaugural concert last year, the Sydney Concert Orchestra has gone from strength to strength under Artistic Director and Chief Conductor Omid Moheb Zadeh.


Currently completing his Masters in Opera Conducting at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Zadeh is proving his mettle as a fine interpreter of the Slavic repertoire. Following his masterful reading of Dvořák’s From the New World last December, he now takes on two of the most popular and frequently performed Russian classics.

Omid Moheb Zadeh conducts the Sydney Concert Orchestra.
Omid Moheb Zadeh conducts the Sydney Concert Orchestra. Photo © Nathan Isaacs

The result is a rapturous program in which Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla Overture and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazadebookend the world premiere of Ben (Wenhao) Fan’s From the Stars.


Zadeh is a natural entertainer who eschews conventional stuffiness. Arriving at the podium, he dives into the Russlan and Ludmilla Overture without waiting for the welcoming applause to die down.


The tempo is exhilarating, the orchestra tight, and Zadeh reassuringly pushes the musicians to their limits. They respond enthusiastically to Zadeh’s challenge, and he in turn raises the stakes even higher.


By the end of the overture, the Verbrugghen Hall is filled with a sense of euphoria one imagines accompanied Leonard Bernstein’s early summers in Tanglewood. Like the great maestro, Zadeh is a brilliant storyteller, and this is never more evident than in his expert reading of the tone poem Scheherazade.


Mindful of the underlying narrative, he expertly brings each of the first three movements to an abrupt halt, emphasising the cliffhangers employed by the titular Sultana to save her neck for another day. Each movement is beautifully animated, and Zadeh strives to evoke the imagery of the tales that inspired them.

The Sydney Concert Orchestra performing in the Verbrugghen Hall.
The Sydney Concert Orchestra performing in the Verbrugghen Hall. Photo © Nathan Isaacs

In the The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, the orchestra rises to the challenge, conjuring up the waves that Rimsky-Korsakov knew only too well from his years in the Russian navy.


Like Pushkin, who wrote the poem on which the earlier Russlan and Ludmilla was based, Rimsky-Korsakov was the exponent of a Russian brand of Orientalism preoccupied with the region’s sensual allure.


Zadeh seems to play a refreshing game of tit for tat, sublimating the Orientalist tropes in Scheherazade to give it a more Slavic inflection consistent with the work’s pedigree. He confidently draws out the folk influence of Russian byliny and steers the orchestra toward a dramatic climax, the brass coming into their own during the magnificent fanfares in the final moments.


Concertmaster David Carreon shows off his extraordinary technique during several reprises of the Scheherazadeleitmotif. He masterfully executes the notorious double and triple stops, and the audience watches with bated breath as he soars in the ethereal upper limits of the violin’s range.


Principal cello Joanne Hwang’s solos and conversations with winds in both The Story of Prince Kalandar and The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship deserve special mention, as do Jack Peggie’s rapid-fire 32nd notes on the snare drum in the two final movements. He demonstrates superb dynamic and time control in his execution of the triplets in the third and compressions in the fourth.

Ben (Wenhao) Fan conducts the world premiere of his work, From the Stars, with the Sydney Concert Orchestra.
Ben (Wenhao) Fan conducts the world premiere of his work, From the Stars, with the Sydney Concert Orchestra. Photo © Nathan Isaacs

The world premiere of From the Stars is conducted by the composer Ben (Wenhao) Fan, who describes the work as “a story of love and two stars converging in the vastness of space”. He represents this through the call and response of the winds, underpinned by the twinkle of a glockenspiel. It’s an intentionally sentimental moment that has its roots in the opening phrases of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.


Fortunately, Fan’s work follows a more optimistic trajectory, filled with resplendent orchestral flourishes that push the brass section to its limits. It’s thrilling stuff that would faze the most accomplished brass players, and the Sydney Concert Orchestra’s young musicians do well to come out alive.


Fan once again demonstrates his exceptional harmonic gift, first heard in last year’s A Quiet Mountain. Two-thirds of the way through, a chord progression spans the string section before arriving at a breathtakingly prolonged resolution. The winds then join in, gradually leading the orchestra toward the work’s majestic finale.

The Sydney Concert Orchestra has cemented its place on the city’s music scene, offering innovative takes on well-worn classics and a vital platform for young composers to present new works.


The players’ first-rate musicianship is impressive to say the least, and their thrilling rendition of Scheherazadeis one of the finest this writer has heard, worthy of comparison to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s performance earlier this year.


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