REVIEW: Opus Orchestra | Ahead of the Game (Tauranga)

Pure energy as Opus Orchestra stays ahead of the game

By Leon Gray

THERE’S only one thing that beats an eclectic programme when it comes to an orchestral performance: an ‘electric’ one; which is what the small but enchanted audience got on Saturday afternoon at Tauranga Boys College.

With breathless excitement, those present bore witness to the premiere performance of eminent New Zealand composer, Gareth Farr’s, Marimba Concerto; celestially performed by Tauranga’s own, Yoshiko Tsuruta and Opus Orchestra, under the baton of Peter Walls, and in the presence of Farr himself.

From the outset, Farr’s highly-charged, often cinematic score drew the audience in; tense agitato in the lower register of the orchestra punctuated by Tsuruta’s unbelievable mallet-work, effortlessly rising through the range as the work progressed, culminating in a suitably dazzling, electrifying finale.

Farr’s understanding of percussion-writing was clear throughout, capturing in a contemporary, yet approachable melodic language, not only the marimba’s naturally energetic timbre, but also its subtle lyricism and its ability to sing gently and hypnotically.  Tsuruta’s complete comfort with the material was also clear at all times; capturing every last nuance, exploiting every colour, controlling every cadenza with both poise and passion.

By no means a footnote, the remainder of the programme was equally engaging, opening with Bach’s elegant Ouverture Suite No 1. The orchestra captured it’s French-inspired ornamentation beautifully, and full credit needs to go to Joy Liu, Felicity Than and Philip Sumner for their virtuosic work on oboes and bassoon; perfectly playing in sync in a galaxy of semiquaver runs and trills.

Copland’s 1939 Quiet City captured much of a world on the brink of war, in a lonely and uncertain arrangement featuring Felicity Than on Cor Anglais and Bill Stoneham on trumpet; all accompanied with equal sensitivity by the ensemble, evoking more than an air of the approaching Film Noir style.

Haydn’s Farewell Symphony was a fine choice to complete the programme, with the customary comedy of the musicians gradually walking out during the last movement, leaving only two musicians on stage at the end; a piece Haydn wrote to hint that the royal Esterhazy family were demanding too much of their court orchestra at the time.  Once again, Opus Orchestra proved how comfortable they were playing all styles, with an effortless rendition of this classic.


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