WASO At The MoviesConductor - Brett Kelly

Considering The West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) just turned 80, I think it’s fairly safe to say that most Sandgropers don’t remember life without it. WASO is the state’s largest and busiest performing arts company, providing the heartbeat of WA’s musical life. The fact that the Concert Hall was packed to capacity at the same time that 6 billion other people were watching the opening of the Olympic Games is clearly a testament to this.

Conducted by Brett Kelly, who cleverly introduced the evening by saying “welcome to one of two big events happening across the world tonight”, WASO at the Movies provided a wonderful night of toe-tapping, tear-inducing entertainment. The program was a varied affair, with pieces ranging from the 1935 film score to Captain Blood with Errol Flynn, to The Shagadelic Suite from the Austin Powers movies. It opened with the Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare, which certainly set the mood and reminded everyone that the program was an homage to the musical delights of the silver screen.

The stand out performance for me was the Concerto for organ and strings (Adagio) from Gallipoli. This was the piece that moved me to tears. It’s such an affecting piece of music and the aching solo by first violin, Graham Pyatt, was exceptional. I was moved also because I, like so many Australians, know the iconic film so well. I was transported back to 1996 in Gallipoli, Turkey, with my best friend, tears streaming down our faces as we watched the movie on a tiny television in a rural hostel on the eve of ANZAC day. I’m quite sure I was not the only one so affected on the night; the strings reached out with their quiet anguish to touch everyone in the hall.

Classicist composer, Phillip Glass’ Movement III, from the movie The Hours, was another treat. Glass is known for his compositions with repetitive structures and the repeated fragments of melody in this piece create a tension and hypnotism that lends itself wholly to the tone of the film. This was the first piece to introduce guest musician Jana Kovar on the celeste, an instrument that looks like an upright piano, but contains tiny bells struck by hammers and operated by a keyboard, producing a heavenly (celestial) sound (just think of the bell sounds from Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy from The Nutcracker).

WASO did a wonderful job with The Man from Snowy River Theme by Bruce Rowland. The French horns provided the goosebumps while the trumpets raised the blood pressure. The crisp sound from the trumpets, particularly first trumpet David Eton, was a delight.

The theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, by John Williams, belonged to the brass, and they did it proud. It’s one of those orchestral scores that’s hard to forget and it was the one my husband and I took away with us, humming it with gusto all the way home.

The only piece that didn’t work well for me was the Chariots of Fire theme. The orchestra used snare drums to replicate the synthesized repetitive beat of Vangelis’ original piece, but the tempo of this difficult melody seemed too fast and out of sync with the piano.

Despite conductor Brett Kelly risking making an enemy of half of his audience (women) by practically apologising for the addition of a piece from a “chick flick” - Shakespeare in Love - as if it was a thing one should be immanently ashamed of, it was a wonderful piece that built into a rich harmony about harvesting hope for the future, and was beautifully performed by the orchestra.

The Star Wars Main Title is always guaranteed to get the blood pumping. It certainly showcased the trumpets, David Elton, Evan Cromie, Peter Miller, and guest musician Jenny Coleman. The music by John Williams has that lush, intricate sound he’s known for. The use of leitmotif (where an idea is represented by a repeated melodic phrase) is so effective (as it is in Raiders) that this was perhaps the only piece where I let the music fully evoke images from the film, rather than enjoying the score for its musicality alone (as I did with Pirates of the Caribbean). 

If Raiders belonged to the brass, then the Concert Suite from Babe and The Shagadelic Suite belonged to the percussionists. Why do percussionists always look cheeky, like they know something the rest of us don’t? Principal percussionist Tim White surely has the best job in the world. He gets to bang about on all manner of weird and wonderful looking instruments, not least of which was what I can only describe as an empty Milo tin he used at the beginning of The Shagadelic Suite. (Sorry Tim, I don’t know what it’s called.) He artistically rammed his hand in and out of the tin, which in turn graced us with - how shall I put it – highly amusing fart-like noises. It was a hoot, trust me. It was a treat to watch him striding around the back of the orchestra playing a multitude of different instruments with artistic ease, clearly enjoying every moment.

This was a thoroughly entertaining program. It’s always such a pleasure to let the talented and dedicated WASO artists bathe you in a blanket of harmonic rapture. Their musicality and professionalism does WA extremely proud, and they shone under the rigorousness of conductor, Brett Kelly – whose baton snapped in half midway through the evening - surely the mark of a true maestro?

WASO at the Movies

Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Dates/Time: 8pm, Friday 8 & Sunday 10 August
Tickets: $60.00 - $75.00
Bookings: WASO on 9326 0000 or www.waso.com.au

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