Carmina Burana by Carl Orff must surely be one of the gems of 20th century composition. Its familiar opening, bawdy ballads, rhythmic excitement, orchestral and choral spectacle make it a treasured favourite for choirs, orchestras, conductors and listeners alike.
This performance, as part of the ASO's Festival of Orchestra, attracted an enormous and enthusiastic crowd to the Adelaide Showgrounds for a fabulous experience of great music on a large scale, introduced and MC'd by Guy Noble. Being in the open added some poignant (if chilly) relevance to the program, particularly the opening three works which offered a range of new experiences for both audience and players.
Peter Sculthorpe's Earth Cry proved a suitable curtain raiser for the next two pieces, which were part of Floods of Fire: a multi-year community project involving a great range of community groups, building music from the bottom up. This ongoing and ambitious project is the brain child of Airan Berg, a European participatory theatre director, in which community groups collaborate with an independent composer to conceive and describe a musical idea, which gets translated into a music score for orchestral and/or choral performers. ASO Managing Director Vincent Ciccarello and his team deserve enormous congratulations on the conceiving and undertaking of the entire Festival of Orchestra, of which this program is just one part, and which showcases the ASO in collaboration with numerous other groups for two weeks to celebrate the orchestra's 85th birthday, and bring relief, joy and exhilaration to audiences.
Exhilaration was very present in the rhythmic opening of the next work: Bulu Yabru Banam, by Grayson Rotumah and Luke Harrald, and featuring yidyaki (didjeridu) with Robert Taylor, and a variety of percussion which kept the large percussion section busy under the leadership of Steve Peterka on the Boomerangs. It also included fascinating innovations, such as requiring the orchestral players to chant, as well as water percussion making actual water sounds. Close-ups on the huge screens on both sides of the stage meant that we could see how these sounds were made, giving an intimate experience in this massive setting.
The 2016 Floods were recalled in the next piece, conceived with Julian Ferraretto and the Carlton School Music Group, and the orchestra was joined by the Adelaide Connection Choir in this piece of close harmonies and strong emotions, nicely portrayed.
After the Interval came Carmina Burana, in an excellent performance by the significant forces of the full orchestra and the massed choirs of the Elder Conservatorium Chorale, the Graduate Singers and Young Adelaide Voices, and three excellent soloists: Soprano Jessica Dean, Tenor Andrew Goodwin and Baritone Samuel Dundas, all conducted by Luke Dolman. This large ensemble of some 200 performers did themselves proud with a gloriously rich sound and complexity, managing well to convey the seductiveness and sensuousness of so much of this great work, to the delight of the huge audience.
There is more of the Festival of Orchestra yet to come, and Adelaide is making the most of this great opportunity to celebrate its wonderful orchestra. My only advice, apart from making sure you get there, is to keep an eye on the forecast, and be ready to rug up if necessary!
Festival of Orchestra
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and massed choirs
Venue: Adelaide Showgrounds
Dates: 27 November 2021