It was one more exceedingly cold Sunday afternoon, March 23rd, but those who braved the icy winds and made their way to the Symphony Center Presents performance of the Australian Chamber Orchestra were well rewarded. It was a magnificent concert.
This orchestra, which is “renowned for its inspired programming and unrivalled virtuosity, energy and individuality. Its unique programming extends across six centuries, spanning popular masterworks, adventurous cross-artform projects and pieces specially commissioned for the ensemble” did not disappoint.
The program that included the Shostakovich Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11, Prokofiev Suite from Visions fugitives, Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (which brought the audience to their feet),Prokofiev Five Melodies for Violin and Strings (arr. Swenson) and Britten Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, was an excellent example of this orchestra’s “inspired programming”.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra which was founded in 1975 is comprised of Australian and international musicians and a growing company of dedicated young players. The Orchestra performs symphonic, chamber and electro-acoustic repertoire collaborating with an extraordinary range of artists from numerous artistic disciplines including renowned soloists Emmanuel Pahud, Steven Isserlis, Dawn Upshaw, and Joseph Tawadros; singers Katie Noonan, Paul Capsis, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes; and such diverse artists as cinematographer Jon Frank, visual artist Shaun Tan, entertainer Barry Humphries, photographer Bill Henson, choreographer Rafael Bonachela and cartoonist Michael Leunig.
Sunday’s program was remarkable for the selections that were played, the enthusiasm of the group and the level of energy and skill exhibited. I was particularly fascinated watching the large numbers of violins and violas whose players almost danced as they performed. While the cello players were seated and the bass players were stationary, the others stood and moved vigorously as a group creating a scene that was a joy to watch and listen to.
Australian violinist Richard Tognetti has been at the helm of the ACO since 1989 and has expanded the Orchestra’s national program, spearheading vast and regular international tours, injecting unprecedented creativity and unique artistic style into the programming, as described above. Listening to the tones he produced on the legendary 1743 Carrodus Guarneri del Gesù violin, on loan from a private benefactor, thrilled the audience.
Each of the pieces was captivating, skillfully executed and a joy to experience. However, the Shostakovich, Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C Minor, Op.35 was spellbinding. One audience member commented, “We are not likely to hear that again”. The skills of pianist, Olli Mustonen and CSO principal trumpet, Christopher Martin, blending with the extensive number of string players was at once thrilling and beautiful.
Olli Mustonen who comes from Helsinki is popular worldwide in many roles and has played with many orchestras. For example, as soloist, Mustonen has worked with most of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and The Royal Concertgebouw, partnering conductors such as Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Blomstedt, Boulez, Chung, Dutoit, Eschenbach, Harnoncourt, Masur, Nagano, Salonen and Saraste. A folk song from his native country, Traditional, arr. Kuusisto Antin Mikko, was selected as the encore for the very enthusiastic audience.
Christopher Martin was appointed principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2005 by Daniel Barenboim and is currently a Yamaha Performing Artist. Watch for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and if they return, go to see them and you will be in for a treat.
220 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60604
Photos: Todd Rosenberg