Stripped back orchestra shows off virtuosic ability of NZSO musicians

The popular New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Soloists Series returns with Carmen Suite, featuring a stripped back orchestra overflowing with rhythm and energy.

Opening this eclectic, intimate concert is the premiere of NZ composer and conductor Kenneth Young’s new commission Portrait.

Four percussion, timpani, harp, and a striking virtuosic violin performance from NZSO Concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen combine in this single movement work which anticipates the percussive indulgences heard in Carmen Suite.

Leppänen will simultaneously lead the group as he plays, skilfully providing cues for the ensemble throughout the programme.

Our world-class musicians will delight you with more prominent percussion and impressive lighting effects in the next work, Takemitsu’s Rain Tree, scored solely for marimba, vibraphone, and crotales.

Composed in 1981, Rain Tree is based on the title of the novel The Ingenious Rain Tree by Kenzaburo Oé who explained: “It is called the Rain Tree because it seems to make rain”. The work is dedicated to Oé.

Bruce McKinnon (NZSO Section Principal Emeritus Percussion) and Jeremy Fitzsimons (former Strike Founder and Artistic Director) on marimbas, plus NZSO Section Principal Percussion Leonard Sakofsky on vibraphone, create ringing notes that sound like individual, falling raindrops. NZSO Section Principal Timpani Laurence Reese will watch his colleagues closely as he skilfully directs the lighting effects to represent the rain’s droplets.

The piece is a celebration of the tree and of Oé’s Rain Tree,” says Reese. “The lights are situated beneath the players and create a striking effect through the percussion instruments themselves.  It’s like rays of light onto the tree.

He adds: “Each player is very exposed. Preparing for such intimate and subtle music requires a completely different mental approach from an orchestral work so that’s unique for us. It is a pivotal percussion chamber music composition.”

In stark contrast, the austere beauty and spiritual depth of Arvo Pärt’s revered Fratres will guide you into a world of sublime mystery. Composed following an eight-year period of little composition, when Pärt experienced something of a personal and creative crisis, Fratres draws on the study of older medieval and Renaissance music traditions which he delved into during this time.

Trying to find a way in which he could bring his emotional, spiritual and artistic lives together, Pärt would later recount that it was a conversation with a street cleaner that brought about his epiphany. The composer had asked, “What should a composer do?” And the cleaner replied, “Well, he should love every note”. The answer was revelatory. As Pärt explains, “No professor had ever told me something like that” and a new approach to composition, which he calls tintinnabulation, began to form.

The popular work, which was written in 1977, is one of the composer’s earliest works to explore tintinnabulation and was the first to explore the concept using dissonant intervals.

To complete this eclectic evening of music, Shchedrin’s witty and entertaining Carmen Suite for Strings and Percussion breathes new life into Bizet’s effervescent score and sparkles with all the original tunes from his glamorous opera. Carmen Suite will propel you into a tonal landscape brimming with suspense and surprise and leave you whistling Bizet’s well-known, dramatic melodies for days to come.

Indulge in this intimate, eclectic mix of music in Carmen Suite, part of our celebrated NZSO Soloists Series.

The brilliantly innovative Series made its debut in 2010 and attracted critical acclaim for the intimacy of its concerts and the exceptional musicianship of NZSO players. The concerts were declared “immediately world class” (Dominion Post), with performances “instigating exemplary standards that were never compromised” (NZ Herald).

The Series is presented in association with National Bank Private Banking and Ryman Healthcare Ltd.