Orchestra Collective blends youth and experience on debut at Government House Ballroom, Perth | Ralph Lauren

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A heady blend of youth and experience brought vim and vigour to familiar classics when The Orchestra Collective played on debut at Government House Ballroom.

With principals from WA Symphony Orchestra backed by music students from UWA and WAAPA, conductor John Keene evoked a brisk and bright delivery from the start, the portentous opening chords of Mozart’s Don Giovanni overture finding a delicate balance in the intimate setting.

All but the lower strings were standing, the players swaying to the music as if in a dance; the classic style of the venue adding to the composer’s timeless appeal.

Resetting the stage for Mozart’s first flute concerto was refreshingly fluid, with little equipment to move, and the opening strains of the Allegro Maestoso first movement swelled the sense of assurance soloist Andrew Nicholson brought to the room.

Like all experts, the WASO principal always seems to have all the time in the world, as if duetting casually with leader and WASO colleague Semra Lee-Smith.

Andrew Nicholson
Camera IconAndrew Nicholson

Around this the orchestra wove an immersive soundscape that embraced without smothering Nicholson’s brilliance, runs and intervals executed fluently, the cadenza a standout moment; full-voiced and sincere.

Mellow in the introduction to the Adagio, the ensemble settled under the flute, first violins again swapping phrases with the lead, then accompanying through to a nicely nuanced cadence.

A bright onset to the Rondo: Tempo di menuetto brought crisp interplay between solo and tutti, the back row of horns and woodwind punctuating precisely; Nicholson at his most sonorous in the richly textured finale.

In a time of COVID and the short-format Fringe, that might have been enough to tick The Orchestra Collective’s box: to create a bridging experience for students to work alongside professionals.

But Keene, also WASO deputy principal double bass, had other ideas for Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

John Keene.
Camera IconJohn Keene. Credit: Nik Babic

Stentorian opening chords challenged the Ballroom’s acoustic, modulating as the drama of the music took hold, woodwind and strings a pleasing combination with brass highlights.

Nicholson, now in the ensemble, became a third centre of gravity after conductor and leader, with strong melodic leads and presence.

Above all it was fun, on- and off-stage, as Keene deftly handled changes in dynamics and tempi, especially the awakening and quickening into the cadence.

An attacca lead into the second, Allegretto movement brought a burst of energy.

Syrupy strings found the beat, morphing to mystery, underpinned by solid timpani so crucial to this era and genre; woodwind picking up momentum in the major change.

Keene signalled intent here, with mood swings from dark and dense to lyrical and light, winding up blissfully.

The Presto third stanza exploded into life, the orchestra wringing every ounce of exuberance, Keene exploiting every folkloric flourish.

Finally, the Allegro con brio doubled down on intensity, celebrating what Wagner called “the apotheosis of dance” in a fair dinkum ballroom.

Expect to find this debutante ensemble’s card marked for the next hoedown.



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