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HOWARD SMITH was at the last
Vector Wellington Orchestra programme
engineered by Christine Pearce


A well attended concert brought the last programme engineered by Christine Pearce, for eight years the orchestra's indefatigable general manager and notably instrumental in bringing fine symphonic music to audiences in the lower half of New Zealand's North Island. As a reminder the 9/11 programme at Masterton Town Hall [Friday 11 September 2009] seemed to echo some of the orchestra's past triumphs. Christine will be a hard act to follow.

Christine Pearce and Marc Taddei
Christine Pearce and Marc Taddei

In 2005 the then NGC Wellington Sinfonia's principal sponsor switched to multi-network infrastructure company 'Vector'; its name morphed to Vector Wellington Orchestra and in 2006 James Sedares' stellar tenure as principal guest conductor was superseded by the popularising skills of resident music director Marc Taddei with his willingness for 'dumbing down' programmes to boost audience numbers.

Mozart's Exultate Jubilate and Vivaldi's Four Seasons were 'seasoned' (sic) with on-stage dancers, while hip-hop performer Che Fu joined the VWO as part of an AMI New Zealand Pop Stars Series. 'I believe that collaboration with other art forms brings huge resonance to what we do' burbled Taddei -- whatever that means.

At last, for Friday's opening dance item, the involvement of one male and two lissome female dancers ('Footnote Dance' dancing simple choreography) was clearly justified.

In 2007 the NZSO played two of Ástor Piazzolla's 'nuevo tango' masterpieces, La Mufa and Todo Buenos Aires for NZ audiences. Both items were made famous in 2000 by New York City Ballet. Now VWO have belatedly joined the tango revival with the Latin-American evergreen, Tangazo; Variations on Buenos Aires (1969).

Tangazo conveys some of composer Piazzolla's dark vision of the tango. It begins in sombre, almost elegaic mode and proceeds via catchy, nostalgic, capricious and near-militaristic segments. While the performance unfolded, the guest dancers created expressive arcs on a free narrow strip downstage.

Michael Houstoun, one of New Zealand's top 'virtuoso' pianists, was soloist in Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, the most strikingly beautiful of all five works. He performed (on the borrowed Michael Fowler Centre 'Steinway') with breathtaking, cut glass clarity and decisive orchestral support. On the debit side however, Houstoun's pianism was 'hard-edged' and noticeably short on warmth -- so vital in this of all concertos.

Michael Houstoun. Photo © Sal Criscillo
Michael Houstoun. Photo © Sal Criscillo

To conclude, Haydn's final symphony, No 104 in D (1795), written and first performed in London, crackled throughout with brisk, precisely executed musicianship. The symphony, a summation of Haydn's epoch-making art, concluded with a stirring, jet-assisted 'Spiritoso'. Powerful stuff to be sure. You're unlikely to hear much better on a weekday night in many of the world's musical capitals.

Note that from next month (October 2009), Diana Marsh will be the VWO general manager. Diana spent more than six years as manager of the New Zealand String Quartet and is actively involved on the Board of the Nelson Music Festival Trust.

Copyright © 14 September 2009 Howard Smith,
Masterton, New Zealand








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