WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra in Dreams of Place with Barry McGuire and Della Rae Morrison

David CusworthThe West Australian
Barry McGuire sings with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconBarry McGuire sings with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.

Perth Festival director Iain Grandage finally drew a line under the 2021 event with the long-delayed Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall on Friday.

His transcription and orchestration of three Indigenous songs from Barry McGuire, delivered in a seamless segue with McGuire’s welcome to country, brought the house to its feet in a year when celebration has too often gone on hold.

McGuire’s quiet charm and eloquence were a study in focus and faith with tradition, complementing the combined might of WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra.

The two orchestras emphasised the workings of tradition, with established leaders mentoring emerging professionals across the ensemble.

A rumbling in timpani and bass accompanied the welcome before Grandage summoned a symphonic wave, dynamic swirls in brass and woodwind spreading to all sections.

McGuire’s haunting opener The Boy and the Whale, set in Gage Roads and seeking heaven — “there are no fences, there are no different countries, we’re all the same” — settled the mood.

His second, Two Brothers — a story of men from the sky finding places of importance around Elizabeth Quay “to pay respects to Mother Earth” — drew vigour across the group, with Grandage modelling enthusiastically from the podium.

McGuire added to the drama with clapstick boomerangs; brass and percussion injecting a flamenco feel before subsiding back to narration.

Thaddeus Huang conducts WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconThaddeus Huang conducts WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.

Finally, The Spider Song dealt with Kings Park and a spider’s dreaming, seeking safe energy; clapstick solo over sustained strings summoning another haunting incantation, giving way to dance.

The climax and ovation was a celebration for all in the room, not least Grandage and McGuire who embraced like long-lost family; a picture of reconciliation.

When the star dust settled, WASO assistant conductor Thaddeus Huang took the baton for Finlandia — Sibelius’ perennial favourite.

A touch of rust in the open chords was the only false note, quickly recovered by plangent brass ushering in woodwind and syrupy strings, waxing mellow and slightly dark.

Finlandia is so familiar it runs the risk of sounding safe, though its origins are Russian oppression and Finnish defiance. But drama was assured, not least through young timpanist Joey Eng who drove momentum through to the last crescendo and snap ending.

Finlandia and the next piece, Copland’s The Tender Land suite, have lyrical origins — Sibelius as a tone poem, Copland as opera — inspiring rich, tuneful playing.

Tender Land opened with pealing brass capturing the space and light woven into Copland’s work.

David Evans, Martin Baker, Sophie Carter and Jenna Smith with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconDavid Evans, Martin Baker, Sophie Carter and Jenna Smith with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.

Another standout timpanist, Tayla Rattray, underpinned meditation in strings. A mournful echo in cor anglais earned young musician Laura Biemmi a worthy ovation. Likewise WASO trumpeter Jenna Smith was honoured for her duet with violins in the Love Theme.

Urgent dischords opened the second movement, Party Scene, folkloric yet very 20th century, evoking images of youth — lived reality for half the room, and nostalgia for the rest.

If the past is indeed a different country, the echoes of different countries in the repertoire seemed to link all in a shared sense of time, anchored in the land which unites all people.

Copland’s evocation of harvest in his Finale: The Promise of Living, captured that theme, swelling strings summoning a powerful brass chorale, the ensemble rising then fading as the cadence tolled out.

Tayla Rattray plays timpani with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconTayla Rattray plays timpani with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.

After the break, Stravinsky’s Firebird revisited legend, mystery in bass and brass passing to horns and woodwind, an elaborate interplay with close control in strings punctuated by fine solos.

Angular phrasing in the Infernal Dance channelled the discordant attack that sparked riots when the composer’s Rite of Spring launched in Paris early last century.

It is a regular audition piece for trumpet with its demanding intervals and fierce phrasing; feats that won Smith and her WAYO partners Sophie Carter and Martin Baker a section-wide ovation.

Berceuse and Finale followed with a superbly judged segue by principal horn David Evans, another brass bell peal echoing Copland’s; intoning the cadence with focus and power.

Plaudits honoured Evans, brass, percussion, oboists Liz Chee and Biemmi, flautists Andrew Nicholson and Dominique Rees, bassoonist Jane Kirchner-Lindner, and clarinettist Allan Meyer.

Rounding off the night, Della Rae Morrison led her son Kobi Arthur Morrison, Charley Caruso, Jemma King, Kylie Walpole and McGuire in the anthemic Boodja Koorndarminy — Dreaming of Country — a contemporary number to bookend the earlier ancient songs.

Della Rae Morrison leads Dreaming of Country with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconDella Rae Morrison leads Dreaming of Country with WA Symphony Orchestra and WA Youth Orchestra for Dreams of Place at Perth Concert Hall.

There were echoes of Stravinsky in the orchestra but the lyric and voices were anchored in the here and now, a song of belonging couched in rich symphonic harmony and melodic highlights.

“Dreamin dreamin, our new dreamin dreamin.”

Dreams of Place is repeated on Sunday, July 25, 5pm, at Perth Concert Hall.

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