Local Culture: Winter Brahms Concert

Brahms Whanganui posterUntil I started The Culture Project, I honestly had no idea that my town was such a cultural hub. It turns out that in addition to having an opera festival, and the annual Artists Open Studios, and Shakespeare in Schools, and an excellent community choir (Schola Sacra), we also have a small local orchestra, which aims to hold three concerts a year. Their most recent concert, held late last month, featured pianist Matthew Yu, a former Whanganui resident who is now building a career as a nationally-recognised musician.

The concert featured three pieces: Mozart’s overture from La Clemenza di Tito, which (overtures being intended as opening pieces) made a great opening, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, which was instantly recognisable even for a classical music novice like myself and which is apparently a favourite of the orchestra, and the showpiece, three of the four movements of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2.

This was a fascinating piece, although at times rather challenging to my modern ears. It’s officially in B-flat major, but it shifts through a lot of minors and flats, and while the piano always sounds good at times some of the other instruments sound like they just weren’t made to be played that way. The third movement (andante) contains a surprisingly long cello solo for a piano concerto, and when the cello comes back in later on it does so in a different key from the rest of the orchestra, prompting my friend and I to speculate that the cellist had made a mistake (I only found out later, by reading up, that it was written that way, which just to show that sometimes a little research makes a big difference). What I really loved about it, though, was the way the music moved between the piano and the orchestra. Apparently some people refer to this concerto as being a symphony with piano, and it’s easy to see why.

A concert is a great way to focus entirely on the music, which is often not the way we listen in the modern world. It was also great to be able to watch the conductor and musicians in action. A really good evening out – I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Whanganui Orchestra’s concerts in the future.

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