Review: Music in March on 11th March 2023

This review of the March Concert was published in the Townsville Bulletin on March 13th, 2023. Thank you to Trevor Keeling for this review. 

Sun shines in magic evening 

If anything, last Saturday’s Barrier Reef Orchestra performance proved its value with the magnificent, featured presentation of 17-year-old pianist Jeremy Sun, winner of last year’s Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition. His performance of Beethoven’s demanding “Emperor Concerto” (otherwise known as Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat-major) saw him transport orchestra and audience into a different realm.  Known for its majestic grandeur, bold melodies and almost heroic spirit, this concerto holds its own even now – some 204 years after it was written – the year that Napoleon laid siege to Vienna. It goes without saying that this performance was the highlight of the evening, with Sun fully embracing the virtuosic style and wide dynamic range that this piece demands. In short, he delivered the three-movement concerto with a flair and dynamism which belied his years, encoring with the colourful and robust piano solo, Claude  Debussy’s Dance (also known as “Tarantelle Strienne”). The audience responded rapturously to Sun’s astounding performance, made all the more interesting because he did not “direct” the music, but acted as the perfect conduit for one of the most beloved of piano concertos, fully reinforcing the important role of the Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition in advancing the cause of classical music.

This was the first  concert of the year for the orchestra, under the umbrella title of “Music in March”, and it was again under  the baton of visiting conductor Warwick Potter. Under his direction, the orchestra was put through its paces in a program which also embraced works by Mozart, Schubert, Grieg, Walton and even Neil  Diamond. 

During the evening, Potter kept the audience entertained with anecdotes about each of the works and preceded the performance of the piano concerto with an interesting potted history of the evolution of concertos, demonstrating how revolutionary Beethoven had been. Mozart’s Overture from “The Magic  Flute” began the evening with the second half including Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished  Symphony” (a work that only came to light some 40 years after the composer’s death); and Grieg’s film-score like “Sigurd Jorsalfar: Three Orchestral Pieces”.

The final piece for the classical program saw the orchestra letting rip with the stirring “Crown Imperial March” by Sir William Walton, commissioned for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. Also featured at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, this opulent and grand piece is in the best English tradition  of pomp and circumstance.

Conductor Warwick Potter seems to have hit on a way of segueing popular  music into a classical concert. Last October’s concert saw him give a full-blown treatment of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”, and this time it was the full singalong treatment of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, ending the concert on a fun note.