Real good, for free

July 10, 2021

Auckland Chamber Orchestra presents its usual array of interesting music. And it’ll cost you nothing to attend, writes RICHARD BETTS.

If ever there was an opportunity to take a no-risk punt on some wonderful but unfamiliar classical music, this is it.

The next concert from Auckland Chamber Orchestra (ACO) boasts the ensemble’s usual impeccable programming which, as ever, showcases a bunch of rarely heard repertoire. That’ll be off-putting for some but it needn’t be. Not only is there a selection of fabulous music, but entry to ACO concerts is by koha. (Note, although there is no set cost, you still need a ticket, which you can request here.)

Many prospective audience members will see the name Schoenberg on the bill and immediately switch off. That’s a mistake for several reasons. First: while the Chamber Symphony is an important work in Schoenberg’s career, pointing towards the atonality of sublime oddities like Pierrot Lunaire or Variations For Orchestra, it’s fair bursting with tunes. Second: if you take the time to listen, even Schoenberg’s atonal music has incredibly beautiful moments. Third: harden up. This music is more than a century old – it’s not him, it’s you.

ACO music director Peter Scholes says he’s draped the concert around the Chamber Symphony’s combination of instruments – 10 winds and a string quintet. Francaix’s Dixtuor sounds nothing like the Schoenberg but it does employ five strings, pitted this time against the same number of winds; while New Zealander Sarah Ballard’s excellent early work felsic mafic is another strings ’n’ winds combo. Those who know Ballard by her more recent music, which is influenced by an interest in bhakti-yoga, might be surprised by felsic mafic, which is simultaneously more and less conventional than the composer’s newer stuff.

The ACO has always been staunch in its support of local music, and joining Ballard on the programme is the late Ken Wilson. Wilson’s something of a forgotten figure now, but he played an important role in Aotearoa’s musical life from the 1940s into the ’90s as a composer, performing musician (he was a founding member of the New Zealand National Orchestra, which became the NZSO), and teacher. Peter Scholes learnt clarinet with Wilson at Auckland University.

“He was an inspiring teacher,” Scholes recalls. “Very demanding, but we also had lots of fun playing clarinet quartets.”

Scholes has recorded Wilson’s Duet for Clarinet and Bassoon for Atoll records, and in this concert reunites with his co-conspirator from that disc, Ben Hoadley.

The final work from the programme is Varese’s mysterious Density 21.5 for solo flute (the title refers to the density of platinum – the work was written for flautist Georges Barrer, who played a platinum flute). It’s a haunting piece, a staple of the flute repertoire, and was the first to employ the extended technique of key clicks, where the player slaps a key down to make a percussive sound.

This concert is high on the list of ‘best of July’ gigs and ACO concerts often completely fill the Raye Freedman Arts Centre, so don’t leave it too long to request your ticket.


WHO: Auckland Chamber Orchestra

WHERE: Raye Freedman Arts Centre, corner of Gillies Ave and Silver Rd, Epsom

WHEN: Sunday 18 July, 5pm.


Richard Betts is an award-winning writer and editor. His musings on pop culture, the arts and technology have appeared in numerous publications including the New Zealand Herald, Tone, PC World and Top Gear magazine. Three of those no longer exist but he insists it’s not his fault.

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