New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
“Bold Worlds – Fire & Ice ”
Conductor – Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Soloist – Kari Kriikku (Clarinet)
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington Friday 30 October 2015
This was an intriguing, inspired concert: exciting and full of quirky energy, marvellous tonal colour: a modern and involving concert.
When the virtuoso Finnish clarinet soloist Kari Kriikku last toured here for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2009 he made a huge and lasting impression on musicians and audiences alike with vitality and theatricality taking classical music performance to a new and vital level. He is an astonishing player, wresting all manner of sounds, shrieks and tonal variety out of his instrument, all of it engaging, whilst demonstrating the highest level of musical skills, all achieved in a relaxed natural way. He is scarcely ever still moving, pacing, circling and inserting dance steps to make not just a musical feast but also drama-filled theatrical impression as well.
Clearly from audience reaction he is an inspiration to young clarinet and wind players and to all musicians on and off the stage. He is something of a showman, which delighted the audience with humour and fun and his energy brings excitement and exhilaration to a performance. And because of his technical skill as a superb player, he coaxes all sorts of sounds from delicate and subtle to driving, shrill and piercing in a musical and creative statement. An amazing player, flamboyant and dramatic with great technique, facility and inventiveness which means that he can and does commission contemporary pieces to demonstrate the range and extent of tonal variety a clarinet can achieve and he utilises every skill in the book to achieve what is required from many Scandinavian composers especially, but many others as well
Communicating with inimitable musical style, he excites and captivates audiences.
While truly a classical soloist the added twists with quirky cheeky humour and asides make his performances very accessible even if the music is unfamiliar.
The Kimmo Hakola Clarinet Concerto that he played was varied in musical genres with classical, folk and patriotic elements, ethnic patches, Jewish, Russian, Klezmer, Jazzy, Blues interludes and French style all there, in fact a polyglot of sounds, so most clarinet styles and possibilities are fully explored at times in an almost improvisatory manner to exhibit many ideas and styles, all of which made for entertaining listening.
He teased, moved, danced even walked of stage then on again duetted with the orchestra and players encouraging them, had the orchestra feigning boredom and harassment interjecting and arguing and gesticulating amongst themselves, after he walked off, all part of the theatre that he brings, which the audience (and orchestra loved).
As a work, at times in the first movement, I thought the orchestration rather heavy and thick for the solo clarinet and though Kriikku is a fantastic player, not all of the composer’s music was especially profound, but it was interesting and engaging, the execution immaculate from soloist, orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya alike.
A charmed and enthralled audience gave well-deserved standing ovations, so if you can still go this is a concert opportunity not to be missed.
The opening piece composed by Jimmy Lopez Péru Negro commissioned by fellow Peruvian conductor Harth-Bedoya was clever, full of exotic Afro-Peruvian sounds, brass and percussion adding rhythmic drive and tonal colour. Shimmering richness from the strings added to the tonal palette. Evocative and interesting, it was a great opener to the concert.
But the real musical meat and weight came from polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s 20th Century masterpiece Concerto for Orchestra. Not often heard in concert it is a striking piece with folk-inflected influences and intensity it makes a powerful musical (and political) statement reflecting on the collision between politics and violence during the First and Second World Wars. His brother died in a Siberian labour camp, so that personal situation colours the astonishing soundscape that he has created. It was a brilliant, strong committed performance, one of the best of the year, and a privilege to hear under Harth-Bedoya’s masterful direction.
Most recently Harth-Bedoya had made a huge impression last year when he conducted the fantastic presentation of Golijov’s opera Ainadamar at the New Zealand Festival and it was great to be reacquainted with his excellence with orchestra dynamics and balances for this year’s NZSO Concert.
A great night and concert not to be missed for those who still have an opportunity to hear these works and a wonderful soloist in Kriikku.