Dunedin Symphony Orchestra: Guitar Extravaganza

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra programming choices this year are brilliant. Last Saturday I walked into a jam-packed auditorium full of people I’d never seen before. This is highly unusual. The classical music concert-going community is a relatively small and familiar crowd; I know who is most likely to fall asleep, I know the people who whoop at the end of pieces, I know who will require a cough lozenge at the quietest moment. Once, I took a different friend along to a concert than the person I normally go with, and someone quietly inquired whether my usual concert-going friend and I had had a “falling out” (apparently intermission is when the goss comes out…). So, when I looked to the people seated around me on Saturday and realized that I didn’t recognize any of them, I knew that the DSO strategic planning and marketing teams had done a terrific job at attracting new audiences. With a diverse programme of Beethoven, Speirs, Rodrigo, Faure, and Mozart, and featuring the New Zealand Guitar Quartet, Guitar Extravaganza welcomed a sell-out crowd and earned well deserved praise from the audience.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, a thrilling and lively work, ultimately ending in triumph, which became an unofficial anthem of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. The orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Young, was superbly led by Guest Concertmaster, Laura Barton, who demonstrated exquisite skill and leadership. The orchestra eloquently handled the intricacies of the Overture, executing a confident and dramatic performance.


Night Music by Jack Speirs was my personal highlight of the concert, a work with serialist influences, which is based around modified and developed thematic material taken from a section of Speirs’ earlier work, Fioriture.  The work evoked unique colours and textures, and featured numerous stunning solos from the wind section, and also, notably, from the Principal Cello. Kudos must also be given to the first violins who exquisitely sustained lengthy passages of extremely high pitched material, which beautifully complimented the unique colours of this New Zealand work.


The New Zealand Guitar Quartet (Jane Curry, Owen Moriarty, John Couch, and Vladimir Gorbach) has received acclaim for their astounding virtuosity as an ensemble, and as solo performers, around the world. The reputation of this incredible ensemble, and the novelty of four guitars accompanied by a symphony orchestra, likely were key drawcards leading to two sell-out performances this weekend. The Quartet did not disappoint, with their virtuosity and superb stage-presence resulting in bursts of applause after every movement. Impressive scalar runs, repeated broken chord sequences providing a firm support, and rich chordal flourishes contributed to a stunning performance of this unique work. Interaction through the imitation of guitar motives and fragments from the orchestra were effective, and the control of the ricochet passages by the violin sections are deserving of merit. The performance was a huge success, with the Quartet returning to the stage for an encore, performing a lively, rhythmic Tarentalla by Chilean group, Inti Illimani.


Fauré’s Pelléas et Melisande Suite is a beautiful and romantic work, which the orchestra performed with great skill and awareness. The woodwind and brass sections consistently showed superb control in phrasing and tenderness, although there were times where the pizzicato in the celli and double basses became a tad uneven.

The concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony no. 35 “Haffner”. This energetic work was performed with vigour and precision, and was an excellent end to a truly wonderful and diverse concert.

The next Dunedin Symphony Orchestra concert is set to bring a whole new audience again. Songs of Moana will be featuring the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra alongside Grammy Award Winning Group Te Vaka. I’m looking forward to a concert where it is acceptable to dance. Find more information here: https://dso.org.nz/concerts-tickets/songs-of-moana/


Ihlara McIndoe is a third year student studying towards a Bachelor of Music majoring in Performance Piano and Composition, as well as a Bachelor of Laws. She is Editor-in-Chief of The Wave, and Student Ambassador for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music New Zealand. Ihlara writes for Critic Magazine, and has featured as a Guest Writer for The Spinoff.