NZHerald Review 15 August 2023

"...Auckland's most Courageous Orchestra" Celebrating 30th Anniversary in the Media

Manukau Symphony Orchestra Applause

William Dart review: Manukau Symphony Orchestra marks milestone in style

15 Aug, 2023 05:00 AM

Manukau Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 30th anniversary by premiering a major commission from a senior New Zealand composer and hosting the country’s most charismatic pianist as concerto soloist.

The stylish poster headed up “Hamilton & Houstoun” said it all, and conductor Uwe Grodd had every right to be proud as his full band of 79 musicians took Shostakovich’s Festive Overture for a jubilant workout.

Michael Houstoun was soloist in Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto. Photo / Randy Weaver.

Michael Houstoun was soloist in Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto. Known for his deep and resonant responses to this composer, Houstoun caught every subtle shading of the first movement, enjoying spirited and humorous interactions with musicians around him.

Manukau Symphony Orchestra Applause

Conductor Uwe Grodd had every right to be proud, writes William Dart. Photo / Randy Weaver

An expansive Largo found Houstoun the poet inspiring some finely drawn textures from orchestral colleagues and all contributed to the infectious momentum of Beethoven’s finale, undimmed by occasional frailties in string ensemble.

David Hamilton’s Manukau Songs: A Choral Symphony may have been commissioned to celebrate the orchestra’s three-decade achievement, but it also paid homage to the region itself, through sensitive settings of Yvonne Amery’s poetry.

From the first movement, bringing in the clear and confident voices of the Puhinui School Choir, one was struck by Hamilton’s skilful blending of his signature minimalist style with broad and intensely approachable lyricism.

‘Manukau Songs: A Choral Symphony’ is New Zealand composer David Hamilton’s first symphony. Photo / Randy Weaver

This climaxed in the final movement in which Auckland Choral, in impressive form through the evening, contributed powerfully to the final dramatic evocation of the sun.

The orchestra, too, had its “time in the sun” in the hurtling The Winds and the Waves, a scherzo of dashing volatility.

The heart of Manukau Songs lies in a central movement that combined settings of Amery’s melancholic “Tristesse” with a 19th-century lament, in te reo, for chief Epiha Putini. These were eloquently handled by Stephen Coco Diaz, a countertenor with remarkable presence and projection, and bass James Ioelu who conveyed the poetry and poignancy of his farewell.

These two singers, in full flight, set against Hamilton’s shimmering orchestral korowai, formed the ultimate salute to Auckland’s most courageous orchestra.

Soloist Stephen Coco Diaz sings as a countertenor with remarkable presence and projection, writes William Dart. Photo / Randy Weaver

What: Manukau Symphony Orchestra
Where: Due Drop Events Centre
When: Sunday
Reviewer: William Dart