CSO to ignite emotions with a night of longing and desire

Ian Bushnell 6 May 2021
Pianist Andrea Lam

Pianist Andrea Lam will perform Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto for the first time. Photo: CSO.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra will be unashamedly plucking at the heartstrings of audiences next week in its second big concert of the year at Llewellyn Hall, titled Longing and Desire.

Chief Conductor Jessica Cottis said it will be music for our COVID times and just what audiences need as they are welcomed back into theatres and halls and are able to reconnect with loved ones.

“We’re going right to the heart of what music is at the moment,” she said.

“It will be a real testament to the power of music to tell human stories and also that wonderful adage of Francis Bacon that music bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart.”

Or pure emotion made into sound, as she puts it.

Cottis has programmed three powerful pieces – selections from Prokofiev’s pulsating ballet Romeo and Juliet, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 with guest pianist Andrea Lam returning to Canberra to perform it for the first time, and Australian composer Richard Meale’s lush Viridian.

Cottis said it will be a concert of human stories about how we relate to others, what love is and one that ultimately provides a sense of uplift, positivity and hope.

She says Prokofiev’s vibrant, exhilarating score includes all the polarities of Shakespeare’s tragedy – young and old, light and dark, love, birth and death.

“It’s impossible to get bored in that kind of music,” Cottis says.

She knows the Rachmaninov very well, having conducted it many times, most recently in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra just before the COVID restrictions.

Although it will be the first time Cottis has worked with Lam, she knows Canberra audiences fell in love with the pianist when she performed Rachmaninov’s first concerto in 2019 and it will be a happy reunion when she teams up with the CSO again, especially as it will be her first performance of the second concerto – a coup for the orchestra.

Lam herself is thrilled to be returning to Canberra for her debut performance of such a ‘stunningly beautiful’ work.


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She says it is particularly relevant in these times, as the composer overcame a deep depression to create it after his first symphony received a poor reception.

“It has that yearning and heartache,” Lam says.

“Throbbing underneath all these sumptuous melodies is this want for something and the struggle to get it.”

It is also a piece where the pianist and orchestra work very much hand-in-hand and organically together.

Formerly based in New York before the pandemic, Lam is now in Sydney where it feels like a profound homecoming.

CSO Chief Conductor Jessica Cottis

CSO Chief Conductor Jessica Cottis with the orchestra: she is promising an unashamedly emotional experience. Photo: CSO.

Cottis says she has always been intrigued by the title of the final Australian piece on the program and Meale is one of her favourite composers.

Viridian particularly appeals to her because of her synesthesia or in her case the ability to sense colours when listening to music.

“It’s orchestral and musical colours, and the way he combines instruments and musical lines is so incredibly evocative and overwhelming,” she said.

Described more as an artist’s palette than a single colour, the effect for Cottis is that she sees in her mind’s eye colours relating to particular chords.

Musicians take note that anything remotely out of tune will produce a fuzziness or lack of clarity in what she senses.

Cottis will return to London in a few weeks after spending a productive autumn investing in and developing the CSO’s vision on the ground.

She says being in the nation’s capital presents so many possibilities for the CSO.

“I think we have such a strong duty to actually to do what we do here,” Cottis said.

“It’s been great to have time to connect again with Canberra, its people, environment and everyone at the CSO.”

Cottis hinted at exciting developments in progress as the CSO continues to build relationships with other organisations in Canberra.

She expects to return next autumn for another extended stay, or earlier, depending on travel restrictions.

LLEWELLYN SERIES | Llewellyn Two: Longing and Desire
7:30 pm, Wednesday 12 / Thursday 13 April
Jessica Cottis Conductor
Andrea Lam Piano
Canberra Symphony Orchestra

Richard MEALE, Viridian
Sergei RACHMANINOFF, Piano Concerto No. 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV, Selections from Romeo and Juliet (ballet score)

To learn more and bookings go to the CSO website.


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