A reference to Jimi Hendrix was a surprise but the master of the electric guitar did play a scintillating version of Wild Thing, which is probably an apt description of the new Australian music that queen of the oboe Diana Doherty and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra will bring to Llewellyn Hall next week.
Doherty will combine with the CSO under conductor Jessica Cottis, fresh from her debuts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra, to take the oboe into new territory with Nigel Westlake’s concerto Spirit of the Wild, inspired by a tramp around the south-west wilderness of Tasmania.
For Doherty, the CSO’s 2019 Artist in Focus, working with Westlake was a leap into the unknown and unlike any other collaboration she had known.
Written specifically for her, Spirit of the Wild was first performed in 2017 and the creative process was initially uncomfortable but eventually liberating.
Calling the work their baby, Doherty recalls going to Westlake’s studio in 2016 where she was invited to improvise or simply make things up that he would record and then pluck inspiration from.
It was a method he had used with Israeli singer Lior when they co-wrote the song cycle, Compassion, together.
“Oh God, I’d never done that, I don’t improvise ever,” she said.
“He’d play a few chords on the synthesiser and I’d fit in with harmony and try whatever worked. It was really quite liberating and interesting for me, but I was out of my comfort zone by a long shot.
“And then he recorded all of that and took bits that he found unique or natural to the oboe and expanded on those ideas that we’d come up with together.”
She felt truly included from the beginning and while very consultative, it was also challenging, going through it multiple times note by note.
The result is a very textual, very rhythmical soundworld that is ‘actually quite modern but the audience doesn’t notice that because he writes so incredibly beautifully and melodically’.
And the oboe, with a spare orchestral setting to maintain the instrument’s primacy, is pushed to the limit to produce new sounds. Enter Jimi.
“There’s one place in particular that’s a little bit Jimi Hendrix,” Doherty said. “It’s the classical oboe equivalent of smashing your guitar, I don’t smash anything but it sounds like it.”
She admits the piece is untamed, like the Tasmanian wilderness, and still testing her.
“I’ve performed it a number of times and recorded it but there are just so many notes. It’s a real challenge, and I love that, love the knife-edge element to it,” she said.
“It’s the sign of great work that I am still working on it and I’m still finding things and still finding more depth in it than what you might at first perceived. It’s a stunning work that I absolutely love playing.”
Doherty said she was flattered and honoured to be the CSO’s 2019 Artist in Focus, something she had never done with an orchestra before.
With family in Canberra, it seemed a no-brainer to play in the national capital but she had always been too busy.
Doherty praised the Artist in Focus program for the way it showcased a musician in various formats, from concertos to recitals to contemporary music to directing without a conductor.
“To have all of that with the same audience and the opportunity to really get to know that audience, and for them to get to know you in so many different frames, that’s why it’s such a great concept,” she said.
Next week’s concerts will continue the theme of wildness with Cottis’s take on Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, infused with the stormy darkness of the Scottish landscape and the lively folk music of its people.
They share a program with Beethoven’s overture to his only ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, and Ross Edwards’ mysterious and rapturous Ecstatic Dances.
ActewAGL Llewellyn One
Wednesday 3 & Thursday 4 April, 2019
Llewellyn Hall, ANU, 7:30 pm
Free pre-concert talk, 6:45 pm
Jessica Cottis Conductor
Diana Doherty Oboe
2019 Artist in Focus
BEETHOVEN The Creatures of Prometheus op.43 Overture
NIGEL WESTLAKE Spirit of the Wild (Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra)
ROSS EDWARDS Ecstatic Dance
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 3 in A minor, op. 56 Scottish
Ticket Prices – $29 to $95
For more information, visit cso.org.au