20 November 2023

Let the CSO take you for a walk in the forest and smell the flowers

| Ian Bushnell
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CSO chief conductor and artistic director Jessica Cottis: moving music inspired by nature. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas.

Concert-goers can immerse themselves in the sounds of nature at the final Llewellyn Hall concert of the year from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra next Wednesday and Thursday.

Chief conductor and artistic director Jessica Cottis promises a physical experience as the CSO takes a walk in the forest with Sibelius and Dvorak and explores, appropriately enough, the sounds of spring with Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and guest soprano Eleanor Lyons.

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Cottis, just off the plane from London, told Region the Living Green program was one that people would feel deeply.

“We have such a connection with the landscape around us it affects us physically, whether that’s looking at beautiful landscapes or walking through them or protecting them, or dreaming of them after long winters in the Northern Hemisphere,” she said.

There are two works from Sibelius: his 7th Symphony and Karelia Suite, the former written in one movement instead of the usual three.

Cottis said it was really a hymn to nature that starts slowly with timpani and strings and builds, “almost like the granite rock around the forest is just creaking, and from there more and more warmth occurs”.

In Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm, there were folk melodies at a pace that one might whistle as you walk through the forest, Cottis said.

“It’s very much a life-giving work, very uplifting,” she said.

As always, there is a commissioned Australian work to premiere on the Llewellyn Hall stage. This time it’s from Louisa Trewartha, a composer and trumpeter, who Cottis met a few years ago when they were working with the Sydney Symphony.

Cottis said she had cleverly imbibed both the work of Sibelius and Dvorak to write a piece for two horns and trombones, Weave Magic Secrets.

“It will be very spatially interesting – a surround-sound effect in the hall,” she said.

woman with hand resting against face

Australian soprano Eleanor Lyons will perform Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. Photo: Machreich Artists Management/Live Photography.

When Cottis first came across Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, she was deeply affected.

“They were the most transcendental, beautiful pieces of music I had ever heard,” she said.

Eleanor Lyons would give voice to a poetic and evocative text such as: “I dreamt of your trees and your blue skies, spring fragrances and birdsong.”

This final Llewellyn Hall concert of the year will mark three years for the CSO under the baton of Cottis, who praised the standard of its playing, saying it was building on the work of the past.

“This is an orchestra really now continuing to bring fantastic music to the Llewellyn Hall space,” she said.

Cottis said the CSO had excelled as the leader in Australian music in a thoughtful and mindful way while keeping classical music living in the national capital.

The highlight for her had been the development of the Kingsland program for emerging artists and the younger musicians who were learning to play in an orchestra and being mentored wonderfully by the CSO players.

With the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been an easy three years but Cottis said that adversity had forced the CSO to think about what it was doing, what mattered and how it could share music better.

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From that was born the chamber concert series, which has proved a hit with Canberra audiences.

“The chamber music series was a way of bringing people together in smaller venues with a smaller ensemble,” Cottis said. “That’s now a regular series within our concert year.

“It’s wonderful for us to play that repertoire and develop that intimacy of musicianship and playing.

“It’s very important for any orchestra to play this variety of repertoire.”

To learn more and buy tickets, visit the CSO website.

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