CSO 2022: Llewellyn Hall mainstage

The mainstage is our epicentre, where a hundred voices move as one to delight, inspire, soothe and uplift. Join us with open hearts for the big human stories: revolution, loss, redemption and connection. 

Secure your seats now to enjoy five thrilling CSO 2022 concerts on the Llewellyn Hall mainstage.

Headshot of Jessica Cottis
Jessica Cottis, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director (Image: Kaupo Kikkas)
Portrait of Courtenay Cleary holding a violin
Courtenay Cleary, Violin (Image: Pia Johnson)
Llewellyn One

Wednesday 13 / Thursday 14 April 2022
Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music

Jessica Cottis Conductor
Courtenay Cleary Violin
Canberra Symphony Orchestra

Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

Suite from Vertigo

Symphony No. 5 in D major, op. 107 ‘Reformation’

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We begin with one of the most blazingly original harmonic ideas in the history of Western classical music: the ‘Tristan’ chord, the standard-bearer for a season dedicated to musical vision. Brimming with tension and dissonance, it sounds the opening of Richard Wagner’s ‘music-drama’, Tristan und Isolde, before surrendering to what feels like an eternity of silence, leaving the listener with no idea what comes next.

There’s something spiritual and transcendent in the love Tristan and Isolde share, a kind of redemption born not of lust but of a strange, mystical journey approaching otherworldly transfiguration. This is music of tantalising expectation, epitomised in the Liebestod (Love-Death), their final moment of yearning ecstasy.

So full of ambiguity and expectation, Wagner’s Tristan chord influenced all the composers who followed him. We hear the echoes a century later in Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo, the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful psycho-thriller. As in Tristan, the score is central to the drama: psychological, mysterious, lingering and suspenseful.

In Margaret Sutherland, we discover musical innovation akin to Wagner’s, albeit expressed in a very different cultural context. One of the most influential Australian voices of the twentieth century, her violin concerto is an ingenious blend of lyrical Romanticism and the modernist, post-Stravinsky sound world she inhabited.

The influential German composer Felix Mendelssohn blurs the lines between the sacred and the symphonic in his Fifth, referencing the solemn, six-note motif of the ‘Dresden Amen’, an allusion Wagner later imitated in his Parsifal opera, despite his distaste for Mendelssohn.

The ‘Reformation’ Symphony also draws on Martin Luther’s ‘Ein
feste Burg is unser Gott’ (A mighty fortress is our God), penned as the Augsburg Confession was in session. A commemoration of that momentous chapter in the Lutheran tradition, Mendelssohn’s symphony resonates well beyond its historical context with a message of joy and universal humanness. 

Portrait of Benjamin Bayl
Benjamin Bayl, Conductor (Image: Bart Barczyk)
Emma Sholl playing a golden flute. The background of the image is black.
Emma Sholl, Flute, Artist in Focus (Image: Ranui Young)
Llewellyn TWO
Miracles in the Age of Reason

Wednesday 18 / Thursday 19 May 2022
Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music

Benjamin Bayl Conductor
Emma Sholl Flute, Artist in Focus
Canberra Symphony Orchestra

Suite from Platée

Flute Concerto in D minor, Wq. 22


Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543

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The major intellectual, philosophical, social and artistic forces at work in Europe in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were – in France, at least – outright revolutionary. Guided by values of rationality, order and science, Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot championed individual reason as the source of truth and universal understanding, flying in the face of centuries-old traditions and religious ideas, including (dangerously) the ‘divine right’ of kings.

This upheaval resonates in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Platée, a rousing comic masterpiece that turned operatic conventions upside down. Rameau’s ability to draw the most exhilarating sonic colours from the orchestra was astounding, his harmonic ideas well ahead of their time.

Meanwhile, reason shines in the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel (CPE) Bach, whose intellectual rigour lent rationality to even the boldest of his musical experiments. One of the composer’s best-loved works, this virtuosic flute concerto exemplifies CPE Bach’s melodic gift and evocative use of harmonic colour.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was deeply influenced by the groundswell of intellectual discourse, religious inquiry and fierce political debate swirling in Vienna by the late eighteenth century. In the summer of 1788, penniless and out of vogue, Mozart directed his energies to the completion of three remarkable symphonies. Number 39 – the first of the set – is exuberant and unbounded, full of characteristically inventive, Mozartian flourishes.

Penned at the turn of the twenty-first century, Richard Meale’s Lumen is a modern nod to enlightened thought: melodic, haunting and yet somehow bathed in hopeful sunlight.

Headshot of Simon Hewett
Simon Hewett, Principal Guest Conductor (Image: Penny Bradfield)
Headshot of Kristian Chong
Kristian Chong, Piano (Image: John Tsiavis)
Llewellyn Three
War and Peace

Wednesday 14 / Thursday 15 September 2022
Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music

Simon Hewett Conductor
Kristian Chong Piano
Canberra Symphony Orchestra


Piano Concerto No. 2

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 ‘Eroica’

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Richard Strauss conceived his Metamorphosen as a threnody for Germany’s musical culture in the wake of the Second World War. Twenty-three string soloists voice distinct lamentations that culminate in a tour de force of orchestral desolation. And yet, the title – borrowed from the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – holds a small seed of hope for rebirth or renewal.

The final bars of Metamorphosen quote from an earlier funeral march, from Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. Originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven famously struck the inscription from the score and offered it instead ‘to the memory of a great man’: a greatness tarnished by hubris.

Never before had symphonic music aspired to such dimensions. Technically demanding and aesthetically uncompromising, Beethoven’s Eroica forced his contemporaries to rethink the form entirely. The first movement was so monumental (and long!) that an exasperated concertgoer shouted, ‘I’ll give another Kreutzer if the thing will only stop!’

Great depths of idealism and disillusionment are held in the harmonic climax, as the music climbs to an astonishingly high point of tension. Beethoven had hoped that Napoleon would inspire a humanist, egalitarian Europe; with a powerful and startlingly original dissonance based on F major, the composer issues his own call to revolution, condemning greed, oppression and the lust for power.

These works of raw intensity find a peaceful counterpoint in Malcolm Williamson’s Second Piano Concerto. Composed over just eight days in 1960, Williamson described the piece as ‘an overtly Australian work aiming at spontaneity and vigour rather than profundity.’ Joyful, tuneful and exuberant, the concerto reflects the composer’s eclectic influences, from Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók to George Gershwin and Edward Elgar.

Headshot of Jessica Cottis in front of blue brick wall
Jessica Cottis, Chief Conductor & Artistic Director (Image: Kaupo Kikkas)
Headshot of Markiyan Melnychenko outdoors
Markiyan Melnychenko, Violin
Llewellyn Four
Infinite Possibilities

Wednesday 23 / Thursday 24 November 2022
Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music

Jessica Cottis Conductor
Markiyan Melnychenko Violin
Canberra Symphony Orchestra

World premiere, CSO commission

Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47

Petrushka (1947 version)

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This program opens with a new CSO commission by Leah Curtis, a Los Angeles-based composer with Canberra roots. Curtis is best known for her original film scores and soundtracks, collaborations she describes as ‘work of the head, the heart and the gut; work of instinct, of intellect and of curiosity…to create a memorable emotional journey.’

Then, we return to the seemingly infinite imagination of Igor Stravinsky. Following hot on the heels of the Firebird Suite, Petrushka narrates the escapades of three puppets (Petrushka the rascally ringleader), set in a traditional Shrovetide fairground. This is one of the composer’s most colourful, inventive and wide-ranging scores, steeped in the Russian folk tradition and yet suggestive of the emerging film medium in its musical ‘jump cuts’ and scene changes.

Like Stravinsky, Jean Sibelius draws extensively on folk traditions, his Violin Concerto described by the American critic Olin Downes as ‘bardic songs heard against a background of torches…in some wild Northern night.’ It’s a work of striking contrasts: hypnotic, darkened hues electrified by blinding lights.

The opening stillness reflects the calm of a Finnish lake; time stands still in the ambiguous harmony, both major and minor. There’s something inherently organic in Sibelius: he responds with an exceptional intensity to the natural world, even by Nordic standards, as though its changing moods and seasons inspire not only the content of his music but also its form.

Headshot of Simon Hewett
Simon Hewett, Principal Guest Conductor (Image: Penny Bradfield)
Headshot of Chloe Lankshear
Chloe Lankshear, Soprano (Image: 2:1 Studio)
Portrait of Tobias Cole
Tobias Cole, Counter Tenor (Image: Michele Mossop)
Headshot of Andrew Goodwin
Andrew Goodwin, Tenor
Close up, black and white portrait of Adrian Tamburini
Adrian Tamburini, Bass (Image: Andrew Keshan)

Friday 8 / Saturday 9 July 2022
Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music

Simon Hewett Conductor
Chloe Lankshear Soprano
Tobias Cole Counter Tenor
Andrew Goodwin Tenor
Adrian Tamburini Bass
Canberra Symphony Orchestra

Messiah, HWV 56

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The most performed piece of classical music worldwide, George Frideric Handel composed his Messiah in just 24 days, writing morning to night. While not exceptionally fast by the composer’s own standards, what’s extraordinary is how, in a period of weeks, Handel created a work of such invention, inspiration and timelessness that it has endured for three centuries (and counting), nothing less than an icon of the Western classical canon.

The popularity of the work was instantaneous; the management of Dublin’s Musick Hall, where the Messiah was first performed, implored concertgoers to forgo dresses with hoops, so as to make ‘room for more company.’

Even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart confessed himself humble in the face of Handel’s genius. ‘Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect,’ Mozart said. ‘When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt.’

Musically, Handel’s most significant innovation was to elevate the chorus to equal status with his soloists. This demanded choral writing of astonishing power and drama, monumental blocks of vocal sound. The sense of joy bursting from the Hallelujah chorus is second to none; this is music to lift the spirits.

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