Pure, refreshing and simply magical

Louis Sharpe conducting the National Capital Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society and soloists. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Petite Messe Solennelle”, National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, June 25 2022. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.

THE concert of the National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society, featured soprano Saralouise Owens; alto Sonia Anfiloff; tenor Ryan O’Donnell and baritone Hayden Barrington in a beautiful presentation of Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”.

Written in Rossini’s twilight years, the composer described the piece as “the last of my sins of old age” in which he combines beautiful music with his renowned sense of comic irony.

See the full review here

Rossini: Petite Messe Solenelle

As the stage of Llewellyn Hall filled with dozens of musicians and singers, it became apparent to the expectant audience that this performance of Gioachino Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ (Little Solemn Mass) was not going to be ‘little’.

Originally scored in 1863 for two pianos, harmonium and voices, the Canberra Choral Society and the National Capital Orchestra performed the fully orchestrated 1867 version of the work with orchestra, chorus and four solo singers.

Reviewed by Len Power, Canberra Critics Circle. See the full review here

Majestic music soars with force and commitment

James Monro, cello. Photo: Peter Hislop

“Dvořák”, National Capital Orchestra, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 10 2021. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MONUMENTAL works get that way not just because a vast number of people love them, but because they move us and speak to the human condition. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is one such work.

Canberra cellist James Monro and the National Capital Orchestra performing the “Cello Concerto” by Antonín Dvořák, opened the concert.

Leading the NCO in just his second outing as conductor, Louis Sharpe now has them sounding the best this reviewer has ever heard them. While essentially a community-based orchestra, the NCO comprise local players, music teachers, doctors and even 12-year-old musicians.

The pensive and dark opening to Dvořák’s “Cello Concerto” soon unfurled into light and drama. Sounding warm and full, the entire orchestra was on song from note one. Being just 10 metres from an orchestra of about 50 players, you can hear exactly where things are going right and wrong. And in this NCO performance, nothing was going wrong.

See the full review here

Saturday July 24 2021, from the review by Rob Kennedy

“The orchestra and choir built to a thrilling climax through some exciting, rhythmic and colourful tunes before it comes full circle and returns to mirror the quiet opening. Even if Brahms was just 33 when he wrote this – and in some parts, it does show he was still a young composer – this work pushed him into the territory where he would soon become known as an eminent music maker. A German Requiem is a solemn and joyful piece. It never fails to move any listener. The extended appreciation from the audience let the players know that this concert was much loved, much needed and a success.”

See full review here.

Sunday October 13 2019, review by Ian McLean

What an exciting musical experience it must have been for players from the primarily community-musician-based National Capital Orchestra to perform with the outstanding world-class clarinettist Eloise Fisher! 

Her performance of the famed Mozart “Clarinet Concerto in A” was just brilliant and was surely inspirational for the orchestra members who shared the stage with her.

The concert opened with the Canberra premiere of a relatively new work (written in 2014) by Melbourne-based composer May Lyon. The symphonic poem “Orchestral Equations” is loosely based on the solving of a 17th century mathematical puzzle and explores the solving of the puzzle over a three-century period. The orchestra sounded tentative and uncertain dealing with exposed and demanding rhythms though there were lush and confident contributions from principal cellist Evelyn Andrew and the cor anglais of Caroline Fargher.

After perfecting her craft performing throughout the world, Eloise Fisher has returned to Canberra to assume a position on staff at the ANU. Her vast experience shone through as she produced a simply beautiful sound throughout the clarinet concerto. Her clarity of tone, wonderfully controlled and contrasting dynamics and crisp, clean tonguing were a joy to hear, this really was a performance from a player of world-class standard. And she performed the concerto from memory, a stunning achievement in itself!

Conductor Alan Cook is also now Melbourne based after completing a 10-year performing journey through various European cities and concert halls. 

He is a world authority on the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and recently presented a paper in St Petersburg at the 175th anniversary conference of the composer’s birth. It was most fitting therefore that the second half of this concert opened with the exciting “Antar Symphony” by Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Cook is particularly clear and well defined in his neat conducting style and his enthusiasm extracted a full-bodied and confident sound from his players, particularly during the louder, fully scored sections when the orchestra produced fine tonal quality and a rich overall sound. There were occasions when phrase endings fell away with resultant raggedness, but overall this was a competent performance of exciting music.

The concert ended with a spirited performance of the Borodin “Polovtsian Dances”. The delicate introduction was well handled before the tight wind section led the orchestra well through the technically difficult and demanding rapid dances. 

Once again conductor Cook maintained tight and well-disciplined control to end a concert of fine musical variety which suitably entertained an appreciative audience.

Saturday August 3 2019, review by Clinton White

Two standard but quite challenging works, for orchestra and conductor alike, bookended the world premiere of a work by young Canberra composer and guitar teacher, Dante Clavijo, “Images of Obsession: 0-2-3-6”.  The numbers represent the semitones between the notes, which can ascend or descend, and be in any key.

In this, his last year at the ANU School of Music, Clavijo has already won awards for his compositions, and, in this piece, has crafted some clever adaptations of the numerical, and orchestrated it such that it becomes something of a concerto grosso with the many themes passing through and around the orchestra so that every section enjoys some of the limelight.


Weiss had very fine control of his orchestra, not allowing the quite slow tempi, sustained notes and generally subdued volumes to make the piece drag. With the work concluding as it started, Weiss let the silence hang, even to the point of some awkwardness, because the audience wasn’t sure if the work had finished. It was only after some of the musicians began to applaud that the audience joined in, also welcoming a delighted composer to the stage.

In the other two works, Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” and Respighi’s very programmatic “Pines of Rome”, Weiss had the orchestra sounding the best I had heard. There was gorgeous balance between sections, the strings really shone, especially in the beautifully measured second movement of the Berlioz, and superbly controlled expression throughout.

In the Berlioz, the solo viola player, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan, drew some really beautiful expression and warm smoothness from her instrument. At times, though, it was difficult to hear it above the orchestra, even though they responded perfectly to even the subtlest of gestures from Weiss.

Whilst not an especially celebratory concert in terms of programming, especially for a farewell, this performance by Leonard Weiss showed that he has developed the National Capital Orchestra to a very high standard and very well prepared for whoever takes it over next year.

Sunday August 5 2018, from the review by Len Power

Playing to a packed Q Theatre in Queanbeyan under the firm direction of Leonard Weiss, the National Capital Orchestra (NCO) gave an entertaining concert of three works by the British composers – Holst, Vaughan Williams and Elgar – plus the world premiere of an interesting new work by Canberra composer, Chloe Sinclair.

The concert commenced with ‘A Somerset Rhapsody’ by Gustav Holst. Written in 1907 and first performed in 1910, the work incorporates four folk songs from Somerset in England. It was Holst’s first critically acclaimed work. The orchestra played this atmospheric and melodic work very well.

Next on the program was Chloe Sinclair’s ‘Autonomy’, a new work commissioned by the orchestra and given its world premiere at this concert. An emerging composer in her final year of study at the ANU, Sinclair showed great promise with this engaging and dramatic work which was given a colourful and energetic performance by the orchestra.

Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 8 in D minor was first performed in 1955. A short symphony with a second movement played only by brass and woodwinds, it has moments of great drama along with lyrical sections that are highly pleasing. The orchestra played the first movement especially well and produced a clear sound for the quieter second and third movements, leading on to a well-played dramatic finale.

Sunday August 5 2018, from the review by Tony Magee

Elgar’s cello concert with soloist Christopher Pidcock closed the concert and was a stand-out performance. The orchestra transformed as Pidcock, dressed in a stunning pale blue linen jacket over white T-shirt, led the way with a masterful reading full of conviction, emotion, fire and delicacy. He plays a 12-year-old Schnabel cello, especially made for him in Germany and uses a modern French bow. His powerful projection of pitch and intonation seemed to pull the orchestra together and the sound was beautifully harmonious. Of particular note was the fine ensemble playing and intonation from the quartet of French Horns.

Saturday June 2 2018, review by Len Power

Attracting a huge audience of Monty Python fans to the Llewellyn Hall, ‘Not The Messiah’ proved to be a winner for the National Capital Orchestra and the Canberra Choral Society. Loosely following the plot of the 1979 film ‘Monty Python’s Life Of Brian’, co-creator Eric Idle describes ‘Not The Messiah’ as being ‘modelled on the Messiah by Handel’.

While there are clear musical references to the Messiah, Eric Idle sees it as more ‘Baroque ‘n’ Roll’ with nods to a wide range of musical influences including mariachi music, pop, Welsh hymns, doo-wop and Broadway. A lot of the fun in watching the show is in picking up on the references. The sheer craziness of it is a gift for a director with a wild imagination and Ylaria Rogers makes the most of the opportunity.

There wasn’t much spare room on the stage with the huge orchestra, choir, conductor, Leonard Weiss and the five soloists and when everyone was in full flight, the sound was thrilling. The final song of the first half, ‘You’re The One’ was especially well done, bagpipes and all.

The soloists had a ball with the crazy characters they were playing. Unfortunately poor sound balance in the first half of the show made the soloists hard to hear once the orchestra played above a certain volume. Happily, this was corrected for the second half of the show.

Not the Messiah. National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society directed by Leonard Weiss.

Soprano, Louise Page, was hysterically Wagnerian as the stroppy mother of Brian and the other soprano, Demi Smith, had fun as Brian’s fiancé and sang sweetly.

Not the Messiah. National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society directed by Leonard Weiss.

Tenor, Nick Begbie, captured the innocence of Brian very nicely and David Pearson shone with his resonant bass voice and recognizable multiple characterizations, including everyone’s favourite, the Roman centurion, Biggus Dickus.

Not the Messiah. National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society directed by Leonard Weiss.

Baritone, Tobias Cole, an authority on Handel anyway, proved to know his Monty Python as well with nicely-judged comic playing, a bit of gender-bending and some fine singing. His ‘I Want To Be A Girl’ was a highlight amongst many.

Not the Messiah. National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society directed by Leonard Weiss.

Conductor, Leonard Weiss, did a fine job keeping it all together musically. There was excellent playing by the orchestra and the Chorus Master, Sarahlouise Owens, achieved precise and clear singing by the choir. Director, Ylaria Rogers, obtained a nice level of lunacy from everyone, including little touches that you had to be quick to spot.

Not the Messiah. National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society directed by Leonard Weiss.

The show finished with the company and the audience singing ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ together. You just had to be there!

Photos by Peter Hislop

Saturday April 7 2018, review by Judith Crispin.

THE National Capital Orchestra’s first concert of its 2018 season featured a world premiere performance of a work completed in 2017 by a young female composer.

That programming decision alone marks Leonard Weiss and his reinvigorated NCO as a force to be reckoned with.

We live in a society now that is reshaped by community voices, community effort. And the musical world, once dominated by the predominantly male elite, is not immune.

The great dinosaurs of Australian concert music should learn from last night’s soloists, Matt Withers and Cal Henshaw, who posed for selfies with the public in the foyer of Llewellyn Hall – and from Weiss, who urged us to like NCO’s Facebook page, before delivering a stellar concert. The age of the dinosaur has passed.

Jessica Wells

“Zodiac Animali”, a new work by Jessica Wells, is a Mussorgsky-like orchestral suite based on the 10 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Wells adopts a programmatic style, evoking galloping horses, meandering snakes and plodding oxen. An array of subtle orchestral gestures is paired with quasi-dodecaphonic language and Stravinsky inspired gestures. NCO performed this difficult work with humour and sensitivity. “Zodiac Animali”, in its language and style, recalls an earlier era of grand program music, perhaps inspired by the composer’s experience writing for films.

The middle of the program was devoted to the Spanish guitar, with performances of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 1939 Guitar Concerto and Rodrigo’s famous Concierto Madrigal.

Matt Withers revealed an exquisite tonal range in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s neo-Classical cadenzas, producing bell-like upper notes and a perfectly controlled expanse of phrasing. His understated ornamentation and agility over arpeggiated gestures was remarkable. Weiss drew rich dynamic colours from the orchestra and brought another level of artistry to the work through his tasteful use of rubato.

Cal Henshaw joined the orchestra for Rodrigo’s 1967 Concierto Madrigal. Henshaw and Withers performed with such close ensemble, that they seemed to articulate as a single voice rather than a concertino. Early tuning issues were quickly overcome as the orchestral variations moved from military utterations to Flamenco, bird calls, Spanish Nationalistic tropes and the internal dramaturgy of late Romanticism. Henshaw brought elegant woody timbres and an artistic sense of timing.

NCO had the last word of the evening, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1887 Capriccio Espagnol, one of the most iconic Russian works of its period. Beginning with assertive tambourine, Rimsky-Korsakov unveils interleaved orchestral textures, building to a dramatic fortissimo finale. This work showcased the talents of the orchestra, as a whole and as individual players.

Broad tutti strings were underpinned by an elegance of moving colour in wind, brass and percussion. Solo violin and flute interludes were punctuated by cadential timpani, snare and bass drum. Extended fanfares in brass were grand. The orchestral lines laughed, shouted, saluted, jumped up and danced–in accented grace notes, strummed violins, drum rolls and quasi cadenzas. And the audience forgot that this was a community orchestra we were hearing. As the last chord rang out into a half-full Llewellyn Hall, a single girl in a floral dress gave a standing ovation – I predict there will be more on their feet by the end of NCO’s season.

NCO with soloists Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw conducted by Leonard Weiss.

Photographs courtesy of Peter Hislop.

October 21 2017, Review by Len Power

The evening commenced with ‘Chambers Of The South’, composed by Natalie Williams in 2001. The work was inspired by a photograph of the Pleiades star cluster by astro-photographer David Malin at an exhibition in Adelaide in 1997. The colours and form of the formation are reflected in the different texture and tone colours of her composition. It’s a beautiful work, shimmering with atmosphere and colour and it was played extremely well by the orchestra.

It was followed by ‘Queen of Sheba’, a four movement suite by Ottorino Respighi from his epic 1932 ballet, ‘Belkis, Queen of Sheba’. As with other compositions by Respighi, it’s a highly visual work with sensual dance music and romantic themes creating a mysterious world around the story of Solomon and Sheba. The four movements vary considerably from romantic dream sequences to a war dance and leading to a final movement of orgiastic dance. The orchestra was impressive in the quieter sequences and the finale was spectacularly played with clarity and full colour.

Composed in 1887, the Brahms Double Concerto is apparently not frequently performed today, perhaps because of the requirement of two equally matched virtuosic performances. Both Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles showed that they were more than equal to the task, playing with precision and great feeling and supported with fine playing by the orchestra. This work may be more familiar from recordings but to see it played live gives it another dimension, watching the performers passing the melody back and forth, creating the illusion of a single instrument.

This was another evening of fine music by the National Capital Orchestra. The musical director, Leonard Weiss, took the opportunity during the concert to announce a particularly exciting program for 2018.

March 26 2017. Review by Len Power

In the National Capital Orchestra’s (NCO) first concert for 2017, the orchestra performed three very different works – “The Wood Nymph” by Jean Sibelius, the “Horn Concerto” by Reinhold Glière and Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 5”.

The tone poem, “The Wood Nymph” by Sibelius, was first performed in 1895 but, after disappearing for many years, it was finally published in 2006. The NCO performance of this work was an Australian premiere. It was good to have the opportunity to hear this unfamiliar work. The classic and appealing music of Sibelius was powerfully performed by the orchestra with clarity and charm.

Rob Gladstones joined the orchestra as horn soloist for the second work, Glière’s Horn Concerto in B flat major, Op. 91. Gladstones studied horn at the Canberra School of Music and now holds the position of Principal Third Horn with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Glière’s Horn Concerto premiered in 1951 and has become one of the most popular in the horn repertoire. Gladstones gave a strong solo performance and the orchestra accompanied him with very fine playing throughout.

The final work, the Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76 by Dvořák was composed in 1875. It’s a melodic work with great appeal and the orchestra performed it very well, especially the quieter passages of the second movement and the lively, dramatic finale.

Queanbeyan’s Q Theatre works very well as a concert venue. Audience members are close enough to the orchestra to hear the music crisp and clear.

The orchestra impressed with the quality of their playing and their confidence. Conductor, Leonard Weiss, has done excellent work with this very enjoyable concert.

Carmina Burana July 23 2016 Review by Jennifer Gall, Canberra Times

Forget shivers down the spine – it was a full body-tingling experience for the audience in the modulation from the penultimate Blanziflor et Helena into the concluding Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi and Llewellyn Hall reverberated with the climactic chorus of Carmina Burana. Leonard Weiss kept the orchestra, choir and soloists in precise accord throughout this magnificent, demanding performance. Jeremy Tatchell stepped in to replace David Greco, who was indisposed, and performed with his customary strength and vocal agility, particularly in the solo In Taberna: Estuans interius.Tobias Cole, wreathed in an evocative – perhaps also provocative – black feather boa, delivered his solo, Olim Lacus Colueram, with beauty and wit as well as inimitable style. Soprano Susannah Lawergren’s solos were distinctive for their purity and the clarity of her highest notes, contrasting with the more lascivious lyrics of the chorus and baritone.

Singing from the chorus was robust and included many memorable sections: the sopranos executed their high entries on cue in Floret Silva and the male unaccompanied chorus in Sie Puer cum Puellula was impressive. Perhaps the real sensation of the evening were the Turner Trebles, a band of young voices who conducted themselves with aplomb and sang with confident clarity. There were lovely moments from the flutes, the bassoons and the extremely hard-working percussion. In the first half of the evening, the opening work, Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, offered some challenging opportunities for the brass and served to bring the orchestra into focus for Sean O’Boyle’s River Symphony. Here the strings really asserted a warm, united sound and the cello and violin solos were welcome vignettes.

In a feast of choral and orchestral collaboration, River Symphony used the chorus and soloists in very different ways to Orff’s more structured score. The choir blended their voices to create intersecting currents and a sense of an eternally flowing journey through time as well as landscape. The soprano soloists sung by Lawergren and Sarahlouise Owens as Mother and Child of the River were well matched in their duet, Memory of the Sea, Riverflow and the River of Life. I wish that I liked the composition more than I do, but I’m afraid the writing often seemed derivative and reminiscent of the music accompanying 1970s films. However, the performance surpassed the limitations of the score and the musicians created something unique. It is this overwhelming spirit of commitment to the music and to each other as performers that infused the National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Societies’ concert with integrity and guaranteed a great success.