It’s hard to remember back the 20-25 years since the Central Otago Regional Orchestra first came to town. There were, I think, nine players, enthusiastic but tentative with a narrow repertoire but determined to improve and expand.

Contrast that early group to the proficient and professional regional orchestra of 37 players plus conductor, soloist and narrator who filled the Presbyterian church hall on Saturday evening. They gave an outstanding concert that must surely win more friends and support.

The concert was in two distinct halves, the first opened with eight musical themes from the Harry Potter anthology. To one who has not seen all the films it was a great help that the music was synchronised to projected images of the relevant parts of the films. Then Cathy Irons, the violinist, joined Tim Cadogan, the narrator for a humorous rendition of Ferdinand (the Bull), followed by Tim and the Orchestra’s account  of Perky the Pukeko. These gave great enjoyment to the younger members of the audience but all appreciated the special skills of both contributors.

I wonder if there is anywhere else in the world that could provide a concert narrator who is bright, extroverted, legally and broadcasting trained, a disputes referee and trustee and who is also Mayor of the Orchestra district. Cadogan was an excellent narrator and may be sure of a welcome return. I shall talk more of Cathy regarding the Concerto but remembering that she wrote the score to set Perky to music with the intent to identify instruments as characters, the piece is a delight and somewhat reminiscent of Peter and the Wolf. I wonder that Cathy might be encouraged to cast more instruments to identify characters and make the piece into a New Zealand icon.

The second half was like a ‘light switch’ moment. Suddenly, although the composer’s name may have been difficult to pronounce, the orchestra and soloist may have had only limited time to practice together, Ashley Hopkins (the conductor)  was both excited and anxious to learn and perform a new work but the result was a symphonic triumph, combining lovely slower melodies with periods of frenetic soloist virtuosity to demonstrate her mastery of the violin. The large audience was entranced.

I have one pernickety criticism – the orchestra is too big and far too good to perform in inadequate halls. The music was superb but many of the audience could not see and enjoy fully, many of the players, even in spite of the risers used. I understand that the next concert will be in the Lake Wanaka Centre, which is great. The orchestra committee need to set their plans really early to ensure that future Wanaka concerts have all the advantages of the LWC; the larger auditorium, the reflective panels, the tiered seating, all of which will do more for Our Regional Orchestra.

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