Arts Review

SXS The New World

The Southern Cross Soloists Present The New World

Concert Hall, QPAC

22nd October, 2023


C. Shaw Entr'acte

Dvořák Going Home

A. Shaw Clarinet Concerto

Copland Selections from Appalachian Springs

Jorgenson/Williams Global Rivers Rising* World Premiere

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

Piazzolla Fuga I misterioso


Guest soloist John Jorgenson


Dr Gemma Regan


An eclectic, energetic and eccentric mix of music from the New World


The anticipation was palpable in the crammed concert hall as the audience awaited the final concert of the Southern Cross Soloists’ Series for 2023 with The New World. Featuring American guest guitar soloist, John Jorgenson hot off the plane from the USA to present his World premiere of Global Rivers Rising composed with Artist in Residence Chris Williams. It is the third composition of 2023 to add to the SXS Didgeridoo Commissioning Project to commission three new works for didgeridoo and classical ensemble for the 10 years running up to the 2032 Olympics, to be held here in Brisbane.


The packed show opened with Artistic Director, Tania Frazer introducing Pulitzer Prize winning Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte as “a perfect balance between harmonies and contemporary sounds”. She gushed about how much she loved it and how catchy it was, but unfortunately, I found it to be a mish-mash of reclaimed famous motifs hashed into a sound like playing a Hooked on Classics album backwards! 


The dissonant music of scratches and bangs included touching the bow to the strings without a resonant tone (sound) and it felt like forced ‘creativity’ in an attempt to produce a unique piece. 

Perhaps Shaw being the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music went to her head and maybe Frazer’s, as there were no memorable melodies and certainly no noticeable catchy tune!


Clarinetist Ashley Smith redeemed the caterwauling with a technically perfect rendition of Artie Shaw’s Clarinet Concerto composed for Fred Astaire’s 1940’s movie The Second Chorus which included Shaw in his first and only acting role. 


With SXS Artist in Resident Konstantin Shamray’s Boogie Woogie piano and Ashley’s jazzy clarinet screeching up and down the between the registers, they fit right into the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, New York. Smith claimed playing the piece was “the most fun you can have with the clarinet”. His earliest memory of the clarinet was Artie Shaw playing the concerto in the movie which inspired him to learn to play the instrument! 


After such a jazzy number the audience was pumped, but in my opinion were let down by the Global Rivers Rising World premiere, despite it featuring the Grammy award-winning guitarist, John Jorgenson. He has played with many of the greats and was Elton John’s guitarist for seven years and a world-class guitarist, mandolin player and composer, but this composition fell flat. 


Their attempt to combine the didgeridoo with the guitar, mandolin and chamber orchestra was admirable, but the theme of visiting sounds from around the world with the addition of the intrusive didgeridoo just didn’t work. In their attempt to create a “global” sound, they ended up producing music which was a mixture of Disney-styled generic clips of European Classical, 20th Century American and Middle Eastern music.


The one part that seemed to work best was with the Celtic-inspired music where the didgeridoo took the percussive role of the bodhrán, rather than pretending to be a classical instrument. It was fabulous to watch the skills of a honed and toned professional as Jorgenson plucked away at the guitar and mandolin with aplomb and Williams was likewise at the top of his game.


The two highlights were at the end of the long two-hour concert after Dvořák’s Going Home and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The fabulous piano skills of Shamray raised the roof with the famous glissando of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of my favourite pieces. His energetic execution of the notes was spectacular to see and hear, thrusting us into the American jazz scene of the early 20s. Despite it not being the end of the show, the audience was uncontrollable giving him a raucous standing ovation for his vibrant virtuosity.


Piazzolla’s Fuga I misterioso rounded off the eclectic concert with a brilliant performance from the whole SXS ensemble and an opportunity to see Jorgenson at his best on both the mandolin and guitar. Piazolla, the father of Nuevo Tango, composed a swinging jazzed-up version of the traditional tango which the SXS played to full effect leaving the audiences swinging their hips to the beat as they left.


The final concert in a star spangled concert hall delivered an eclectic, energetic and eccentric mix of music from the New World which was as American as apple pie.4



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