Having only attended orchestral concerts as part of my old job as an usher, this area of the arts is relatively new to me. Illawarra On Pointe (IOP) presents regular concerts in a variety of areas in the Illawarra and beyond. Their latest symphonic experience focused on pieces that connote the mythological and “phantasmical”.
Illawarra On Pointe Productions is an orchestral and theatrical production company that provides a platform for aspiring musicians, dancers, actors and those who work in all other facets of theatre on the South Coast of NSW, Australia. Their repertoire of productions as a company inclue The Nutcracker: Ballet in 2016, South Pacific: In Concert in 2017 and their latest stage production, Peter Pan: The Ballet staged at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in 2018.
Fantastic Orchestral Beasts focused on a variety of pieces from films embedded into pop culture, such as Jurassic Park and Harry Potter, to more classical pieces from artists such as Debussy and his Scottish March, and even a piece that was commissioned by IOP for this concert alone, The Curious Story of the Bushy-Tailed Drop Bear by composer (and star on the rise) Jeremy Boulton.
With their 50-piece orchestra tuned and ready to play, some of the musicians (as well as the 20-piece choir) were dressed in outfits, onesies or sporadic fan clothing from the pieces they were playing. Conductor Ryley Gillen appropriately wearing a dinosaur onesie for the opening music of Jurassic Park. It was a nice touch but would have been good to see all the orchestra members and choir sporting some sort of references to the pieces we were about to hear.
The orchestra themselves sounded simply beautiful. Listening to the crescendo of Jurassic Park gave me chills. It could have easily been the soundtrack from the film. Gillen, both the Artistic Director of IOP and conductor, addressed the audience afterwards and offered a warm, and honestly quite humorous, welcome. It’s clear that Gillen has a vision of what he wants IOP to be, telling the audience to “throw out [their] original ideas of a concert” and instead asking for them to have fun, take out their phones and film, create hashtags and get involved rather than passively sit back. Gillen exuded an obvious love for his orchestra and highlighted their skills and roles through regular introductions of the music, complete with terrible puns and fun facts. He knew how to loosen up the audience and create a relaxed atmosphere.
The 20-piece choir, made up of the aptly named Suzi’s 1832 Parisians after executive producer Suzi Russell (who had organised the choir from her recent production of Les Miserables) and the Out of the Blue Singers, offered harmonies to one or two of the pieces that were played by the orchestra. This offered another layer to the music that was presented, however a part of me wishes they had been utilised more in each act.
The highlight of the orchestra was the Harry Potter section, a clear shift in the energy of the room occurred as the opening notes began to be played. Other compositions offered were Pirates of the Caribbean, Madame Butterfly: Humming Chorus and Danzon No 2 by A Marquez.
Another highlight, that made the sound of the orchestra more impressive was the spotlight on IOP’s mentor program, where students played in the orchestra, the youngest only being in Year 3! The pieces they were playing were not watered down and it was an effective and rather clever promotion for the mentor program itself.
So in the end, attending IOP’s Fantasic Orchestral Beasts performance was a treat for the ears, peppered with a bit of comedy and was well suited for any avid lovers of orchestral pieces played by a well-tuned band. Be sure to keep an eye out for their annual Star Wars performance on May the 4th in Wollongong CBD.
Stin’s Final Thought: To this day I still get chills every time I hear those trumpets in the Jurassic Park theme. It makes me feel like writing a Jurassic Musical…or has someone done that already?
Illawarra On Pointe Productions are also seeking support in their Kickstarter campaign for their 2019 production of Scheherazade at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, Nowra. This finishes February 13 and you can donate and find more information in the link below.