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Fantasy on a Theme of Mendelssohn

Conductor: Sarah-Grace Williams  - The Metropolitan Orchestra

Recorded live at the Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Sydney on Saturday June 11, 8pm 2016


Program Notes


“Fantasy on a theme of Mendelssohn” was composed from the 7th-13th

March 2016 at Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, NJ, USA.


This work is based on the Mendelssohn song, Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, (On Wings of Song) and more importantly the opening interval of a major 6th. Interestingly, the tune “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” uses the same interval and it was overlooking the ocean (and many a spectacular sunrise) where this score was conceived and wrtten.


The main theme of Auf Flügeln des Gesanges is stated with a short fanfare and soon thereafter the orchestra scurries, shrieks and blasts as it tries to drown out the melody in the bass end of the orchestra. The Timpani has the last word of the melody and leads us to an angular passage where the phrases are passed around the orchestra. A mournful melody appears with the major 6th inverted to a minor 3rd and oozing chromaticism. The angular passage returns and the strings taking over the mournful melody. The Flute takes up Auf Flügeln des Gesanges with the strings supplying re-harmonised delicate support.


The Trumpets sound and launch us into a short fugue. This is a nod of thanks to Felix Mendelssohn who championed the works of Bach. The Clarinets lead us back to our angular section with the strings eventually returning to the unfinished fugue. The Clarinets assisted by the woodwinds insist that change must come. The major theme of this work is 198 bars in and explores the melodic use of the interval of the 6th, which in turn, produced much interesting harmony.


Whilst writing this score I learned of the passing of Sir George Martin and I composed some passages in his style to honour this incredible musician.


Inverting the major 6th to a minor 3rd for the opening of the carnival section in a raucous waltz. We restate a parody of the fugue melody with the brass scolding the orchestra for having such fun. As things quiet down we hear a snippet of Mendelssohn’s tune before the fun of the carnival returns. Our mournful tune briefly returns and leads us to a section of String Quartet interplay with the strings eventually passing these to the solo winds. Underpinning this are 4 chords who move our major 6th around with us hardly noticing. It is now the Oboe’s turn to make us weep with Auf Flügeln des Gesanges.


We revisit some thematic material from the beginning of the work before settling into our major themefrom bar 198. The solo Oboe and Horn have a conversation before the thundering finale is sounded. The work wants to settle into a stirring E major chord as the ending however, the brass play a final major 6th together and we are transported into the final chord of F major.


As always, this piece of music wouldn’t be in this form if it weren’t for my darling wife, Suzanne, gently guiding me to new paths.

Sean O’Boyle AM

March 13th 2016


‘The Italian’/ The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO)/ Michael Wray, principal horn/Sarah-Grace Williams, conductor

Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Ultimo

11 June 2016

Written by Ria Andriani 

The third concert in The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) Met series continued last weekend in the tradition of presenting excellent performances to a full house. Under the baton of conductor Sarah-Grace Williams, the orchestra performed to its full strength and potential. Although the title of this concert was The Italian, the programme was dominated by German composers.

The concert opened with a world premiere by Australian-born composer Sean O’Boyle: Fantasy on a Theme of Mendelssohn which was commissioned by Sarah-Grace Williams for TMO. Composed within a week in March, it was a passionate piece which began with a majestic opening involving the whole orchestra and an especially notable playful clarinet. O’Boyle has a way of composing that is lyrical, yet reaching far beyond the harmonic language of the 19th century composers whom he was quoting. He used consonant triads sparingly, and when they did appear, they were a welcome point of the performance. This was in contrast to the original theme, played beautifully by the flute a little way into the piece. The music had a cinematic feel, changing rapidly from mood to mood. It alternated between full orchestral force and individual players, usually reiterating the theme and making much of the major sixth interval. O’Boyle’s own theme which was more fanfare-like was reminiscent of Brahms. It was the work of a skilled composer, constant in its own style whilst acknowledging others in a delightful way.


With its Met Concert 3 for 2016, TMO continues to be consistently thrilling. The concert’s first half engaged the listener with commanding gestures and precision phrasing imbued with suitable expression.

In world premiere we first heard Fantasy on a Theme of Mendelssohn by Sean O’Boyle AM. This eclectic and clever work commissioned by TMO and conductor Sarah Grace Williams was highly accessible whilst remaining innovative and unique in design.

TMO led by Sarah-Grace Williams excelled in portraying O’Boyle’s jaunty and episodic elaborations. The beautiful Mendelssohn theme from On Wings of Song was subjected to short but lush orchestral iterations and duly developed.


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