Bolero (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)
QPAC, Concert Hall
November 6 – 7
The Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s “Bolero” is a deceptively named show for it is not only Ravel’s masterpiece but a varied showcase of works that occupy the program. Initially the audience is soothed with the luscious strings of Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 8 in F Major, op. 93’. Under the smooth direction of conductor Fabien Gabel, the sounds are light-hearted and almost ethereal before accenting into an energetic finale, in true Beethoven fashion. And although the brass section is afforded some command, and the French hornists given their dues in post piece acclaim, the work belongs to the lyrical caress of the string section in their light-hearted delivery. Although more instruments join for second piece, Ravel’s ‘Rhapsodie Espagnole’, it is not immediately rousing, instead building from whispers of violins to full brass crescendo festively heralded by trumpets and Hispanic hints in tribute to the composer’s heritage.
Each segment shines in its own way, thanks to the variety of instrumental focuses on show, such as when pianist Beatrice Rana’s fingers fly skilfully across the keys in Chopin’s notoriously difficult ‘Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, op. 11’, and also the collective skill of the orchestra as a whole, easily able to take audiences on the emotional journey between serene and turbulent notes.
But the night is all about ‘Bolero’, Ravel’s most famous piece, forever associated with the 1984 Winter Olympic perfect-score performance of British ice-dancers Torvill and Dean. And from the moment it begins with the show burn snare drum sounds of its anthem-like marching beat (a rhythm that continues unabated throughout the work), the audience is entranced by its repetition and growing grandeur. It is indeed a piece worthy of passion, deserving of every moment of the rapturous applause and audience cheers. Ravel is the master of orchestration and ‘Bolero’ is something that everyone should hear played by a live orchestra at least once in their life, even if, in this instance, it meant sitting through a program significantly longer than its advertised running time.
In the Opera episode of “Seinfeld”, Elaine makes comment to Jerry that all of his knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Even if this is the case for audience members, they are sure to appreciate the skill of the QSO performers in their energetic and engaging character-filled performances. And unlike other theatre contexts there always seems to be a shared understanding of etiquette at performances befitting a Saturday night at the symphony, allowing for those memorable moments of absolute silence sans some small introductory notes, in contrast to late big sounds, which surely epitomise the essence of classical music’s character.