Spirit of Christmas
QPAC, Concert Hall
December 17 – 18
“Spirit of Christmas” sees the QPAC Concert Hall decked out with boughs of holly et al, ready for some fa la la la la seasonal jolly, and after being welcomed to country by Aunty Raelene Baker, a glorious ‘Christmas Overture’ continues the theme with showcase of the versatility of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra as we are taken from, for example, the tenderness of ‘Silent Night’ to a jovial ‘Jingle Bells’.
While carols are at the heart of the annual celebration concert, its program consists of a mix of seasonal musical offerings from a range of performers. Two of Australia’s leading musical theatre stars, Amy Lehpamer and Lucy Maunder headline the concert with humour and energy, joining a host of special guests in uplifting song, beautifully supported by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Musical Director and Conductor Simon Kenway and the celebrated voices of the QPAC Chamber Choir.
Recent Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Bachelor of Musical Theatre graduate Hanlon Innocent makes the charming simplicity of José Feliciano’s ‘Feliz Navidad’ an infectiously joyful experience, with his touch of Spanish rhythm and style, maracas and all. Maunder makes seasonal staple ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ melodically bittersweet, both poignant in its yearning, yet also hopeful. And the beauty of her lingering vocals is complemented by the soothing sounds of its light but building orchestration. Lehpamer’s bright vocals bring a buoyancy to ‘We Need a Little Christmas’ that captures the heartfelt joy and happiness of the popular holiday season song.
The program is one of many highlights. An early one comes courtesy of the 28-voice QPAC Chamber Choir’s triumphant ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. As the upper voices chorus before being joined by others, the boisterous hymn is elevated by the powerful accompaniment of Eduarda Van Klinken on the venue’s iconic, magnificent 6500 pipe Klais Grand Organ.
While choral music plays an essential role in musical experience of the Christmas season, the night’s biggest ovation, comes for guest tenor Rosario La Spina’s share of the 1906’s powerful anthemic carol ‘O Holy Night’. His performance of the rousing Christmas hymn hits every note exquisitely. Indeed, the ease with which he sails from its placid beginnings to its robust high notes is the stuff of goosebumps, worth the price of admission alone. And the perennial holiday tune is also elevated by the QSO’s climactic build-up to full instrumentation.
The Concert Hall has never looked better. Lush greens and reds light the space appropriate to the season, with golds adding to both the aesthetic and narrative of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which is playfully presented by Lehpamer, Maunder and Innocent.
While celebratory in tone, at the core of the show’s sentiment is an inspirational message of peace and love. This is underscored by delivery of a special Christmas Message by The Salvation Army’s Major Scott Allen, with his words about the Christmas rush and understandings of peace leading things easily into the Miniature Overture from Tchaikovsky “The Nutcracker” and its particular showcase of the orchestra’s woodwind and brass sections. Meanwhile, the light orchestral piece “Sleigh Ride” showcases the percussion sections with its musical depiction of jingling sleigh bells, whip cracks, clip clops and even a whinnying horse. And a Christmas version of ‘Seasons of Love’ from Jonathan Larson’s acclaimed, award-winning rock musical “Rent”, arranged by QSO cellist Craig Allister Young, makes for a beautiful concluding message about the way to quantify the value of a year in life.
While Sydney has Carols in the Domain and Melbourne its Carols by Candlelight, in Brisbane it is QPAC’s “Spirit of Christmas”. And clearly, there is a reason why the concerts have been presented every year since 1985. The mix of hymns, much loved classics and popular Christmas songs offers both opportunity for celebration of the true meaning of the festive season and appreciation of our stunning orchestra and vocalists in share of beloved holiday favourites. And everyone can relieve its magic through a free digital broadcast of the concert on Christmas Eve by tuning in to the Spirit of Christmas Digital Broadcast here at 7pm AEST on Friday 24 December to watch this festive favourite from the comfort of your own home.
Photos c/o – Darren Thomas