Festive fave

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/oDarren Thomas

Move over Mozart

Musical Theatre Gala – Broadway to West End (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

May 15

‘Move over Mozart’ was the mantra at QSO’s Musical Theatre Gala of the songs of shows from Broadway to West End. With musical theatre hits as its subject matter, the concert promises swells of emotion and yearning for love, even towards country, as is seen in ‘Anthem’ from “Chess”.

We experience the emotion almost immediately in the classically shaded melody of ‘Tonight’ from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”. And when Simon Gleeson and Lorinda Gore take to the stage early in the program to share the lifting star-crossed lovers’ song, it is a testament to their vocal talents that our eyes follow only them, even though they are sharing the stage with a complete orchestra. Gleeson, in particular, has a rich musical theatre voice of considerable vocal range whose tenor beauty, power and versatility are showcased also in his later moving delivery of ‘Bring Him Home’ from “Les Misérables” and evocatively yearning ‘Music of the Night’ from Lloyd-Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”.

When the “Phantom of the Opera” theme begins with its majestically haunting Overture sounds, from the magnificent Klais Grand Organ (complete with an impressive array of 6500 pipes) towering high about the stage, we are not only entranced by the daaaa, da da da da da organ motif that recurs throughout the musical, but treated to a hold-your-breath type moment when the spectacle in enhanced by the orchestral accompaniment that fills the red-lit venue with drama.

Under the baton of the incomparable Guy Noble, the QSO has never sounded better. The vitality of its graceful orchestration is clear from the concert’s pacy opening number, Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide”.  The colourful orchestra and scoring of percussion instruments creates a vivid tempo towards its final flourish, showcasing all parts of the orchestra, not just its joyful strings.

Percussion features strongly also in the program’s “Wicked” signature song, ‘Defying Gravity’, in which percussion takes us through transition from its relaxed early sections to driving drum rhythm and tempo to heighten emerging Musical Theatre soloists Nina Lippmann’s pitched percussion sparkle into Elphaba defiant epiphany. Appropriately lighting fills not only the stage but the stalls with green for the showstopping Act One power ballad. Similarly, it rainbows the Concert Hall during encore of Sherman’s spiffy ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ from “Mary Poppins” featuring pop-up from Hanlon Innocent, (also an emerging Musical Theatre soloist from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University) as cockney jack-of-all-trades Burt and cameo from the always affable conductor Guy Noble, as well as audience opportunity to follow through on earlier sing and clap along promises.

Of course, no orchestral tribute to musicals would be complete without Rogers and Hammerstein and also a spot of Sondheim and these both appear within the program. ‘The Carousel Waltz’ is a light but lavish, purely instrumental tune from the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of “Carousel”, which sounds like a thrilling swirl of pure childhood joy thanks in particular to the orchestra’s eloquent strings, while Sondheim’s ‘You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow’ from “Follies” rounds things off nicely in encore.

From 1945’s “Carousel Waltz” to the more recent “Let It Go” there is a wide range of musical sources from which to tapestry together an accessible set list with offer of something for everyone. Not only this, but “Musical Theatre Gala – Broadway to West End” also serves to whet audience appetites for “Chess” and “West Side Story”, which both have QPAC seasons planned for 2021. Like their other concerts this year thus far, The Musical Theatre Gala illustrates how Queensland’s Symphony Orchestra continues to go from strength to strength since last year’s COVID-19 shutdown with audiences are now left hoping that, like the Orchestra’s “Cinematic” concerts this tribute to iconic show tunes will also become a regular event.

Cinematic celebrations

Cinematic – Heroes and Heroines (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

May 24

Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Cinematic” concert is always a highlight of the company’s performance calendar. The 2021 gathering of cosplay classical musicians on stage is an immediate reminder of this with superheros, storm troopers and even Scooby-Doo amongst those ready to be spotted from the stalls. And the range of costumes on stage is not the only instance where the audiences is spoiled by an aesthetic abundance, as given the manner in which so many film composers use the full might of a symphony orchestra, there are many classics from which to refine a program of performance numbers for this year’s focus on Heroes and Heroines.

After Spider-Man tunes the orchestra, the epic journey of a show begins under the baton (and lightsaber) of conductor Nicholas Buc with the great opening fanfare of the iconic main title Star Wars theme. Beyond the familiarity and resonance of the grand symphonic score, there is something exhilarating about its brilliant brass sounds, regardless of how many times you may have heard it at previous QSO shows. The drama then continues with ‘Gladiator (Suite)’, which builds percussively a bit like Bolero from a noble and majestic theme into the sounds of battle drama. These rousing works of John Williams and Hans Zimmer are fitting openers, not just due to the unique sound palettes the two have created for a vast repertoire of movies, but for the way in which this allows for explanation of how masterworks have inspired contemporary classics.

Just as the best pieces weave story and emotion together in their music, the program’s selections allow opportunity for all parts of the orchestra to be highlighted as part of their interplay. In its swinging ‘60s sounds Rod Goodwin’s ‘Miss Marple (Theme)’ highlights the vibrant violins with harpsichord punctuation, while Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ (from the familiar Peer Gynt Suite N.1, op.46) sees the orhcestra’s larger strings creeping along quietly before ascending to an increasingly frenetic collision of passionate energy.

For those whose symphonic knowledge comes predominantly from the classical refrains of Looney Toons, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Die Walküre, the second instalment of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” set of four operas, not only takes audiences back to ‘Kill the Wabbit’ lyrics of “What’s Opera, Doc?”, but allows for showcase of low brass instrumentation, including from Caribbean pirates on trombones. And Paul Dukas’ ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ similarly takes many audience members back to the Walt Disney’s imaginative segment in the movie “Fantasia”, featuring Mickey Mouse as the apprentice, while also showcasing the sprightly sounds of the bassoon in representation of the broomstick the is brought to life by Mickey Mouse.

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ also allows opportunity for Buc to explain (with orchestra demonstration) of the motifs that are paraphrased in “Star Wars”. Indeed, thesymphonic poem is a wonderful highlight, not only in its joyful musical ebb and flow, but also in the accompanying magical transformation of the Concert Hall’s through green illumination, which serves as a reminder of the venue’s spectacular, distinctive aesthetics and acoustics. This occurs also when themes from the Marvel universe are accompanied by a vibrant violet and red saturation in emphasis of their exciting scores.

QSO’s eclectic curation of classic and contemporary soundtracks certainly offers something for everyone, with Bruce Rowland’s joyously stirring ‘The Man From Snowy River’ (with additional ‘Waltzing Matilda’ tribute in its tail) providing an emotional and dramatic swell to sweep audience members of a certain vintage back to the wild ride down the hillside and the landscape shots and action sequences of the iconic 1982 movie. And while it would be easy to sit back with eyes closed to let the nostalgia of one of the most recognised examples of Australian film music wash over us, that would mean missing the delight of seeing The Joker’s sensitive double bass instrumentation.

The symphonic celebration of Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s “Cinematic – Heroes and Heroines” is certainly a spectacle which illustrates the power of music to transport audiences to other times and places. The fact that this is enhanced by an orchestra that includes Flintstones, fairies, the mad hatter and Harry Potter, means that there is much visual delight too, beyond just looking for a very visible front-and-centre Waldo. And the fact that that the audience includes so many younger members and first-time Cinematics, only makes it all the better.

Photos c/o – Peter Wallis

First, favourites

QSO Favourites – Beethoven to Bolero

QPAC, Concert Hall

February 6

It’s a full house in the Concert Hall for the first show of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 season, appropriately so given that the program represents a selection of classic orchestral favourites suggested by the audience. Under the baton of internationally acclaimed, conductor Dane Lam, the crowd-pleasing concert of conventional orchestral favourites not only reignites the passion of live performance, but whets the appetite for the year that lies ahead.

Our hearts dance along with the introductory number, Mozart’s sprightly, self-contained overture from “The Marriage of Figaro”. The thrilling presto tempo of the beloved work’s infamous swirling opening strings motif is perfectly executed and balanced, allowing different sections of the orchestra their respective opportunities to shine amongst its gloriously-uplifting, enthusiastic representation of opera characters, beyond just its initial burst of frivolous energy. And while its sheer speed makes the passage entertaining it is playfully comic approach, it also, obviously, becomes a technically demanding task, particularly for the upper strings, which makes the overture even more satisfying.

Following this spectacular start, the sensitive second movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No.7 in A”, creeps in sombrely before offering audiences some soft violin touches and a richly melodic float of flute. It is majestic in its measure and another memorable listening experience. Before long, however, we are floating into Tchaikovsky’s sublime third movement from his elegant Fifth Symphony. Its compelling bassoon sounds amongst the light waltz frolic of its opening and its following range of instrumental colour are equally exquisite, yet some of the moments most worth savouring are those that command attention by their absolute silence, which feels fitting for its theme of fate.

Gershwin’s passionate “An American in Paris” orchestral tone poem represents a kaleidoscopic toe-tapping change in pace through its jazzy brass celebrations, which are not only infectious in their vigour, but interesting for the way in which the colourful energy and city sounds of the French capital are evoked, taxicar horns and all (courtesy of klaxon horns) in contrast to the solo violin representation of the American of its title. The evening’s saxophone players Emma Di Marco, Pierce Hurne and Matthew Christensen add much to the personality-filled work, and it clearly stands as a highlight of the concert, especially when the bluesy melodies of trumpets and trombones take flight above the double base score that journeys us through the bustling streets of Paris.

After the simple melody of Dvořák’s “Largo from the New World Symphony”, it is on to “Bolero”. First time experience of Ravel’s triumph is certainly something special and subsequent listens only serve to remind of this magic. As always, the landmark work is dominated by a snare drum building in repetitive rhythm from the softest of standing starts, thanks to the skill of principal percussionist, David Montgomery. Indeed, the entire orchestra works with striking clarity to deliver the one-movement orchestral piece with aplomb. As things gradually build in volume and intensity, with the additions of different orchestrations of flute, clarinet, bassoon and oboe et al harmonising the melody, its sounds crescendo with the power and drama that befits a concert’s conclusion…. until the encore piece of, Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 6”. 

In “QSO Favourites – Beethoven to Bolero”, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra has curated a diverse and eclectic collection of pieces, which only adds to the show’s experience, adding a vitality beyond the often-seen composer-centred focus of concerts. Indeed, the demanding cross-century coverage of great works allows for an excellent show of the orchestra’s versatility as a whole and the impressive skills of its individual players.

QSO ’21

Orchestral music is back in full force in 2021, with Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) last week unveiling a season of 18 concerts, all to be performed in the Concert Hall at QPAC, including three commissioned world premieres and headlined by the acclaimed Maestro series; a collection of 10 world-class classical celebrations. 

The season fittingly will open in February with a special event, “QSO Favourites”, celebrating favourite pieces as nominated by audience feedback. From Mozart’s Overture from “The Marriage of Figaro” to Gershwin’s “An American In Paris” and Ravel’s unforgettable “Bolero”, this promises to be a wonderful program for both avid listeners and those looking for a life-changing experience alike.

Another revisit is coming courtesy of April’s “Cinematic – Heroes and Heroines” special event concert featuring a mix of blockbuster movie music and tunes from films as diverse as “The Avengers” and “The Man From Snowy River”. Similarly, Shakespeare’s plays will again provide the inspiration for a blockbuster Music on Sundays in May, “Shakespearean Classics – Music Inspired by the Bard”, including Mendelssohn’s iconic music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Prokofiev’s extraordinary ballet music for “Romeo and Juliet”.

Also, in May, will be “Musical Theatre Gala – Broadway to West End” featuring soloists sopranoLorina Gore and tenor Simon Gleeson (along with two emerging Musical Theatre soloists from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University), with the full power of a large orchestra, treating audience members to the music of theatre favourites such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and the more recent “Frozen”.

In an Orchestra first, three world premieres will be staged in 2021, commissioned by QSO and all by Australian composers.Over the weekend of 30 April and 1 May, QSO musicians Irit Silver and Alison Mitchell, will perform a world premiere double concerto for flute, clarinet and orchestra, by Australian composer Gordon Kerry during the “Pictures at an Exhibition” performances. In June, “Epic Sounds” will feature the world premiere of a new work by acclaimed Australian didgeridoo player and composer William Barton, in a performance that also features Wagner’s dramatic Overture to “The Flying Dutchman” and the “Symphony No.5” by Sibelius. Fittingly, too, Season 2021 will also see Queensland Symphony Orchestra again travel throughout Queensland to perform, educate and inspire, an important part of the company’s commitment as the state orchestra. 

Soloists performing with the QSO in 2021 include one of the greatest pianists Queensland has ever produced in the internationally acclaimed Piers Lane, revered didgeridoo artist William Barton, dynamic young violinist Grace Clifford, one of Australia’s leading woodwind playersoboist Diana Doherty, organist Joseph Nolan, and Australian sopranos Emma Pearson, Lorina Gore and Rebecca Cassidy (Opera Queensland Young Artist). Queensland Symphony Orchestra musicians will also, of course, take centre stage with solo performances for Concertmaster Warwick Adeney, Section Principal Flute Alison Mitchell, Section Principal Clarinet Irit Silver, Principal Tuba Thomas Allely and Acting Section Principal Cello Hyung Suk Bae.

Leading the conductor line-up is the Orchestra’s celebrated Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch, together with dynamic Australian conductor Dane Lam, Umberto Clerici, Elena Schwarz, Benjamin Northey, Max McBride, Alexander Briger, Benjamin Bayl, and of course hosting Music on Sundays, the irrepressible Guy Noble. Celebrated Conductor Emeritus of the Seattle Symphony Ludovic Morlot will also join the Orchestra as the only international artist for the season to make his Queensland Symphony Orchestra debut to conduct “Song to Symphony” in November and the Season Closing Gala, “Four Last Songs”, in December.

As previous QSO concerts have shown, listening to a live orchestra concert is not only a captivating aural experience, but it is one that can take audience members on an emotional journey along with its sweeping musical arrangements. For those wanting to join in the season’s celebration of live performance and its power to inspire us and draw us together, subscription packages are on sale now online at http://www.qso.com.au Single tickets, meanwhile, are on sale from Monday December 14.

Emperor et al excellence

Beethoven’s Emperor (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

November 20 – 21

One of the best things about attendance at a QSO concert is the respect that symphony attendees show to both the performers and their fellow audience members, meaning that not only are there applause outbursts only at the end of each piece, but appropriate silences to allow for their every note to be appreciated. This is especially valuable in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s stirring “Emperor Concerto” (the only concerto that the German composer did not play in public), in which guest solo pianist Daniel de Borah quietly explores its main themes of single-note stillness ahead of full orchestra swells of affirmation, almost as if in slow motion.

Clearly, this is a pianistically challenging piece, moving, as it does, from slow movements of tender fragility to others of vivid robustness. It is easy to float away in the joy of the slow movements in particular and the first piano entry is a spine-tingling moment. And under the baton of QSO’s Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch, the concluding movement counterbalance this wonderfully with a rhythmic burst of syncopated energy.

It is Ottorino Respighi’s gloriously-vivid four-movement symphonic poem “Pines of Rome” (second in a series of his three tone poems known as the Roman trilogy), however, that leaves the concert’s lasting impression and it is easy to appreciate the Italian composer’s regard one of the best-loved, most-often recorded and widely performed of all composers of the 20th century. The vitality of the work’s charming melodies beguiles the audience from its beginning. Its depiction of pine trees in four locations in Rome at different times of the day and as silent witnesses to the city’s history is descriptive and colourful from its zesty outset with its first sparkling movement’s portrayal of children playing through a fanfare of woodwind and brass with the chase of swirling strings and flutes, announcing the playful atmosphere. It’s an almost Disney-esque soundscape as the movement gathers a twinkling tempo along with the children’s colourful glee thanks to horns and trumpets trading in excitement.

Without pause between its movements, texture then builds through quiet and sombre French horn moments before the third, lighter, nocturne, movement, is signalled by daydreamy string tones so soft as to sound almost imagined and a whistling, singing nightingale sound (the first instance of a pre-recorded sound forming part of a musical score). When the tempo increases to a pounding beat, it is to fantastic fanfare percussion sounds to show the burst forth of a triumphant army.

With balconied brass and thundering Klais Grand organ adding magnificent scope from its towering architectural dominance above the stage, the movement commands our attention. Indeed, the tremendous cacophony of full orchestra opulence mean that this is an excellent showcase for the orchestra and an appropriate conclusion to the last maestro concert for 2020. It is a thrilling, dynamic climax to both the evening and year.

Photos c/o – Peter Wallis