One of Australia’s greatest symphony orchestras will celebrate a milestone season by performing a varied program featuring a moving melody that the band’s forerunners performed at their first concert 75 years ago.
As professional orchestras around the world grapple with the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s (QSO) anniversary program has a triumphant tone that will appeal to those who enjoy their musical experiences at full throttle.
The orchestra will play the Hungarian March, from La Damnation de Faust, which QSO performed on its debut at Brisbane City Hall on March 26, 1947.
The season also includes Soaring Heights, a program encompassing Strauss’ epic Alpine Symphony alongside Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by Australian pianist Daniel de Borah.
“Strauss’ symphony requires 100 musicians on stage, so it will be a wonderful showcase for our orchestra,” said Director of Artistic Planning Tim Matthies.
The 2022 program will come at a difficult time for Queensland’s biggest performing arts company after a difficult chapter that saw its former musical director, Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra, leave after three years.
There have also been several managerial departures.
Matthies hopes a permanent conductor will be appointed this year, with several suitors expected to spend time with the musicians over the coming season.
“It’s like a courtship,” says Matthies.
“There’s a first date and, if all goes well, I’m hoping for a second date.
“Depending on how it goes, there could be a third one. Or not. Every relationship is different.
“We also have general manager interviews later this month,” he says.
In the meantime, the orchestra’s laureate conductor – and principal conductor from 2008 to 2014 – Johannes Fritzsch, of German origin, will conduct the orchestra until a new conductor be named.
There might be a temporary vacuum at the top, but the situation no doubt presents an opportunity for the orchestra members to step into the spotlight.
“It’s a time of transition and renewal,” says Matthies.
The 2022 season offers just that chance, placing them at the center of an egalitarian schedule of accessibility-focused concerts and events.
“Brisbane audiences have a variety of tastes and we want to attract as many people as possible,” said Matthies.
Have you ever been to an orchestra concert, but are curious to sample a small menu of choice classical pieces?
The season begins with QSO Favorites, where the orchestra plays classics suggested by the audience.
Expect Johann Strauss II’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube, John Williams’ Star Wars theme and Holst’s Jupiter excerpt from The Planets.
When the orchestra launched QSO Favorites last year, four out of 10 concertgoers had never attended one of its concerts before.
“It’s a great stat that we’re keen to repeat,” Matthies said.
This year, the orchestra will broadcast the QSO Favorites, Four Seasons and Beethoven and Dvorak concerts live.
The popular theme continues with Superfamous, featuring excerpts from instantly recognizable pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Conducted by beloved storyteller Guy Noble, Superfamous will also travel to Cairns, Gladstone, Toowoomba and the Sunshine Coast as part of the orchestra’s extensive regional programme.
Japanese violinist Natsuko Yoshimoto, who joined the ensemble in 2021 after a decade as concertmaster of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, will perform two versions of The Four Seasons.
She will travel through the group of four violin concertos composed by Vivaldi around 1720, alongside the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, written between 1965 and 1970.
And principal double bass Phoebe Russell will perform the world premiere of Australian composer Paul Dean’s double bass concerto, which was commissioned especially for her.
Dean, who was previously principal clarinet at QSO, now teaches at the Queensland Conservatorium – Griffith University.
“He’s really developing as a composer – we performed his first symphony last year and it’s a powerful piece. The concerto is being written and we can’t wait to share it.”
The program will also include the Queensland premiere of Sydney-based composer Andrew Howes’ Luminifera – Wild Light for Orchestra, as well as Rachmaninoff’s rousing Second Symphony.
Elsewhere, principal clarinet Irit Silver will perform Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
Acclaimed soloists Sara Macliver (soprano), Fiona Campbell (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and James Clayton (baritone) will perform Mozart’s haunting Requiem with the Brisbane Chamber Choir.
And rising star Chinese-Australian tenor Kang Wang will sing popular tunes – solo vocal pieces – by Puccini and Verdi in a program that also features Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
With the country’s borders reopening, the orchestra will be joined by several international guests including Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan (Elgar’s Cello Concerto), Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov (Rach 2) and violinist and conductor Israeli-born orchestra Guy Braunstein (Beethoven’s Violin Concerto).
Australian female composers are the focus of the orchestra this year, with works by the late Miriam Hyde and Margaret Sutherland being performed in July and October respectively.
Brisbane-born Berlin composer Cathy Milliken’s award-winning work, Piece 43 for Now, written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have its Australian premiere in August.
And Queensland Conservatorium alumnus Melody Eotvos’ Egyptian-themed work The Saqqara Bird will feature in the same program as Mozart’s clarinet concerto.
Matthies says that despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, QSO has grown its audience over the past couple of years, particularly those in their 30s and 40s.
“In 2021, we scheduled more shows than usual because we thought we had to meet 50% capacity, but ultimately, thankfully, we didn’t have to,” says Matthies.
Unlike many other parts of Australia, Queensland did not suffer lengthy lockdowns in 2021 due to modest numbers of COVID-19 infections.
“We’ve also worked hard to make our seasons more accessible by scheduling concerts on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, as well as offering shorter and longer concerts, and a range of ticket prices,” says- he.
Meanwhile, French horn player Vivienne Collier-Vickers will host Sounds Like an Orchestra, which promises to unleash the magic of music for the youngest by introducing them to different instruments.
“We did a variation of that last year, and then we had audience members tell us that it reminded them of Leonard Bernstein’s children’s concerts with the New York Philharmonic when they were growing up in New York,” he says.
“It’s exactly the kind of experience we want for Brisbane. It’s high quality but done in a friendly, open and accessible way.”
Australian Associated Press