Queensland Symphony Orchestra performed a diverse series of three works in their latest Maestro concert, Dreamscapes, aweing audiences with their energised and synchronised performance. The transportive evening of music was also broadcast live on the ABC.
Guest conductor Jaime Martín was funny, warm, and generous with the audience, taking time before Symphonie Fantastique to speak to the audience about the story of the music. “It is even modern today,” he said. He also told the story of the first concert he attended as an eight-or-nine-year-old, particularly addressing one young audience member, recounting that he didn’t think he liked music, but when he heard it live for the first time “…I had tears in my eyes, it was amazing.”
The first piece of the evening was Elena Kats-Chernin’s Mythic, which started quietly and built slowly, rising into an uplifting, ringing piece that certainly felt like it glittered with magic. The imagery of entering an enchanted cave, which the composer cited as her mental image for the piece, was very strong, and I loved the thumping percussion and use of the xylophone.
Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra was a new experience for me, having never seen a clarinet as a concerto soloist. Copland’s composition brings together several styles that seem totally disparate – classical, American jazz, and Brazilian folk music – to create an unusual and thrilling piece. Also, I didn’t realise I’d been missing out until I heard slap bass played on a double bass. Fantastic!
Guest soloist Alessandro Carbonare played with passion, tapping his toes in the jazzier sections and moving with the music. By contrast, Martín’s movements were smooth and sure as he conducted the orchestra. QSO were spectacularly in sync, each moment perfectly harmonised across so many instruments and musicians. Carbonare also played an impressive encore solo, his fingers flying. Clean and smooth, this was an impressive piece that showed off the full variance of the clarinet, excitingly different to anything I had seen before.
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique followed the interval; an engaging performance that commanded attention not only through the loudness of so many musicians onstage, but by the vibrancy and variety of the piece.
The pre-concert talk was hosted by Concertmaster Warwick Adeney, Section Principal Clarinet Irit Silver, and Section Principal Bassoon Nicole Tait, who spoke about the stories behind the music, their personal history with the pieces, and gave brief demonstrations on their respective instruments.
“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of imagery and emotion behind it as well,” said Nicole Tait of Symphonie Fantastique, adding that it is a commonly practiced piece for the bassoon but that it is “really liberating” to know the piece well and to play it as part of an orchestra, rather than alone for an audition.
The story of the symphony is that of a young musician who is madly in love with a woman who embodies his romantic ideal. Throughout the five movements the audience encounter him in different settings: reflecting on his passions, attending a ball, in the countryside, in the throes of an opium dream that sees him witness his own execution, and finally dreaming of attending a Witches’ Sabbath, where his beloved appears transformed and joins the witches and other creatures of darkness. The idée fixe – a brief, recurring melody – represents his beloved, haunting him throughout each of the five movements.
The first movement was dreamy indeed, with the unison of QSO’s strings section particularly enchanting. The waltz of the second movement was lovely, glamourous and traditional, and the only movement to use both harps. The musicians mentioned in the pre-concert talk that it is notoriously one of the hardest pieces to play for the harp, and Warwick Adeney added that the composer had initially wanted six harps in the piece but, at the time, had been unable to find enough musicians with the necessary skill. “You can almost see the gold of the room,” conductor Martín said of the second movement in his chat with the audience, in reference to the harps.
The third movement was serene, gentler and less flamboyant, with the clarinet representing a calling shepherd’s horn played from the audience, and the fourth was much grimmer and extraordinarily busy, heavy with percussion, brass and crashing cymbals.
Martín described the fifth and final movement of Symphonie Fantastique as “a little bit hocus-pocus,” and it was certainly darker and more intense than the others, evoking images of dancing skeletons with the tapping of the violins, and the deep, resonant sound of tolling bells.
Martín swayed with the music, the movements of his hands still fluid and floating, and the orchestra’s physical and musical synchronicity in this piece, especially with a stage full of musicians, was truly impressive. The highly coordinated movement of instruments and musicians onstage became a dreamy landscape in itself.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s next Maestro Concert will be Cathedral of Sound on May 11, 2019. Ticketing and further information are available on QSO’s website.