Review: Tchaikovsky and Beethoven (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Nemanja Radulović and Queensland Symphony Orchestra, photographed by Peter Wallis.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra gave an impressive performance last Friday night with Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, delivering an outstanding concert despite a last-minute change of conductor and concert schedule.

The pre-concert talk was delivered by QSO Marketing and Publications Coordinator Celia Casey, having recently completed her PhD in Musicology at the University of Queensland and who wrote the listening guide for the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky pieces to be featured in the concert. Casey was joined by Shane Chen, recently appointed Principal First Violin of Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who performed excerpts from the pieces to highlight musical concepts as they were discussed, and offered his own insights into the piece as a musician. “This piece, for any great violinist, is a challenging piece. It doesn’t matter how much I practice, I still struggle,” Chen said of the Tchaikovsky concerto, despite giving an impressive example of sections of the first movement.

Unfortunately, QSO Music Director and the evening’s conductor Alondra de la Parra was unwell, but Dane Lam was able to step up to the plate at only an hour’s notice and did a fantastic job – both he and QSO are to be commended for their innovative skill and professionalism.

Presumably due to the last-minute change in conductor, Frederico Ibarra Groth’s Sinfonia No.2 Las Antesalas del Sueno (The antechamber of the dream) was not performed, replaced by the overture to Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which Lam is currently in Brisbane to conduct for Opera Queensland and Circa’s production Orpheus and Eurydice.

Nemanja Radulović and Queensland Symphony Orchestra, photographed by Peter Wallis.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra without a conductor, the first time I’ve ever seen this happen and obviously a new experience for Nemanja Radulović, as he mentioned before his encore performance. Concertmaster Warwick Adeney conducted the chorale to begin the second movement, and Radulović faced the orchestra and audience alternatingly – it was fascinating to watch these machinations taking place, to see the workings of an orchestra without the single focal point of the conductor, and I have nothing but admiration for QSO and for Radulović for the way that they (literally) conducted themselves.

Nemanja Radulović was focused but playful in his performance, facing the audience and the orchestra in turn. Despite this unusual arrangement, Radulović was the picture of virtuosity and ease as he performed Tchaikovsky’s concerto, once declared impossible by violinists Joseph Kotek and Leopold Auer, drawing applause from the audience after the first movement. His mastery of his instrument was obvious, and the violin seemed to remain fixed as his body moved around it like a gyroscope.

Nemanja Radulović, photographed by Peter Wallis.

The concerto finished to thunderous applause, the orchestra clapping and stamping their feet as loudly and enthusiastically as the audience as Radulović returned to the stage and performed an encore piece, Bach’s Sarabande in D Minor, everyone listening with rapt attention both onstage and in the audience.

Dane Lam returned to the stage following the interval to conduct Beethoven’s programmatic Symphony No. 6, Pastorale, an entirely different energy to the Tchaikovsky concerto, evoking imagery of the Austrian countryside. Energetic violins in the first movement created the atmosphere of a pleasant stroll through the country, and the second movement was soothing and unhurried, meandering along like the bubbling brook it sought to evoke and imitate. The jaunty third movement transported audiences to a country dance which was interrupted by the fourth movement, full of thunderous brass and percussion; the synchronised, changing angles of the bows in the large strings section was visually mesmerising as they evoked the heavy downpour of a thunderstorm. The symphony finished with a joyful and light-hearted final movement, a hymn of thanksgiving that the storm had passed.

Nemanja Radulović and Queensland Symphony Orchestra, photographed by Peter Wallis.

Tchaikovsky and Beethoven was a thoroughly enjoyable concert, met with a well-deserved standing ovation from the QPAC Concert Hall. This concert could have gone a lot less smoothly if not for the quick competence of Dane Lam and Nemanja Radulović, and was absolutely a demonstration of Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s remarkable skill and adaptability as individuals and as a whole.

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