Queensland Symphony Orchestra opened their 2022 season and began the celebration of their 75th birthday this year with QSO Favourites on February 12 – a warm, varied, and conversational concert featuring a series of shorter pieces requested by fans and musicians of the orchestra.
Following a Welcome to Country by Aunty Raelene Baker and a brief introduction from co-Concertmaster Warwick Adeney, Principal Conductor Johannes Fritzsch strode onto the stage and the orchestra leapt straight into the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony – perhaps the most recognisable piece of western classical music, with its iconic four-note opening (da-da-da-dun! Even if you don’t know it, you know it).
Following Beethoven was Berlioz’s Hungarian March, from The Damnation of Faust. Inspired by Goethe’s dramatic poem Faust, an 18th century poem based loosely on a 16th century legend, Hungarian March is an orchestration of unofficial Hungarian anthem and the music is cheery and bright, building to a crashing crescendo of percussion and brass. Speaking about the piece before it began, Johannes Fritzsch noted that this piece of music had featured on the programme of the very first Queensland Symphony Orchestra concert in March 1947. In addition to his conversations with the musicians and the audience, Fritzsch brought a grounded, sincere energy to the conductor’s podium throughout the entire concert.
The third movement from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was next, a gentle and lyrical piece filled with fluttering strings, flutes, and harp. Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite tells some of the tales narrated by the storyteller Scheherazade. In the third movement, The Young Prince and the Princess, Scheherazade weaves a passionate story about young love for her husband, the sultan, hoping to win his affections and prevent him from executing her in the morning.
Next was the fourth movement, Adagietto, from Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony, described as “a moment of calm and reflection in an otherwise intense symphony”. Scored only for strings and harp, the piece slowly built in intensity, and the harmony of bows dipping and swooping in the strings section was mesmerising.
To experience the orchestra in full flight is truly something special, an expansive joy and awe that fills the chest and sends goosebumps across the arms, leaving you a bit breathless. You can feel the sound in your whole body, not just hear it in your ears. I felt this way a number of times throughout the concert, but especially during QSO’s performance of the fourth and final movement of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3 in C minor (Organ Symphony). Featuring guest organist Andrej Kouznetsov playing the magnificent QPAC organ high above our heads, this was an uplifting, triumphant piece of music filled with cymbals, brass, and strings.
Following interval, the concert resumed with a world premiere, Fanfare for the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, composed by QSO cellist Craig Allister Young. Speaking about the piece before its premiere, Young said that he had taken the theme for the horns from a previous piece, one of the first he had ever composed with the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra (which merged with Queensland Symphony Orchestra in 2001). Young also developed a rhythm based on the phrase “QSO 75” which could be distinctly heard in the piece. The fanfare began in a bright and brilliant burst, cooling and softening into a sparkling lightness that fizzed and popped like champagne.
From the brightness of Young’s world premiere, the concert descended into Prokofiev’s The Montagues and the Capulets from Romeo and Juliet – dark and dramatic, with the music-box-like softness of the star-cross’d lovers at its centre. Continuing with ballet music, Romeo and Juliet was followed by a series of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake – my personal favourite! QSO performed the main theme, Scène – my favourite piece of music, full of shivering strings and pounding percussion – as well as the precise, upbeat Danse des cygnets and the lively Danse napolitaine with its recognisable trumpet solo.
The concert continued with the lively waltz of Strauss’ On the Beautiful Blue Danube and the joyous, epic Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from Holst’s The Planets, before concluding with a performance of the Star Wars Main Theme by John Williams, one of the most recognisable scores of modern times and a fabulous hit of nostalgia for those who love the films.
I enjoyed the structure of this concert – a series of shorter pieces with no clear connections between them, although the musicians wove a light narrative through the pieces as they spoke about each one. Short interludes delivered by different members of the orchestra throughout the concert provided interesting introductions and context to the works, and also allowed the personality and humour of the musicians to shine through in addition to their skill. Changes in the lighting design at the beginning of each new piece enhanced the transition between the many works, defining each one more clearly in my memory, and added an extra shimmer of atmosphere to the concert. Although each work was distinctly different in tone from the last, the concert felt like a coherent journey and the time flew past.
A striking start to Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s 75th birthday celebrations, QSO Favourites was an entertaining evening of familiar music, from giants of the classical canon to more recent and popular works from film. The series of eleven works selected by fans, audience members, and musicians encompassed a wide range of moods, ideas, and emotions, and were all passionately and powerfully performed by the orchestra under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch.