Review: Soaring Heights (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Johannes Fritzsch conducts the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

Just one week after opening and celebrating their 75th year with the striking QSO Favourites concert on February 12, Queensland Symphony Orchestra returned to the Concert Hall to present Soaring Heights, their first Maestro concert for 2022. Bringing one hundred musicians to the stage, Soaring Heights tackled the adventure and altitudes of Strauss’ Alpine symphony as well as Brahms’ second piano concerto.

The concert began with Brahms’ concerto, with guest soloist Daniel de Borah joining Queensland Symphony Orchestra onstage. Brahms’ second concerto – separated from his first by more than two decades – premiered in 1881 and took him three years to compose, plagued by imposter syndrome and the poor reception of his first concerto. The second movement of the concerto, a boisterous scherzo which expertly builds and releases tension, made this work atypical of the standard three-movement concerto form of the time. The concerto was filled with light and shade, moments of music both grandiose and gentle, and de Borah’s virtuosity carried the audience through the languor and passion alike.

Daniel de Borah performs Brahms’ second piano concerto with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

As a soloist, de Borah’s fingers moved across the keys faster than I could comprehend, and he played with flair and flourish. Following the concerto, and enthusiastic applause, de Borah returned to the stage for a smooth, ponderous encore that was listened to intently by audience and fellow musicians alike.

100 musicians of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra perform Strauss’ Alpine symphony. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

Following interval, the concert resumed with a full stage – a colossal 100 musicians in total, including Andrej Kouznetsov perched high above on the organ, to perform Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony (Eine Alpensinfonie).

Inspired by his own experience of hiking through a thunderstorm in the Bavarian Alps as a teenager, Strauss’ tone poem was evocative, almost cinematic, to experience. Played in one continuous movement but separated into 22 short sections that progressed the narrative of the hike, the piece began with a low rumbling of strings, brass, and percussion, evoking the optimism of the ascent. It was easy to become pleasantly lost in the imagery that the music conjured – to clamber over rocks, see a sunbeam burst through the clouds, and survey a sweeping vista with appreciation. It was impossible to miss the cowbells, visually or musically, and there were other interesting additions to the percussion section as well – a thunder sheet, and an aeoliphone that created the whistling wind of the storm. Sharp brass, heavy percussion, and brisk strings added to the force and drama of the thunderstorm, but there were also moments of exquisite quiet, and birdsong, that called personal hiking memories to mind.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra perform Strauss’ Alpine symphony- note the less usual percussion instruments at the back! Photographed by Peter Wallis.

An orchestra is an impressive ecosystem at the best of times, but the spectacle of one hundred musicians – so many moving parts, all working together to create a harmonious whole – was enchanting. Principal Conductor Johannes Fritzsch wielded the baton with control and focus throughout the concert, bouncing on his heels in Brahms and moving side to side on the podium, capturing the whole orchestra, during the Alpine symphony.

Principal Conductor Johannes Fritzsch and guest soloist Daniel de Borah. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

Soaring Heights was as epic and transportive a concert as the name suggested it would be, highlighting the skill of a guest soloist as well as the cohesive skill of QSO’s many musicians, and I was impressed by the orchestra’s capacity to deliver a concert of such magnitude only a week after QSO Favourites.

Find out about QSO’s upcoming concerts on their website

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