Review: Heroes and Revolutionaries (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Jonathan Stockhammer conducts Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s first Music on Sundays concert of 2022 was an engaging and energetic performance featuring a wide selection of classical pieces. Led by guest conductor Jonathan Stockhammer and hosted by Guy Noble, Heroes and Revolutionaries drew together works of fictional heroes – Robin Hood, William Tell, The Magnificent Seven – and real revolutionaries, from pioneering female composers to classical mainstays like Beethoven.

The audience was welcomed by cellist Craig Allister Young, who in turn introduced concert host Guy Noble. Noble entered the stage in a rain poncho, a reference to earlier concerts being cancelled due to the recent flooding, and his characteristic humourous commentary punctuated the concert with audience laughter.

Guest conductor Jonathan Stockhammer was a personable presence onstage, speaking with Noble about the pieces of music being performed as well as about his own life. Stockhammer conducted Queensland Symphony Orchestra with sweeping, fluid gestures and an infectious enthusiasm that radiated from the podium.

Jonathan Stockhammer conducts Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

The concert opened on a bold note with Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No.1 by American composer Joan Tower, a response to Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The second piece of the concert was the first movement of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, the Allegro con brio; the intensity of the strings underscored the brass and percussion, creating a sense of purpose and momentum even in the gentlest moments of the movement. Beethoven had initially intended to dedicate his ‘heroic’ symphony to the French ruler Napoleon but, upon learning that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor of France, crossed out this planned title page dedication.

Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino in D major for Flute & Orchestra, the bright and uplifting third piece of music performed, was allegedly composed in defiance of a flautist former lover; when he married someone else, Chaminade wrote the concerto to be so virtuosic that he was unable to play it. QSO Section Principal Flute Alison Mitchell had no such trouble, and performed the technically demanding solo beautifully. Speaking to Noble and the audience before the piece, Mitchell mentioned that she had played the piece before, but that this was her first time performing it professionally with a full symphony orchestra.

Jonathan Stockhammer conducts Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

The next piece was the Overture to Rossini’s opera William Tell, played in full. Ominous cellos were joined by the double bass, then shivering strings and creeping woodwind grew into the drama and intensity of the storm before the evocative pastorale section. Plucking strings and ringing triangle evoked the calm after the storm before trumpets announced the arrival of the iconic finale, filled with galloping horns and crashing cymbals. The second movement of Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood symphonic suite from Robin Hood and his Merry Men was similarly evocative, conjuring images of high-stakes adventure.

The pace of the concert slowed with Australian composer Miriam Hyde’s Heroic Elegy, a mournful musical portrait of the composer’s friend and supporter Sir Reginald Buckland, and then picked up again with Elmer Bernstein’s epic and cinematic symphonic suite from The Magnificent Seven; I’ve never seen the movie, but I recognised the score.

The fourth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique came next, the grand and dramatic opium-fuelled dreamscape of March to the Scaffold in which the protagonist, an artist and jilted lover, dreams that he has killed his beloved, is condemned, and is led to the scaffold to witness his own execution.

Jonathan Stockhammer conducts Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photographed by Peter Wallis.

Guy Noble announced that the concert’s end time was approaching, and the orchestra sped through into the final piece of the concert, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture; fast-paced and vigorous, full of dancing flutes and cheerful strings, this was a glittering finale to a spirited concert.

Heroes and Revolutionaries combined iconic works with exciting pieces, specifically by female composers, that I had never experienced before, and included a surprising number of laughs thanks to the charismatic hosting of Guy Noble and the contributions of guest conductor Jonathan Stockhammer and the QSO musicians.   

Find out about QSO’s upcoming concerts on their website

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