Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s first Music on Sundays concert of 2023, Dance Around the World, was an exciting and energetic collection of dance pieces, from classical ballet to waltzes, folk dance, and tango, at the QPAC Concert Hall, under the baton of new Chief Conductor Umberto Clerici.
Clerici spoke to the audience throughout the concert, offering insights and anecdotes related to the pieces being performed. It was noted that there has been less opportunity for both travel and dance in the past few years, due to the pandemic, but that this concert would take audiences on a journey across both music and geography, from France, Austria, and Germany to Spain, Finland, Czech, Russia, Hungary, Australia, and the Americas.
The concert began with Charles Gounod’s short and sharp Antique Dance from the ballet Faust, then launched straight into Jacques Offenbach’s Can-can from the overture to the operetta Orpheus in the Underworld; an iconic piece of music, but I had never heard it like this, with the full power and vigour of the orchestra behind that catchy and well-worn tune. Following this was Manuel de Falla’s rich and lively Dance of the Miller’s Wife (Fandango), from the Spanish comic ballet Three-Cornered Hat; the grandeur of one of Johann Strauss Jr.’s most famous waltzes, Voices of Spring; then on to a selection of Johannes Brahms’ fast-paced Hungarian Dances.
Clerici likened conducting Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra to driving a Ferrari, and violin soloist and co-concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto described the piece as characterful, rustic, and full of energy. Yoshimoto performed Rhapsody No. 2with impressive skill and the piece really did raise my pulse with its speed and intensity, leaving a sense of breathlessness after the final flourish.
The concert continued to move through Eastern Europe with a jaunty polka by Bedřich Smetana from The Bartered Bride, which was considered the quintessential Czech national opera for many decades, performed a thousand times in Prague alone between its premiere in 1866 and the 1920s. Shifting over to Russia, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake suite has long been a nostalgic favourite of mine, and the notes always conjure images of blue stage lights on white tutus. QSO performed the Valse from Act 1, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Darting across the oceans for the next piece, Australian composer Harry Sdraulig’s Vortex was an intense short piece that created the feeling of dancing, and then it was back to Europe for celebrated Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ Valse triste from Kuolema (Death). The piece comes from incidental musical written by Sibelius for his brother-in-law’s play Kuolema, although the gently haunting piece has long outlived the play it was written for.
Travelling to the Americas, Florence Price was the first African American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer and to have her work performed by a major American orchestra, with her first symphony premiering with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. QSO performed the third movement (Silk Hat and Walking Cane) from her Dances in the Canebrakes, followed by Aaron Copland’s Hoe Down from the ballet Rodeo, recognisable and exciting with percussion creating the impression of horses’ hooves. Zequinha de Abreu’s Tico-tico no fubá was a fitting finale, a bright and busy piece full of life, rhythm, and colour.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Dance Around the World concert was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning, and the synchronised movement of the musicians and sweeping gestures of Clerici on the podium created their own kind of dance. It may be a cliché, but it was indeed difficult to resist the urge to tap your feet, bob your head, and sway in your seat as the musicians brought together iconic tunes and newer or lesser-known compositions for an engaging and energising concert.
Dance Around the World was performed at the QPAC Concert Hall on 12 February 2023
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