The Return of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra

October 1, 2020


There are some occasions that you know you will remember forever. For me the latest one will be the first socially distanced concert from our own Queensland Symphony Orchestra on a sunny Spring afternoon here in Brisbane. It was a joyous and excited audience who gathered in the green courtyard for coffee and cake before being ushered to their seats in the magnificent Concert Hall. As we entered to take our seats everyone gasped, we’d forgotten just how beautiful it was.

Over the years I have been to many performances in this beautiful space, Chris Isaak and Kasey Chambers, Elvis Costello, Leo Sayer and Lulu with my Mum, but by far the most performances have been to see the Orchestra. It is always wonderful but this time you could see and feel their excitement being back doing what they do best. 

Our master of ceremonies for the evening,  baritone – Jason Barry – Smith received a rousing welcome, as did Conductor Dan Lam. It was surprising to see Concertmaster Alan Smith dressed up his tux and playing masterfully on his violin. I am used to seeing him walking around our neighbourhood during Covid or on video playing ‘ Over The Fence’. It looks like we had both forgone our Sunday walks today, filling our souls not with nature but with beautiful music. Punters laughed at the playful banter between Jason and Dan which added a party feel to the celebrations.

The Reel Classics Concerts are always a highlight for me, as the pieces of music are so familiar and are accessible for all ages. In the audience were the stalwarts of Symphony goers, family groups, couples and friends all enjoying the feeling of attending a live performance once again. So , what did they play? 

First came the rousing 20th Century Fox Fanfare written by Alfred Newman , before we heard the familiar strains of the Star Wars theme. Written by John Williams, Jason explained that we have a lot to thanks Star Wars for, as it brought the suspense and emotion of classical music to the masses. William’s had decided to write an opening melody to rival that of Newman’s and it has now become the most iconic film music of all time. There could be no better way to start the concert. 

Next was Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A major, Op 92 , a rhythmic piece which creates music of incredible intensity. It has been used in many films, including Immortal Beloved ( 1994), Mr Holland’s Opus ( 1995) and Knowing ( 2009). But the film where I remember it featuring most clearly and the film that really put this piece on the map was The King’s Speech ( 2010). Beethoven becomes the musical backdrop as Colin Firth’s King George VI announces the entrance of Britain into World War II. 

Another John William’s audience favourite was from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. John Williams only wrote the music for three of the eight Harry Potter films but his music so captures the feel of J.K. Rowling’s magical world that they are surely the tunes that play in everyone’s head when they think of the boy wizard and his friends. This particular theme ‘ Harry’s Wondrous World ‘ is from the end of the first film and featured a warm and celebratory tune on the strings, constantly punctuated by magical flourishes from the other instruments of the orchestra.

We heard Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria rusticana which featured not surprisingly in the finale of The Godfather Part III and was used to striking effect in Raging Bull. Female composer, Rachel Portman, composed the evocative music for Belle, a 2013 film, which tells the story of one of the few black women to enter high society in 18th century England. Keeping with the female theme we were treated to the beautiful melody that is Princess Leia’s theme. Memories of Carrie Fisher came flooding back.

Changing pace the whole orchestra played a role on The Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring by composer Howard Shore. You hear the folksy sound of Hobbiton, the brassy world of the heroic fellowship who set out to destroy the One ring, and the grim and harsh clashing notes that signify Mordor and the Orcs….. a marvellous piece! 

For a romantic like me, one of the highlights was the love theme from  Cinema Paradiso and also Johann Strauss’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314 whose waltz was used to dramatic effect in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jason entertained us all by remembering the list of more than 35 films in which this piece has been used.

To conclude the performance we were treated to the well loved flying theme from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial  which could only be described as soaring in every sense of the word. The audience roared at a playful light sabre fight between our conductor and Darth Vader,  before we returned to the world of Star Wars once more for a listen to the finale and end credits of the original film. Showcasing each instrument in the orchestra to its utmost , it is a fitting close to one of the most- loved films of all time and a fitting finale for this wondrous first concert after the woes of the pandemic.

For your own taste of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra live at the Concert Hall there are several Beethoven performances coming up. On Friday 16 October at 11am and Saturday 17 October at 3pm and 7:30pm the orchestra will perform Beethoven 5. On Saturday 21 November at 3pm and 8pm will be Beethoven’s Emperor. Both will be conducted by Johannes Fritzsch. 

For a magical, musical interlude head to QPAC to enjoy a bite and some absolutely beautiful music. As I heard one of the audience members say to her friends in a hushed voice , “ I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it.” Rejoice and celebrate the return of live music and the arts with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. They’ve missed you! 

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