Firebird – An Instrumental Spectacular From QSO

March 23, 2021


Every now and then you head along to an event which moves you, surprises you and leaves you wanting more. Such was the case with Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Firebird concert featuring outstanding pianist, Simon Tedeschi and charismatic Italian conductor, Umberto Clerici. I was not familiar with the music to be played, but after taking our excellently situated seats, my friend Sarah and I were treated to an almighty musical experience on a lovely Autumn morning.

The atmosphere of a morning concert seems more relaxed and as this one was multi- generational,  with seven different schools attending , the energy felt electric. The other fun facet was that as instruments were moved around you could discuss the music with your friend between songs,  which only enhanced the experience for me. This concert was different in every way and delighted us with its nod to fairytales. 

COVID-19 had forced a disappointed Elena Schwarz to be unable to conduct on this day, so Umberto Clerici thankfully stepped in at the last moment. The first piece played was from German composer, Carl Maria von Weber and was the Overture: Der Freischutz. This story begins in a forest where French horns are used to represent hunters. Dark tremolos and the ominous beat of the timpani represent Zamiel, an agent of the devil who tempts the hunters with seven magic bullets. The speed of the violin players and string section enthralled me and it was almost a relief to the senses when the melody became softer and gentler to denote the arrival of Agathe. This piece fanned the fire for what was to come next.

What an absolute treat it was to be so close to the stage for the second piece of music, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.19 in F, K459. The piano was wheeled in to centre stage where we were enthralled by the magical talent of soloist, Simon Tedeschi. Simon’s first professional concert was at the Sydney Opera House at the age of nine. It was also so interesting to find out that he had lived and played in Colorado, which was my home back in the 90’s for three years. I loved the play between piano and orchestra, almost an echo, which made me feel cheerful and playful. 

The woodwind amazed in this selection with flutes, oboes and bassoon joining the piano, with the flute having the last word. In the last stanza we heard the weightiest and most memorable movement of the concerto. There are wonderful piano passages and the fugal passages with their sustained, many voiced texture, invade the comic bantering of the rest of the music, as power and play are winningly combined. 

The final piece of music proved to be a new favourite for me. Conductor Umberto  began by speaking to the youngsters in the audience before the piece and describe the fairytale of the Firebird in a humorous and engaging way. The music clearly tells a story. The fairytale goes something like this…….

‘Prince Ivan is hunting in a magical forest. He strays into a section of forest that is haunted by an evil magician called Koschei. In this forest Prince Ivan sees the magical Firebird. The Firebird has magical feathers which glitter like flames. Prince Ivan manages to capture the Firebird but agrees to release her when she offers him one of her magical feathers. Evil magician Koschei has captured thirteen princesses, one of whom Ivan falls in love with. Koschei sends monsters after the prince when he tries to set the princesses free.The prince calls on the Firebird for help. She makes the monsters dance until they fall into a deep sleep.The Firebird shows the Prince an egg where Koschei’s soul is kept. Prince Ivan destroys the egg and frees the captured princesses.’ 

This romantic yet scary story had me feeling so much, first the spine tingling evil of the enchanted forest, then the fluttering music as the prince meets the Firebird. The folksy oboe and strings section denoted the dancing princesses. I was exhausted by the frenzied pace and fear felt in the Koschei dance and I admit I jumped at times.The lullaby made me want to cry and then the sweeping finale with majestic horns triumphantly reaching for the sky was simply masterful.

Stravinsky’s incredibly vivid images weave an atmosphere that you can’t help but be drawn into and for the first time at a Symphony concert I leapt to my feet in appreciation. The roars from the young audience delighted us all and we all walked away saying what a magnificent concert it had been. So many different instruments caught our attention from cymbals, to the beautiful harp and the horns which used accessories I had never seen.

Coming up in the Concert Hall for April and May are Pictures At An Exhibition, Shakespearean Classics and a Musical Theatre Gala with popular tunes from The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Frozen. Live music makes you feel alive and is a reminder of our culture and its origins. For me the Firebird concert was both a surprise and delight. You can relive this magical moment on ABC radio or online. 

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