REVIEW: Tradies and Artists (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Conductor Dane Lam. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra presented a relaxed mid-morning concert as part of their Music on Sundays series under the theme ‘Tradies and Artists’ -  exploring the idea that great tradespeople, like great classical musicians, can tell you the story of how, where, and when they learned their craft, with many using tools or instruments passed down through generations.  Hosted by ‘foreman’ Guy Noble, dressed in his best hard hat and hi-vis, and led by the sharp, energetic conducting of ‘architect’ Dane Lam, QSO performed music inspired by master craftsmen, including works by Rossini, Britten, Strauss, Mozart, Wagner, Weber, Copland, Lortzing and Mussorgsky.


Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

The concert opened with the leaping overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, beginning boldly with two assertive chords and then with several repeating themes throughout, rising in intensity as the orchestra carried the bright and energetic piece to its conclusion.

The second work of the concert was, very appropriately, ‘Sunday Morning’, the second of the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, which Queensland Symphony Orchestra recently performed in full as part of Brisbane Festival. It was implied after the conclusion of the piece that there were a few off notes, but I didn’t notice if that was the case. Flutes begin with a light melody and are joined by strings, evoking a golden sunrise glinting off the ocean, and horns begin to overlap one another, sounding like church bells.
 
Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates
French Horn Section Principal Malcolm Stewart then entered the stage, also in hi-vis gear, for the first movement of Strauss’ Concerto No. 1 in E flat major for Horn and Orchestra. It was interesting to watch Stewart play at the front of the stage, rather than tucked away in the brass section up the back – it was easier to see his hard work and concentration, and the control and effort of his breathing, especially in this notoriously difficult solo. Strauss’ father, who was a horn player, stated it was “totally unplayable” but Stewart managed the quick and lively work very capably.

Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music featured the mellow sound of the basset horn, which was interesting to hear prior to the piece commencing. Mozart was heavily influenced by Masonic ritual, being a Freemason himself and being surrounded by friends and colleagues who were also Masons. Apparently, he even incorporated the secret knock of their induction ceremony into the opening of The Magic Flute.
 
Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates
The next piece was the prelude to Die Meistersinger, Wagner’s only comedy, and a fun and frivolous piece. It was also the first example of a trill on the tuba, which was demonstrated prior to the piece by QSO Principal Tuba, Thomas Allely. It was spectacular to see the collective power of the strings section, all playing together, and the increasingly animated conducting of Dane Lam as the music’s intensity heightened.

Taking a serious and sombre turn, the overture to Weber’s Die Freischütz varied between the moods that would persist throughout the rest of the opera – dark music for the devil, light and cheerful melodies for the impending wedding, and grand, victorious music to represent hunting. The rapid movement of the bows in the strings section was mesmerising, and the overture built up to a big, lively finish.

I remember learning about folk hero John Henry in primary school, but never knew there was also a piece of classical music composed to tell the story. Copland’s work is brief but exciting, using an anvil and sandpaper block to simulate the sounds of trains and the pile driver that John Henry famously faced off against in a contest of strength. Much like Henry’s life in the tale, the piece comes to an abrupt, but triumphant, end.
 
Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates
The overture to Albert Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann – a comic opera which Lortzing initially performed in as well as creating – tells the story of Russian tsar Peter the Great disguising himself as a labourer to work in a Dutch shipyard and learn ship-building techniques for his own navy. The music is lyrical, with repeated themes, and building to a dramatic finish.

The final piece of the concert was Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev, a gradually building piece full of grand brass, pealing bells, and clashing cymbals to end the morning with a grand finale!

The mix of bite-sized classical music pieces in this concert, with no piece over ten minutes long, was a pleasantly varied introduction to several different styles and composers, especially if you haven’t attended the orchestra before or don’t know much about classical music (like me!). The relaxed nature of the concert, perpetuated by the laid-back hosting and pithy explanations of Guy Noble as he introduced each piece, also makes the whole experience feel less intimidating. QSO are master craftspeople for sure, but they are also masters at helping the uninitiated to understand and appreciate their craft.

Tradies and Artists was the final Music on Sundays concert for 2018, but the 2019 concert dates can be viewed at QSO’s website.