The Bard and Beyond (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Conductor Carlos Kalmar and soloist Arabella Steinbacher. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Carlos Kalmar and with acclaimed guest violinist Arabella Steinbacher, presented an evening of works Shakespearean in their depth and scope with The Bard and Beyond, part of their Maestro series of concerts.

The pre-concert talk with Lachlan Snow was very informative, and so useful to orchestral newbies like myself to understand the music and the stories and emotions behind it. As Lachlan himself put it, the pre-concert talk helps me to “find a path through the music”.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Carlos Kalmar. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

After discussing the programmatic and ‘razzle dazzle’ overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the melodious Bruch Concerto Bo.1 for Violin and Orchestra, he spent a long time discussing the final work of the evening – Walton’s Symphony Number 1. “It is hard to hear any other composer in this work,” Snow said, and while I don’t have the breadth of classical music knowledge to judge that for myself, the work certainly stood out for me.

Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was familiar to me as a ballet-lover – the leaping strings and sparkling music conjured dance steps in my mind and  wove a clear story for me through my experiences with the ballet.

Conductor Carlos Kalmar and soloist Arabella Steinbacher. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 was exciting. It is always such a joy to see an artist doing something they excel at and enjoy, and Arabella Steinbacher looked as though she was enjoying the music even as she concentrated fiercely – eyes closed, swaying from foot to foot in the same glittering blue gown she wore on the posters for the event. She had a great rapport with Kalmar, and the expert, speedy movement of her fingers and bow were mesmerising.

Guest soloist Arabella Steinbacher with Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

Walton’s first symphony, Kalmar told the audience, is “not played often enough”. He smilingly advised us to “fasten your seatbelts” and indeed, it was one of the most engaging and intense symphonies I have had the pleasure of experiencing – I often sit back and let the music wash over me, but the Walton symphony kept drawing me back to conscious listening, demanding my attention. Drawing upon the emotions of Walton’s recent stormy breakup when he composed the symphony, the first movement is “undiluted rage” said Lachlan Snow, and the second movement was notated to be played “with malice”. Kalmar added before the symphony began that the second movement is like “yelling at your partner for half an hour” then hurling one final insult at them to have the last word. The third movement of the symphony is “melancholy”, opening softly with the flutes, and the fourth movement – first played the year after the incomplete symphony premiered in 1934 – is an abrupt change of pace to joy and celebration, reflective of Walton’s newfound love Viscountess Wimborne, with whom he remained for the rest of his life.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra played with passion and precision, as always, and particularly notable was the absolute synchronicity of the strings in the final movement of Walton’s symphony, moving up and down in unison like waves. Kalmar’s conducting was  energetic, his feet almost leaving the floor on many occasions. Certainly an emotionally engaging concert!

Conductor Carlos Kalmar and soloist Arabella Steinbacher. Imagery provided by Kath Rose & Associates.

The next concert in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Maestro series is Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony on Saturday, October 25. Visit the QSO website for ticketing and further information.