The Queensland Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2019 season, which will see pianist Paul Lewis in Queensland as Artist in Residence and an increased focus on music by Australian composers.

“One of the things that has always been in my programming, and has been reflected in my current season and the next one, is contrasts,” QSO Music Director Alondra de la Parra tells Limelight. “Mixing the beloved pieces that everybody wants to see and keeping them somehow in the mix, but always in contrast and juxtaposition with new works, with music of today, with pieces from a while back that are not as known as some others – so there’s always a mix of styles, nationalities and huge musical contrasts. I’ve always said that every person should come to the concert and absolutely love a piece and maybe be really challenged by another one.”

QSO, Alondra de la Parra, Queensland Symphony OrchestraAlondra de la Parra. Photo: supplied

“I want our audience to keep listening to what they love, but also get to know new sounds, new works and also grow our sense of what we want to hear as a community and as an audience, because we have to evolve,” she says.

The QSO’s season will open in February with a concert that continues De la Parra’s Mahler cycle with the orchestra, performing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (she’s already done the First, Second and Fifth with the orchestra) alongside Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27, K595, performed by Paul Lewis, who will make several appearances across the year.

De la Parra and Lewis have been working together quite a bit recently. “We actually met last year,” she says. “We performed with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and then in Hamburg with the Hamburg Philharmonie, with the Beethoven Fourth, and we immediately felt a wonderful musical connection.”

“We just could read each other’s minds, basically, and that’s really nice when you can find a soloist with whom you can really just blindly work – you don’t have to look at him, you just know what he’s going to do and vice versa,” she says.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra, 2019 SeasonAlondra de la Parra and Paul Lewis. Photo: supplied

De la Parra immediately engaged Lewis for concerts in Mexico and they will also perform together in Europe next year. “I really wanted him to do Beethoven, because that’s his speciality and since we did the Beethoven Four we wanted to repeat that.”

Lewis will perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in September – on a program alongside Carl Vine’s orchestral fanfare V and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony – and the Grieg Piano Concerto (on a program with Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony) in November. “It’s an audience favourite and also not the kind of piece that one associates him with,” De la Parra says. “So it’s also fun to push the boundaries a bit with him in that sense.”

In addition to his concerto engagements,  Lewis will perform a solo recital of Haydn, Brahms and Beethoven in September at the QSO Studio.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra, 2019 SeasonMartin Grubinger. Photo: supplied

The 2019 season was crafted with input from the QSO musicians themselves, De la Parra explains. “I’ve asked them what they like to play, what they miss playing, who they like to perform with as well, and I’ve considered their wishes in a strong part of the decision-making,” she says. “One of the great things was that from the list of works that they wanted to do, I almost agreed 100 percent on everything they wanted to play, so it was easy because what they wanted to program were pieces I also wanted to program.”

The orchestra’s requests included Dvořák’s New World Symphony and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, both of which De la Parra will conduct in August alongside Avner Dorman’s Percussion Concerto with Martin Grubinger as soloist. “As soloists, they wanted to see, for example, Pablo Ferrández back, the cellist, and Daniel Blendulf the conductor,” De la Parra says. They perform a program featuring Lachlan Skipworth’s Spiritus, Debussy’s Nocturnes and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in June. “They wanted to see Ray Chen,” De la Parra says, with the Queensland-born violinist coming back in June to play a concert with Erin Helyard conducting. “But that’s something we all want, it’s not just them!”

Simone Young, Queensland Symphony OrchestraSimone Young. Photo: supplied

The 2019 season will also see an increase in the number of Australian composers on the program compared with last year, with works by Elena Kats-Chernin, Brett Dean and Nigel Westlake slated in addition to the Vine and Skipworth. Diana Doherty will perform Nigel Westlake’s Spirit of the Wild Oboe Concerto at the Last Night of the Proms concert, while Simone Young will conduct the Australian premiere of Brett Dean’s Notturno inquieto alongside Bartók’s Viola Concerto (with Nils Mönkemeyer) and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

De la Parra is a passionate advocate for the orchestral music of Latin America (she founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas when she was just 23 years old) and will be bringing plenty to the QSO’s 2019 season, particularly in a concert title Mexico Vs Brazil, named for Ignacio Chapela’s Ínguesu, based on the 1999 soccer match in which Mexico beat Brazil. “He took the 90 minutes of the game and made a ratio into a nine minute piece where the woodwinds are the Mexican team, the brass are the Brazilian team, the referee is the conductor and all these things happen in real time based on what happened on that match,” De la Parra says. “All the musical motifs are based on cheers and swearing and all sorts of screams at the stadium.”

The program will include composers from Mexico and Brazil, including Carlos Chávez, Dan Costa, Adriano Guarnieri, Heiter Villa-Lobos and José Pablo Moncayo. But Latin American music won’t just be confined to the gala concert, with Victor Ibarra’s Second Symphony opening a program in November (which will also feature Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulovic performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, continuing another cycle). “Ibarra is alive, he’s a composer of today, and he wrote this really impressive symphony called Las Antesalas del Sueña, which means sort of the waiting room before a dream,” De la Parra says. “It basically tells a story about what happens in your subconscious between when you’re awake and asleep. It’s a great work, it’s really special.”

“I also like to feature that kind of music, because it’s not what people expect Mexican music to be – it’s not folk oriented, it has nothing to do with folk music or rhythms or dance or anything like that. It’s an abstract symphony with a very magnetic contemporary language,” she says. “So it’s just a different contrast and a different side to Mexican repertoire that I think it’s important to make part of every orchestra’s core repertoire.”

De la Parra draws parallels with French music, which was once corralled into separate programs before it became integrated into regular programs. “French music has now become part of every orchestra’s core repertoire and one doesn’t question that much if there’s a piece by Debussy or Fauré or Ravel,” she says. “Nowadays it’s just part of the mix. I hope that we’re able to achieve the same with Latin American music, where it’s not just a Latin American fiesta-theme gala, but rather just part of every orchestra’s core repertoire.”

In the USA, orchestras have come under increased scrutiny over the representation of female composers on season programs, with the Philadelphia Orchestra amending its 2018-2019 program earlier this month following an outcry that it had not programmed a single piece of music by a woman. Is this something De la Parra factors into her programming?

“I honestly don’t think that way,” she says. “I do think that female composers and conductors and soloists, everyone, should have fair opportunities, of course, how could I not? However that’s not how I think in terms of programming. I’m just thinking what music works and if it’s by a man or a woman, I don’t even think about it.”

The QSO’s mainstage season will feature the work of one female composer in 2019, Elena Kats-Chernin, whose Mythic will be performed alongside Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (with Alessandro Carbonare as soloist) in April, conducted by Jaime Martin (her Wild Swans orchestral suite will also feature in the Animal Kingdom program in June).

The 2019 season, which will also include less frequently performed works such as Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, played by French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet in March, will see the return of the QSO’s Wave concerts, showcasing contemporary acts collaborating with the orchestra (artists and venues are yet to be announced), a Messiah in December, conducted by Stephen Layton with the Brisbane Chamber Choir, and the Chamber Players series, curated by the musicians of the orchestra. Piers Lane will also join the orchestra and Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch in May for a concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.

“I’m very much looking forward to this season,” De la Parra says. “I think it’s quite complete, round, and it has plenty for people to be excited about. I’m really proud of it.”


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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine