Just as there are multiple ways to be a musician, there are many reasons for favouring particular music, as the audience learned during this music-for-all Queensland Symphony Orchestra event, one of Brisbane Festival’s entertaining freebies. Jenny Woodward, veteran weather reporter, set the right tone as an accomplished presenter who encouraged those chosen to talk about the programmed pieces of music they love.
Guy Noble and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied
And, if ambient noise sometimes intruded, such as nesting bird calls during Brahms’ tempo-shifting, Hungarian Dance No 5 in G Minor (chosen by Andrea Tomas) or the whup-whup-whup of a passing helicopter in the second movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony (selected by Akiko Hansen), that’s all part and parcel of the charms of an alfresco evening at the Riverstage, a stone’s throw from the vividly illuminated Brisbane River.
Molly St John Mosse’s pick – a keen contributor to a weekly slam poet event at the Zoo in which attendees create poetry punctuated by dinosaur references – was the main theme from Jurassic Park by film composer John Williams. The breezy brass-stoked rendering suited the occasion, the children present and the amp-enhanced orchestra.
Incidentally, the filmed projections of orchestral sections, key players and soloists – flautist Alison Mitchell was among those featured, seen giving a golden-toned execution of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – added a rewarding, multi-layered visual element. Conductor Guy Noble, who likes nothing better than incorporating the odd prank into any concert, made a delighted crowd chuckle as he held up his mobile, which depicted Chariots of Fire protagonists sprinting along a beach, while conducting Mortimer’s arrangement of Vangelis’ main theme.
Those selected to explain their musical hits were of all ages and from diverse backgrounds, and all were larger-than-life characters. Su Mien Yeoh in striking hat and cowboy outfit recalled how her mum cooked dinner while she and her siblings watched the Lone Ranger. Her selection was Rossini’s William Tell Overture, famously used as the program’s theme music. Eight-year-old Matilda recalled how her teacher had invited the children in her class to lie down and wait for a surprise which turned out to be the second movement of Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony No 94 in G. Scottish elder Ronald Gardiner loves the second movement of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony because of its profusion of pretty tunes.
Hearing the fat centred sound of the basses led by QSO’s section principal Phoebe Russell was a treat, as was the glorious French horn lyricism, charming cor anglais, the woodwinds’ persuasive tune-spinning, energised strings and resolute brass. This wasn’t the forum for soul-searching in-depth portraits of classical gems, but a string of crowd-pleasing snapshots designed for easy listening.
Orchestral concerts were important during Graham and Jan Stenton’s courtship and after their marriage. When a baby came along, they were afraid their concert attendance would be curbed. Taking a risk, they took their newborn along to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and despite a firing cannon and ear-splitting ruckus during the music’s final moments their daughter slept through it all. Putting considerations of cost and practical logistics aside, the only disappointment in the event’s 1812 finale was the notable lack of cacophonous celebration.
There’s every possibility that the concert had an enduring impact on many of the youngsters enjoying a picnic with their family under the stars, and in years to come will be keen audiences for the QSO.