Well, this concert could have easily fallen apart completely, but, credit to the professionalism of Queensland Symphony Orchestra, it actually went swimmingly. QSO’s Craig Whitehead came onstage before the performance to give the audience the news that Alondra de la Parra had fallen ill just before the concert, and there’d consequently be a few changes to the program. Neither he, nor de la Parra’s social media, gave any further details, other than the fact that de la Parra was en route to the hospital. Let’s hope her recovery is swift.
Nemanja Radulović. Photograph © Lukas Rotter/DG
This meant that the program didn’t begin with Federico Ibarra Groth’s Sinfonia No.2, Las Antesalas del Sueño (a pity, de la Parra’s recording of this from a few years ago is excellent), but instead with Dane Lam conducting the overture to Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Apparently Lam was intending to see this concert as an audience member, and only had an hour’s notice to prepare for the performance!
The Gluck is one that he’s currently conducting for Opera Queensland. Given that in that performance Lam was conducting from the pit, I didn’t get to see much of it, so it was a real pleasure to actually see his assured conducting of this charming opener.
The following performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was, quite possibly, the best live performance of it I’ve ever seen. Soloist Nemanja Radulović took the highly unusual step of playing and… I suppose we’ll have to call it ‘semi-conducting’? There are a fair number of concerti where players can both play and conduct, but they generally tend to be less involved than the Tchaikovsky concerto. Here, Radulović wasn’t simply conducting in the sense of beating time and keeping players in line in between virtuosic fingerwork, but instead doing something far more interesting. The strings were reconfigured in a much tighter than usual semi-circle around Radulović, who circled around this net of players, directing with his violin, movements, and facial expressions. As he said later, this unusual type of performance was totally unplanned before de la Parra’s illness.
Did it work? Did it ever. This breathed such life into the Tchaikovsky concerto – a warhorse if ever there was one – that it felt like a chamber music performance of close and intimate communication. You could see the QSO players working to keep up with Radulović; when he was less than a meter away from the players and pushing them further and further and faster and faster, they stepped up. Mention must be made also of his shadings of tone and rhythm. To be honest, I didn’t expect someone wearing enormous platform combat boots to bring such delicacy and subtlety to the piece, but he certainly did. Radulović’s distinctions of colour in the cadenza were the very definition of sensitivity.
If there was one issue with the seating configuration it was that, in requiring Radulović to physically turn around to interact and guide the other players, some of the finer details of his playing were lost. But still, what a show! This was a performance of the Tchaikovsky I’ll remember for a long time. Radulović concluded with a gorgeous encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita in D minor, BWV 1004.
Post-intermission, we continued with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 . This was a very good performance, although perhaps less wild than the Tchaikovsky of the first half. Dane Lam again conducted at short notice, and, although there were occasionally slight discrepancies between the players and Lam (mis-matched rallentandos and so on), for Lam to step in and conduct the piece so well is nothing short of astonishing. Performances were of high quality in general, but the trombones in the fourth movement thunderstorm, in particular, had clearly been itching to blast the audience out all evening; their power was electrifying.
A memorable evening, and an impressive example of QSO’s skill. This had potential to be a disaster, but, remarkably, everything went smoothly. Still, thank goodness for Dane Lam being in attendance!