Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO). Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Brisbane. 17 November 2023

QSO’s final performance of 2023 was a rollicking run through the minds of three great composers – Rossini, Mozart and Prokofiev (on Saturday, Schubert was added to the mix) in a programme that encapsulated the orchestra’s year-long focus on the 150-year classical period. The charismatic Chief Conductor, Umberto Clerici, explained that these genius composers were working to get back to basics after a period of long performances, some as extended as two hours, the classical composers were giving audiences a sharper selection of short performances. It seems that audiences in the classical age were just as keen on ‘micro’ experiences as we are today!

In this programme, Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville Overture’ is only 8 minutes, Mozart’s ‘Symphony No. 39 in E flat’ just under half an hour, and Prokofiev’s ‘Symphony No. 1 (Classical)’ a mere 15 minutes. And, as Umberto said, just as a great actor working with Shakespeare’s plays will find something to interpret for today’s world, great musicians will always find something in the classical masterpieces to make them fresh for today’s audiences. As the energetic and witty conductor also quipped, as an Italian, he appreciates that the micro symphonies also allow us more time around the dinner table!

Continuing that theme, the first piece was by Rossini, who apparently once boasted that he could write an Aria in about four minutes – just enough time to boil himself some rice! His wonderful, speedy work set the scene with a comfortable and familiar piece, a crowd pleaser – his Overture from ‘The Barber of Seville’. Mozart’s symphony was theatrical and bright but with deep undercurrents of darkness. It is what makes him continue to be so resonant with us today. I wondered why I felt like tearing up during the performance. I read in the programme afterwards that Mozart composed this piece while experiencing one of his deep depressions. How could he compose such beauty in the throes of such despair? And, he might never have heard this 1788 piece performed: its premiere performance at a summer event was cancelled, and the composer tragically died in 1791. That same year, Antonio Salieri is rumoured to have conducted a performance of this bittersweet symphony. The irony is practically built into the composition. To cheer us all up, the final piece by Prokofiev was totally sublime, and the composer’s own eclectic homage to Wolfgang – albeit his new symphony was written more than 100 years after Mozart.

This was a wonderful way to end the season, especially as the orchestra had welcomed some guest players, including some from among their former ranks – the reason being that the orchestra is busy with collaborations with Opera Queensland, Opera Australia and Queensland Ballet. It is always a joy to see this Chief Conductor in action – he is animated and engaging and makes you smile (even while weeping at Wolfgang’s melodies).

Tune in to ABC Classic FM for a recording of this gig. Next year’s QSO theme is Romanticism, so expect a passionate and flourishing musical journey!

Beth Keehn

Photographer: Darren Thomas

Find out more: qso.com.au/tickets/2024-packages

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