OPENER A JOYOUS TRIUMPH
QUEENSLAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA GALA CONCERT – ODE TO JOY Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC Reviewed: February 14 Reviewer: Gillian Wills
BEETHOVEN’S choral setting of Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy in his Ninth Symphony is a popular evergreen worldwide.
Everyone knows the tune as it has cropped up in many films including Clockwork Orange. It’s often used as a ringtone and was the cornerstone of a celebratory event after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The QSO chose a cheeky and confronting concept for this year’s first Maestro Series program. Gordon Hamilton, composer and artistic director of Australian Voices, was given the scary brief of composing a companion piece for Beethoven’s Ninth and this was to channel the hotly debated theme of same-sex marriage.
Hamilton’s accessible and entertaining piece, which steers clear of being “preachy”, is set to The Trillion Souls, a poem by UK journalist Andy West. The text champions the “trillions” of deceased gay people who were legally prevented from marrying their partner.
The tone of West’s poem is firm yet optimistic. In his words: “But today the bigots and the dim have had their voices tamed.”
The vocally impressive lineup of soprano Dominique Fegan, mezzosoprano Nicole Youl, tenor Henry Choo and the powerful, persuasive baritone David Wakeham sang their solos with appealing chutzpah. The score is easy on the ear, sonically quirky and spiced by the odd dash of pop.
Choo’s articulation of “cretins” and his capacity to switch between classical and rock impressed, and Fegan gave a haunting account of We think of you, the Shamefaced Girls.
Hamilton salutes Beethoven’s famous tune but teasingly turns it upside down. The score is rife with the familiar – from 12th century Hildegard’s plainsong to tongue-in-cheek snatches of hummable “wedding” favourites by Pachelbel and Mendelssohn.
In the introduction, designed to mirror the Ninth’s gentle opener, the ensemble seemed not yet in the zone and was not entirely convincing.
Overall, Hamilton’s language was exhilarating and studded with surprise. In one piece he toys with a recording of Margaret Thatcher’s notorious speech admonishing authorities “for teaching children they have an inalienable right to be gay”.
Bursting out of agitated instrumental swirls, the words “inalienably” and “gay” are given a punishing workout tossed mercilessly among the ranks of the Australian Voices.
But it is hard for a choir to be 100 per cent, crystal clear diction wise and, despite the singers’ vigorous efforts, the words were often inaudible.
Given that Hamilton’s music so vividly explores West’s forceful words and the choir’s ranks of 44 were modest, surtitles were necessary or, at the very least, the complete poem should have been printed in the program because it would have enhanced the audience’s appreciation.
As it was, some in the sellout audience wouldn’t necessarily have grasped its focus.
Inspired by the young yet experienced, impassioned conductor Gergely Madaras, the choir and the QSO demonstrated a heartfelt dedication to Hamilton’s music, and the distinctive soloists and all participants gave a stirring, heady account of Beethoven’s whopping symphony.
Perhaps there could have been more light and shade, gravitas and restraint, yet the driver was full on engagement and enthusiasm and this was, ultimately, the evening’s triumph and a great way to start the year for the QSO. qso.com.au