Orchestral music has a bit of a rep for blandness.
It’s easy to think it’s all about the slow, bafflingly frivolous pieces our great-great-grandparents adored, and assume it’s just another outdated genre.
We often forget its impact on modern life and culture, and yet the majority of our most iconic, beloved movies have been made more compelling through orchestral soundtracks.
Orchestras can be surprisingly badass and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) has decided to embrace their badassery through their Wave Festival, a series of cross-genre collaborations designed to push the boundaries of audience expectations.
One of their key performances, featuring a collaboration with poet Luka Lesson, debuted at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Friday (20 April).Click here to read our recent interview with Luka.
With Luka and composer Gordon Hamilton joining forces to create a poetry performance backed by the QSO, it would have been easy to keep the mood lifted and storytelling fanciful, and stick to easy subject matter.
Instead, poetry and orchestra became vehicles for a powerful interrogation of Australian history and its habit of overlooking the horrible realities to focus on our nation’s advancement. The result is a harrowing piece exploring the realities and romanticisms of the biography of Major General Lachlan Macquarie.
‘Macquarie’ is poetry at its most visceral, with the QSO providing a haunting soundtrack to some of the darkest elements of our nation’s history.
Luka is masterful in his ability to weave words into heartbreaking, near cinematic life. The only sounds outside the music and the poetry were the gasps of the audience and a well-earned standing ovation.
Alongside Luka’s performance was the debut of a second collaboration, ‘Study In Morbid Fragments’, an ambitious piece composed by The Jezabels’ Heather Shannon.
As with Luka’s poetry, Heather’s music was a chance to explore power and the truths and falsehoods that create and enforce it. There’s something fascinating in watching a genre often ignored or belittled rising up to explore deeply controversial political ideologies.
‘...Fragments’, Heather’s first collaboration with the QSO featured a series of dynamic and evocative pieces, each beautiful in its own unique way, with hints of the rocking sounds she’s known for.
To close the evening, the QSO performed a piece that has broken the will of many an aspiring orchestral musician: John Adams’s ‘Chamber Symphony’.
Composed in 1992, ‘Chamber Symphony’ is its own act of collaboration, paying homage not just to Schoenberg’s symphony of the same name, but also to the gleefully hyper cartoon soundtracks of the 1950s.
After politically heavy performances, there’s something wonderful in settling in with music inspired by the Road Runner.
If there’s nit-picking to be done, it rests in the order of performances. Luka’s work was so compelling, so powerful, that everything that followed fell ever-so-slightly short in comparison. It’s a shame, because the other pieces were amazing in their own right.
Truthfully, I’m just not sure anything could follow ‘Macquarie’ and garner the same attention and awe as its predecessor.
If there were two take-away lessons from the evening, they was this: there’s a need for more poetry/ orchestral collaborations in the world; and never doubt an orchestra’s ability to kick ass.