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Bernstein at 100 - Queensland Performing Arts Centre

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Bernstein Rules
The QSO certainly knows how to show-case a concert.

Start with a pre-concert talk by Lachlan Snow who combines youth with flair, extroversion and an encyclopaedic knowledge. Add helpful, insightful and knowledgeable program notes by Celia Fitzwalter.

Then the many microphones above the heads of the choirs and orchestra tell us that we have the chance to re-visit the concert courtesy of the ABC. Here's the link.

The ABC website tells us that there were 258 musicians involved in the Bernstein at 100 celebration and the over-filled choir stalls and stage make that figure easy to believe.

Enter Alondra de La Parra to as close to a rock-star welcome as the eminently respectable audience can generate. Clearly, she is a much-loved personage in the Queensland musical scene, and she wastes no time in demonstrating why that is.

There are as many conducting techniques as there are conductors. Some are minimalist and tightly controlled. De la Parra could not be accused of that approach. Watching her is akin to appreciating choreography. She dances, sways, shimmers, conveying her engagement with and celebration of the music. And, when the deserved and rapturous applause comes, she is meticulous in ensuring that it is shared with everyone involved.

The concert was designed to showcase key aspects of the genius of Bernstein, as conductor, pianist, and composer of music ranging from Symphonies to musical theatre.

Two iconic figures, Arthur Millar and Bernstein, combined to generate the movie score for On the Waterfront. As Celia Fitzwalter writes "the music is exhilarating, energetic and features .. powerful brass and percussion". No-one goes to sleep while this music is playing, and the QSO exemplifies all the brio and verve that it demands and then some. Magnificent.

When the Chicester Psalms were commissioned the Dean wrote to Bernstein "many of us would be delighted if there was (sic) a hint of "West Side Story" about the music". Sung in Hebrew, and with a glockenspiel front and centre, the massive choir achieves a tonal richness that is rare and precious, fading into a treble solo accompanied by a harp.

Two trebles come to front of stage and their pure and flawless voices bring us close to tears. Moving and magical.

Bernstein loved the poems of W H Auden, and, after the interval we are privileged to hear his response to "The Age of Anxiety" which, as Celia Fitzwalter tells us "deals with issues that were central to his whole life, such as homosexuality, alienation and .. our difficult and problematic search for faith". Andreas Haefliger features on piano, the fiendishly difficult music of which acts as the linking voice of Bernstein as he struggles with booze and the eternal verities. This is well worth re-visiting on the ABC link. An astounding performance.

"Time to throw some buns to the elephants" we think, as we settle down for West Side Story. Wrong. An unexpected and discordant clash begins the work, and jazzy sound bites, finger-clicking musicians, bongos, police whistles, cowbells and thundering timpani ensure that we do not take anything for granted. The energy unleashed by the QSO throughout, could we but harness it, could have illuminated the whole of Brisbane.

From which you may gather that your aged reviewer felt privileged to have been at a superb concert, a fitting tribute to a wonderful musician and a triumph for the QSO, Alondra de la Parra and all 258 musicians.

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Why? a unique opportunity
When: 25th August
Where: QPAC Concert Hall
Cost: $79 - $117
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