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Many to become one: Orchestra is getting the band back together

Culture

Members of Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s ensemble have been performing ‘together alone’ since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organisation is getting the band back together for its latest online concert series, the Studio Sessions, which premieres on Sunday.

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The program of concerts, featuring unique works for smaller ensembles from a diverse range of Australian and international classical composers, will be recorded in the QSO Studio at South Bank and released free on YouTube, with a new concert to be released every two weeks.

“We’re very excited, and the orchestra is really excited about being back playing with their friends and colleagues again,” QSO chief executive Craig Whitehead told InQueensland.

“We’ve been doing a whole lot of things within the social distancing and ‘no group gathering’ scenario but as things are starting to loosen up we’re able to bring some musicians back into the studio and start to create some content, where musicians are playing in the same room as opposed to doing click tracks where they are videoing themselves independently and then we’re splicing them together.”

Whitehead said the QSO had been pleased to be able to provide socially distanced online content over the past few weeks, such as the orchestra’s take on Baby Shark video, but he said being able to have musicians in the same room brought back a level of intimacy and vitality.

“This is a group of people who live to play, and they live to play as part of an ensemble and when that ability’s taken away from them for a period of time, when they get back together, it’s almost like they’re whole again.

“It’s been really special being in and around the studio while they’ve been rehearsing and seeing just how relieved they are to be back and how much joy they have in being back in the company of their friends and colleagues.”

Whitehead said the QSO had been working on a program of online activity “pretty much from the moment we went into lockdown” based around a range of possible social scenarios.

“We were planning from the moment that we had a loosening of restrictions that we would start to bring small ensembles back in the studio together and we’ve been able to bring that in faster than we had anticipated.”

This Sunday’s Studio Session, which premieres on QSO’s YouTube at 3:00pm, will feature acting principal cello Hyung Suk Bae, section principal Viola Imants Larsens, section principal flute Alison Mitchell and principal harp Jill Atkinson performing a repertoire that celebrates Bach, Beethoven and Debussy.

Whitehead said one positive that had arisen from the QSO ramping up its online delivery had been the ability for regional audiences to engage with the orchestra, and he said online content would remain a permanent part of the organisation’s program.

“We’ve had aspirations around digital media for a period of time but haven’t had the time to be able to devote to it that we need to,” he said. “COVID-19 has certainly provided us that opportunity when we weren’t trying to put on concerts every week.

“What has been fantastic is that we have been able to through our education and our community outreach program and our artistic programs, reach a lot more of the state than we have before and that will continue on an ongoing basis.

“Between now and the end of the year, we do an annual Day in the Orchestra, and Sing With the Orchestra, and we’ll be taking those online, taking them virtual, right across the state.

“That’s going to be the one real change when we get back into a sense of normality, that will be, what we do on an ongoing basis, using digital media to create opportunities for people who are across Queensland to engage with their state orchestra.

“It won’t replace our touring program and the need for us to physically get out into the regions but it will certainly complement that and fill the gaps in those years when we can’t get to certain communities, so we’re very excited about the possibility of using digital content and using online and social media going forward to connect the QSO right across the state.”

Whitehead said Sunday’s repertoire, which includes Bach’s ‘Cello Suite No.1’, Beethoven’s ‘Duet mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern, WoO 32 mvt.1’, and ‘Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp’,  would be a treat for aficionados and a perfect starting point those connecting with classical music for the first time.

“If people haven’t heard the Bach Cello Suite before, they absolutely should, it’s just one of the most iconic and extraordinary pieces of music written for solo cello, and it is just a beautiful and affecting piece and will be played beautifully by our acting principal cello, Hyung Suk Bae.

QSO’s acting principal cello Hyung Suk Bae.

“The next piece is the Beethoven duet for viola and cello and this is supposed to be a big year of Beethoven, it’s the 250th anniversary of his birth. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to play too much Beethoven, so give people a little bit of a taste of what we were planning to do this year.  It’s a beautiful piece and will be featuring both our principal viola and principal cello and they’ve been really loving working together.

“Hyung is just coming back from a major injury, so it’s wonderful to see the two of them playing together and starting to build a really terrific chemistry across those two incredibly important instruments in our orchestra.

“At the end we have the ‘Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp’. So it will be a joyous, wonderful and fun ending to the program and we’re kind os stepping up the size of the ensemble throughout the program.”

Stepping up the size of the ensemble is something Whitehead hopes the QSO will be able to continue to do in the coming weeks and months.

“Going forward, we’re looking to bring together, up to 10-15 musicians and in the coming session program that moving from there into 20-25, a chamber orchestra.”

Whitehead said Queensland’s success with containing COVID-19 made him hopeful that the state would be able to follow New Zealand’s lead, where socially distancing measures have been relaxed to the point that both the New Zealand and Auckland symphony orchestras will be performing live concerts within the next week.

“If we get down to zero [active cases], and we have two weeks of continuing to test and there are no new cases, then you get to the point of thinking ‘well, what are we social-distancing from if no one’s got COVID-19, and there are no active cases of COVID-19?’

“If we can continue as a community to work together to focus on hygiene and doing all the right things, health authorities are suggesting that they will be able to get back into public gatherings by the end of the year, which would be amazing.”

The Studio Sessions will premiere on Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s YouTube Channel at 3:00pm on Sunday, June 14.

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