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Musical chairs: How world-class cellist made the switch to become QSO's main man

Culture

A world renowned cellist with a vision to take the music of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to the world stage will become the new Chief Conductor of the state’s premier classical ensemble.

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Umberto Clerici was on Friday announced as the Chief Conductor Designate of the QSO and will start his three-year term from January 1 2023.

Clerici will take the baton from Johannes Fritzsch, one of Australia’s top international conductors who is credited with building QSO into the world-class orchestra it is today.

Clerici told InQueensland how excited he is to take on the coveted role at such a pivotal time in Brisbane’s development as an international city.

“It’s a city that wants to be more relevant, to be more international and to grow,” Clerici said.

“Other cities are established and they have their own attitude which is already basically formed, while I have the impression that Brisbane is really like a young person with enthusiasm that wants to get to a different level of relevance.”

After more than 20 years as a gifted cello soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, Clerici decided he needed new challenges and moved on from his role as Principal Cello of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2021 to focus on his rapidly acclaimed conducting career.

His vision for the QSO draws strongly from his European roots.

“So, this is my main philosophical vision for QSO, because in Europe, where this music comes from so it’s more obvious, it’s more integrated into the fabric of the society,” he said.

“I think here, there is space to make it even more connected and to broaden the audience and to have different levels of communication with the audience – from playing of course, to talk to them, to involve them, to have chamber music in different parts of the city.

“And so this is basically what I think we will expand in the next years our social relevance.”

Clerici said he is enjoying rising to the challenge of transferring his vision for the company into the programming.

“So my vision is half programmatic, which means which kind of music we should explore; and half philosophical, which kind of message and what are we for the society?” he said.

“I’m European. I think that music, classical music, any kind of music that has values behind the note, is something that half educates a society, and half makes the society think and mirror the message.

“For example, if you program Beethoven 9, it’s a very famous piece, everybody knows it, but also, it’s a message of brotherhood, where all humans are equal, not in front of God, but among themselves. It doesn’t matter, men and women, rich or poor, old and young, white and black.

“So, how can we make us more relevant in the society and not just play very well or make the shows interesting to listen to. How can we make society communicate to us and vice versa?”

Clerici is defying the trend where most conductors rarely come from the orchestra. He sees conducting as another expression of the culmination of decades spent perfecting his art.

“I played in an orchestra for 20 years. I always wanted to play with my colleagues and the conductor is there to facilitate or to give a vision or to connect or to decide what is the main voice in that specific moment but still the orchestra musicians need to be independent and willing to play with the others,” he said.

“So, that’s my goal with QSO, to make them more paradoxically independent.

“A conductor shouldn’t say that, because a conductor should say, “Oh no, they have to depend on me.” It’s the opposite. If you are an architect, you give the vision, the pace, the meaning of that piece, but in the end, it’s the musicians that produce the sounds.”

Queensland audiences are already familiar with Clerici’s conducting style as he led QSO in four major concerts last year including the Season Closing Gala, each to great reviews.

His first performances as Chief Conductor Designate will be next month’s Maestro Series featuring Mahler’s 1st Symphony with soloist Daniel Müller-Schott performing Elgar’s cello concerto, before returning in July for the Fantasy and Folklore program.

QSO Acting Chair Rod Pilbeam said “we could not be more thrilled” with Maestro Clerici’s appointment.

“As one of Queensland’s largest performing arts organisations, QSO demands an inclusive and visionary musical leader,” he said.

“Maestro Clerici has already led the Orchestra to standing ovations in the Concert Hall and has an intimate understanding of our commitment to share the power of music across all corners of the state.”

The appointment comes just four weeks after QSO named one of the country’s leading arts professionals Yarmila Alfonzetti as Chief Executive Officer.

 

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