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Queensland’s Alondra de la Parra is mistress of all she surveys

Martin Buzacott, The Australian
7 August 2017

In the week when Despacito became the most-streamed song ever, the life-affirming Latino music revolution that it represents in pop also swept through Queensland orchestral music-making.

In the most exciting QSO concert in memory, resident music director Alondra de la Parra conducted a never-to-be-forgotten performance that was bursting at the seams with vitality, giving the smiling players a white-knuckle ride that looked as enjoyable as it was terrifying.

Here were things probably never witnessed before in mainstage Australian concert halls: a pianist throwing her stilettos into the orchestra and storming offstage, the conductor sticking her hands into a piano in an attempt to silence it, and cellists in danger of being seduced mid-performance. Theatre mixed with great music, this Latino celebration of life, laughter, ritual and joy had it all. Oh, and ten percussionists at the back of the stage in a bacchanalian frenzy that made a 70s rock-drummer look like a minimalist.

No point in mentioning the standing ovation. A packed house had already been on its feet, clapping along in Mexican time-signatures, long before that. Just worth remembering that this was a flagship Maestro Series concert for subscribers who are usually fed a diet of Central European gruel. Long live the revolution.

And long live Alondra de la Parra, who ensured it was on from the downbeat to the suite from Malcolm Williamson’s Our Man in Havana, a scalded-cat reading of one of this Australian composer’s finest scores.

But that was just the warm-up for Sensemaya by Silvestre Revueltas, maybe the most thrilling six-minute orchestral showpiece ever composed.

Based on a Cuban ritual of killing a snake (or Animal Farm-like, a fascist), this was a raw, visceral performance — tubist Thomas Allely was assured and trumpeter Sarah Butler searing — while de la Parra remained a clear-beating mistress of all she surveyed.

The histrionics came in the Duo Lechner Tiempo performance of the Tango Rhapsody, commissioned by them from fellow-Argentinian Federico Jusid and first played at Martha Argerich’s annual Lugano festival in 2010. The onstage tantrums, sulking, and mid-performance frock change are all part of the act, none of which distracts from the virtuosity of the brother-and-sister pianists Sergio Tiempo (a regular with QSO) and Karin Lechner, and the musical strength of the piece itself.

Things only got better in the second half. Revueltas’ Night of the Mayas was written for a film, but in this arrangement by Jose Ives Limantour is a major symphony in all but name, its epic opening magnificently played by QSO, as were the trickily fast pianissimi, while the percussion-battery included traditional instruments that de la Parra sourced from the Yucatan peninsula.

The encore was Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No 2, de la Parra getting QSO-subscribers on their feet amid unprecedented scenes of audience-engagement. To come away moved by a concert is common enough, as is being impressed. But to end feeling 15 years younger and ready to take on the world, that’s something.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Alondra de la Parra. Concert Hall, QPAC. August 5