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2015 Gala Opening - SOLD OUT

Hamilton The Trillion Souls – world premiere
Beethoven Symphony No.9 Choral

Free pre-concert talk with composer Gordon Hamilton at 6.30pm

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An electrifying opening to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s 2015 Season, featuring Beethoven's epic 9th Symphony and The Trillion Souls.


You won’t just hear Beethoven’s Choral Symphony featuring the famed Ode to Joy, you will feel it as new-generation maestro Gergely Madaras reveals contemporary meaning within its ancient truths.

Widely considered one of Beethoven’s greatest works and one of the most well-known works in the classical repertoire, this symphony will feature an all-star cast with Soprano Dominique Fegan, Mezzo Soprano Nicole Youl, Tenor Henry Choo and Baritone David Wakeham.
 
The QSO will also perform the world premiere of Gordon Hamilton’s commissioned work The Trillion Souls featuring The Australian Voices, which is dedicated to pioneering mathematician Alan Turing. Hamilton's work was inspired by BBC reporter Any West's poem of the same title which has been embraced around the world (text in Program Notes below.)
 
Conductor Gergely Madaras
Soprano Dominique Fegan
Mezzo Soprano Nicole Youl
Tenor Henry Choo
Baritone David Wakeham
Choir The Australian Voices
 

Program Notes

Gordon Hamilton (born 1982)

The Trillion Souls

I Come Join Us Here
  Hildegard Fragment
II For Daughters and Sons
III The Cretins
IV Our Soldiers
V The Wedding
Hildegard Mosaic
VI For Queers, Fakes and Dykes
VII Marry For Your Sake

World Premiere

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A companion piece to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, The Trillion Souls is intended to complement the Schiller ode An die Freude (To Joy) – sung in the fourth movement of the Beethoven – and cast it in a 21st-century light.

The text I’ve settled on is The Trillion Souls by Andy West, a BBC reporter. In memory of the countless dead who could not marry, he addresses the trillions* of gay people who’ve ‘lived and loved and longed alone’, inviting them to ‘come join us here’ and ‘to rise up and be known’.

I’ve used a few fragments of wordless plainchant (borrowed with affection from 12th-century nun and freethinker Hildegard von Bingen).

I smash these together with overtly modern (or retro?) elements, such as sampled percussion and a recording of Margaret Thatcher denouncing freedom of sexuality; her speech-melody is converted into a wedding fanfare.

For some passages, I’ve inverted the mighty Ode To Joy melody. In this way, a mirror image of the tune is used instead of the original; a step upwards becomes a step downwards. In a nod to an archaic meaning, I’ve nicknamed the tune ‘Ode To Gay’.

I’m dedicating the work to the memory of one of my favourite humans, Alan Turing (1912-1954), who saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and pioneered the field of artificial intelligence. He was convicted for homosexuality in 1952, a time when such acts were still criminalised in the UK. After receiving oestrogen injections, he died just shy of his 42nd birthday (officially a suicide).

* yes, "trillions” is a wee-bit exaggerated, but the word “billions” (while accurate) is a humdrum word, found daily on financial reports. Andy and I prefer “trillions”.

For the full text of The Trillion Souls please expand the BACKSTAGE PASS INTERVIEWS section below.

© Gordon Hamilton 2015


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125

Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
Scherzo (Molto vivace – Presto)
Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante moderato
Presto – Allegro molto assai (Alla marcia) – Presto

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On 7 May 1824, Beethoven summoned Vienna’s leading musicians in the Kärnthnerthor Theatre to give the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. Profoundly deaf, Beethoven was long past being able to conduct, but stood beside the leaders, indicating the speeds. At the end, he was unaware of the applause, so that the contralto soloist had to turn him around, producing ‘a volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration that seemed it would never end’. The applause was probably more for the composer than the performance.

Two rehearsals were insufficient to prepare the most difficult orchestral piece the musicians had ever encountered. Nevertheless, one reviewer found the opening Allegro ‘bold and defiant, executed with truly athletic energy’. Punctuating its enormous 15-minute design, strategically placed returns of its colossal opening idea underpin the almost fissile energy generated by the sheer mass of scraping, blowing and drumming. Never before had sounds of such sustained violence been imagined, let alone produced by instruments.

Wagner later pictured the second movement as a Bacchanalian spree of worldly pleasures. But while its motoric force is compulsive, Beethoven hardly thought of his big scherzo as mindless. Far from it; he keeps its overflowing energy meticulously controlled and channelled, not least when the predominant four-bar triple beat is dramatically jerked into three-bar phrases.

Berlioz imagined the slow movement ‘might better be thought as two distinct pieces, the first melody in B flat, four-in-a-bar, followed by an absolutely different one, in triple-time in D’. Yet, in Beethoven’s interweaving of this unlikely pair, Berlioz heard ‘such melancholy tenderness, passionate sadness, and religious meditation’ as to be beyond words to describe.

Everyone in the first Vienna audience in May 1824 must have known that something extraordinary was about to take place. Certainly, the London press intimated in advance of the British premiere a year later: ‘In the last movement is introduced a song! Schiller’s famous Ode to Joy – which forms a most extraordinary contrast with the whole, and is calculated to excite surprise, certainly, and perhaps admiration.’

But why did Beethoven take the unprecedented step of fitting out an instrumental symphony with a vocal finale? He had toyed with two distinct plans for a symphony with added chorus. In 1818, he made very preliminary notes for a ‘symphony in ancient modes’ on ancient Greek religious themes, including a choral adagio. But by 1822, he was sketching a ‘German symphony’, with chorus singing Schiller’s To Joy, though to an entirely different tune.

To Adolph Bernhard Marx – the early 19thcentury music historian whose writings helped enshrine Beethoven as ‘supreme master’ and Germany as centre of the ‘cult of music’ – Beethoven’s earlier symphonies had suggested that instrumental music could be even more eloquent than words. Yet finally, Marx believed, Beethoven showed that this was not so: ‘Having devoted his life to instrumental sounds, he once again summons his forces for his boldest, most gigantic effort. But behold! – unreal instrumental voices no longer satisfy him, and he is drawn irresistibly back to the human voice.’

As the orchestra introduces brief flashbacks to each of the first three movements, the cellos and basses attempt an unlikely recitative: ‘… but when the string basses painfully attempt their ungainly imitation of human speech; and when they begin to hum timidly the simple human tune, and hand it over to the rest of the orchestra, we see that, after all, the needs of humanity reach beyond the enchanted world of instruments, so that, in the end, Beethoven only finds satisfaction in the chorus of humanity itself.’

Despairing of instruments’ feeble efforts, the solo baritone announces (the introductory lines are Beethoven’s own, not Schiller’s): O friends! No more these sounds! Instead let us sing out more pleasingly, with joy abundant!

Graeme Skinner © 2014

Biographies

Guest conductor

Gergely Madaras

Fast gaining an international reputation as one of the most exciting European conductors of his generation, in 2013 Gergely Madaras was appointed Music Director of the Orchestre Dijon Bourgogne. From September 2014 he also took...
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Soprano

Dominique Fegan

Dominique has performed in over 20 Opera Queensland productions in the chorus, as a soloist, an understudy (Mother in Hansel & Gretel, High Priestess in Aida ) and in small roles (Butterfly’s Aunt in Madama...
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Mezzo Soprano

Nicole Youl

Nicole Youl is one of Australia’s leading sopranos. She gained a Diploma of Arts in Music from the Victorian College of the Arts where she studied singing with Dame Joan Hammond. In 1991, Miss Youl...
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Tenor

Henry Choo

A former member of the Australian Boys Choir, Henry Choo attained an Associate Diploma in Singing in 1997 under the guidance of Noel Ancell, and furthered his vocal and performance studies at the Melba Conservatorium...
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Baritone

David Wakeham

The British-based baritone David Wakeham has established an international reputation, with critically acclaimed performances at La Scala Milano, Teatro Massimo Palermo, Theater an der Wien, the Komische Oper Berlin, Oper Leipzig, the Bayerische Staatsoper München,...
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Ensemble in Residence

The Australian Voices

It is with high artistic energy that The Australian Voices (now in its 21st year) commission and perform the works of Australian composers. Recently The Australian Voices have recorded new works intended for “performance” on...
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Backstage Pass Interviews

The Trillion Souls
Poem by Andy West

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Note: This text contains language and themes which may not be suitable for all ages.

(Italicised stanzas are not sung)

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Come join us here, the trillion souls
Who lived and loved and longed alone
The decent men and decent women
Whose passions slept unknown.

We ask you now to grip our hands
And rise up from the dirt
Then shake the mud they threw at you
And bury all your hurt.

The pious priests are shadows now
The bible leafs have curled
Your sins were never yours to own
They rotted with your world.

We think of you, the shamefaced girls
Who wept upon your beds
And suffered years of wretched sex
Whilst crying in your heads.

And all the men, who loved in sin
Though caring for their wives
They hid their passion and hid the truth
And hid for all their lives.

The beaten son with broken hopes
The daughter, shunned and damned
The hopeless children ostracised
When the family door was slammed.

To all the cretins in your homes
Who sniggered at our pride
We throw your doctrines in a pyre
A trillion bibles wide.

The days when poofters had to hide
Have gone now, they are dead
The chance to love has been unlocked
By the freedom that you dread.

I'm thinking of our soldiers now
The queers who called for change
And marched their way past Parliament
When no hope seemed in range.

They stood alone. They stared them down
Though damning words were hurled
And marched and fought and held their ground
As the rainbow flag unfurled.

I could not love without their fight
I would never have been free
Without their war to let me live
As the man I'm meant to be.

So gather here, the trillion souls
Who lived and loved and longed alone
Who heard us calling from the light
To rise up and be known.

We watch them lift from poisoned earth
And stare up to the stars
The tortured souls, all born too soon
Still carrying their scars.


They mingle with the wedding guests
And think about their lives
Whilst watching in bewilderment
Gay husbands and gay wives.

Justice wrote our marriage vows
And freedom is our host
The congregation of lost lives
Can help us raise a toast.

To all those trillion wasted souls
Who lived and loved and longed alone
The decent men and decent women
Whose passions slept unknown.


The ancient man who died in tears
A frightened queer, a fake
The secret dyke whose heart was dead
We marry for your sake.

You may have lived through cruelty
Been tortured, hurt and shamed
But today the bigots and the dim
Have had their voices tamed.

We won't forget your torture, nor
The cruelty that you faced
So with this ring, we promise you
Your life was not a waste.

You are with us, the trillion souls
Who lived and loved and longed alone
The decent men and decent women
Whose passions slept unknown.

QSO congratulates QPAC on its 30th Anniversary in 2015.  As QPAC’s resident orchestra, we are delighted to present these concerts as a tribute to our major venue partner.