Queensland Symphony Orchestra – Sounds from the Deep

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On the weekend Bec and I went to see the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at the Empire Theatre for their performance of Sounds from the Deep. It has been many years since I have seen an orchestra perform live. As a very young child, I can remember  going to see an orchestra at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide as part of the Performing Arts Program for Primary Schools. It was Peter and the Wolf and I can remember each instrument being introduced as they played the theme for each of the characters in the story. Of course, there have been orchestras when I have seen some musical productions but they are always hidden down in the pit.

I have always enjoyed listening to classical music but seeing an orchestra perform live is quite a different experience from listening to the CDs at home. I really enjoyed watching  the facial expressions and body language of the musicians as they were playing. I especially enjoyed the double bass players. The double bass is such a large instrument so I can imagine it might take a fair bit of effort to play in the rousing energetic parts. It was such a joy to see how much fun the musicians were having and how much they enjoyed playing for an audience.

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The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is one of the largest performing arts companies in Queensland and is Queensland’s only professional symphony orchestra. The orchestra dates back to 1897 but was only established as Queensland’s first full-time orchestra in 1947. And if you are wondering whether there is a difference between a symphony orchestra and just an orchestra – there is! A symphony orchestra has the instruments which enables it to play a symphony.

The Sounds from the Deep is a program that spans a range of eras, composers and musical forms. All the pieces are connected by their common theme of water, in all of its different forms – oceans, rivers and lakes. It was good to hear a performance of a variety of different composers, from a classical composer such as Mendelssohn to quite contemporary composers such as Australian Nigel Westlake.

The Repertoire… 

  • The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op. 26 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
  • Scheherazade, (1. The Sea and Sindbad’s Ship) Op. 35  by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
  • Excerpts from Antarctica: Suite for Orchestra and Guitar (1. The Last Place on Earth & 3. Penguin Ballet) by Nigel Westlake (b1958)
  • Cavatina from The Deer Hunter by Stanley Myers (1930-1993) orch. Jessica Wells (b. 1974)
  • The Moldau from Má vlast (My Country) by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884)
  • Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes (III. Moonlight) by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
  • On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314 by Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899)
  • Finale Act IV from Swan Lake, (Dance of the Cygnets, Odette Offended & Finale) Op. 20 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

The Conductor, Guy Noble, was very entertaining, cracking jokes with the audience and having some light hearted fun with the musicians.  After what we thought was the last piece – Swan Lake – he suddenly disappeared off the stage only to return sporting a pirate patch. I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but we knew exactly what to expect next and we weren’t disappointed – Pirates of the Caribbean by Hans Zimmer! Such a terrific piece to end the evening.

Some people may think classical music is old-fashioned or even on its way out, but nothing could be further from the truth. Classical music is not just Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Many film scores comprise of music that would be described as classical music. Just try to imagine Lord of the Rings or Star wars or Pirates of the Caribbean without the music score. And the Empire Theatre was packed which just goes to show that classical music never really goes out of fashion and that we really appreciate seeing a symphony orchestra out here in the regions.

And thankfully we will have another opportunity to see the Queensland Symphony Orchestra very soon in another live simulcast from QPAC featuring the music of Grieg, Ravel and Beethoven. We’ve already got it marked on our calendar, but if like us you live in regional Queensland and enjoy good music, you might like to check if it is coming to a venue near you.

 

 

Dali at d’Arenberg

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Whenever we are on holiday we like to check out the local wineries. On our recent trip to Adelaide we called in at the d’Arenberg winery in the McClaren Vale wine district, south of Adelaide. South Australia has a long history of winemaking. Some of the McClaren Vale vines were planted back in the 1850s, making them some of the oldest vines in Australia. I prefer the small family run wineries where you get to talk to the people who actually make the wine. I am always fascinated by the way that a particular wine will vary from year to year depending on the conditions – wet or dry, hot or cold – it all  makes a difference to the taste. And the same wine will taste different depending on where the grapes have been grown.

This was our first visit to d’Arenberg and I expect it will not be our one and only. It is not just for the wine lover but also for the art lover too. D’Arenberg was established in 1912 by the Osborn family and is still in the family today. One of the most unusual things about d’Arenberg though, is The Cube – a five story surrealist cube surrounded by vineyards. It was apparently inspired by the “complexities and puzzles of winemaking” and was opened in Dec 2017. Each of the five levels have been designed to arouse and tempt the senses. There is a wine sensory room, a 360° video room and a contemporary art gallery.

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The Cube is also hosting a Salvador Dali exhibition as part of the Australian exhibition that marks the 30th anniversary of Dali’s death.  I don’t know a lot about art but I do know the name Salvador Dali. He is considered to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century and his work encompassed a wide range of art forms including paintings and sculpture of course, but also film, fashion and architecture. 23 authentic Salvador Dali sculptures and artworks are on display at d’Arenberg. The exhibition was due to end at the end of May, however it has been so popular that it has been extended to May next year.

Unfortunately we arrived a little late in the day to be able to enjoy the full Salvador Dali experience at The Cube, however we were able to see the sculptures on display in the grounds and the gallery that exhibits work by local artists. I really loved the clocks. I think they reflect the reality of time, passing quickly when you are having fun and slowly when you are not. There is no sense to it at all.

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I think it is a wonderful venture to see work of this calibre exhibited outside of the usual art gallery setting, especially in a rural setting, “out in the sticks!” I also really appreciate the relationship between art and wine – there is an art to winemaking too. Besides, we have all seen those images of exhibition openings where patrons wander around the artworks with a glass of wine in hand. Art and wine go together.

If you are planning a trip to South Australia before May 2020, put Dali at d’Arenberg on your list. There is a small fee to see the exhibition so make sure you allow plenty of time and not arrive too late in the day as we did. As an extra incentive, there is to be a special arrival at d’Arenberg in October – a seven metre tall monumental “Triumphant Elephant”. Now that would be a sight to see! 

Oh, and the wines were quite nice too. 

 

 

Carnival of Flowers – Celebrating 70 Years

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It’s the first weekend of the September School Holidays, the flowers are out in full bloom and the local parks and gardens are crowded with visitors and tour buses. It must be Carnival time.

The Carnival of Flowers is Toowoomba’s premiere event of the year, a festival that celebrates flowers, local wine and food, and Australian music. It is one of the longest running Australian events, garnering a number of tourism awards and this year it celebrates 70 years, so it will be a very special celebration indeed. For months gardeners have been hard at work in the local parks to prepare the floral displays, and despite the exceedingly dry conditions of the drought, they have done a fabulous job. The floral displays are just beautiful.

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The very first Carnival was held in 1950 and attracted a crowd of around 50,000 to see a three mile procession led by a team of bullocks. Following the hardship of World War Two, the Carnival was envisioned as an event that would encourage economic activity and promote Toowoomba’s reputation as the Garden City. Sadly, I don’t think bullocks are a feature of the Carnival parade anymore, but Toowoomba businesses and community groups put in many hours of hard work to prepare their floats and costumes and put on a spectacular display of colour, music and all things floral. Last year Dan was in the parade on the Yellow Bridge float and he will be again this year, although this time they are just walking the route so I hope they have someone fit and fast to keep up with him!

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Every year the Carnival seems to get bigger and bigger with a variety of events and activities over ten days to keep people of all ages entertained. In keeping with the 70th celebrations there will be 70 different experiences this year for visitors. The Food and Wine Festival has become a popular addition to the Carnival, providing opportunities for visitors to sample Queensland wares while enjoying some iconic Australian entertainment, like John Farnham, Dragon and Bjorn Again. Other events include:

  •  Gardening Competition for Local Gardeners
  •  Photography Competition 
  • Garden Tours
  • Steam Train Rides
  • Talking Pub Tour
  • Carnival Memorabilia Display

We will be heading into the city centre today for the parade but we will be taking advantage of the free shuttle bus service rather than fight the crowds to find a parking spot. We can hop on the bus a short distance from where we live and it takes us into town to Queens Park, the hub of the Carnival. Here visitors can enjoy all the usual carnival entertainment such as amusement rides and side show alley. The Carnival also runs a Park Shuttle service that takes visitors between the three main garden displays at Picnic Point, Queens Park and Laurel Bank Park. Last year the Carnival attracted a crowd of over 255,000 so the shuttle bus is an excellent idea.

From humble beginnings the Carnival of Flowers has grown into a spectacular event that showcases the Toowoomba region, cementing its reputation as the Garden City and providing inspiration for all the novice gardeners among us. If you are planning a trip to Queensland, keep the Carnival of Flowers in mind.

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Carnival of Flowers 1950 – 2019

 

The Bolshoi Ballet – Spartacus

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Last month Bec and I went to see a simulcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of Spartacus. Performed in Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre at Southbank, the performance was streamed out to regional centres across Queensland, including Toowoomba, Cairns, Mt Isa, Gladstone and Bundaberg. Interestingly Brisbane is the only Australian stop on their tour – such a good reason for living in the Sunshine State. 

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the world, so to see them perform is a truly memorable occasion. Founded in 1776, it is also one of the oldest ballet companies in the world. The word “bolshoi” actually means “big” or “grand” in russian, and when you see them perform, bolshoi is an apt label. Their performances are known for being bold, colourful, athletic, expressive, dramatic and intense and Spartacus lived up to that reputation. It was extremely athletic and emotionally dramatic. The two male lead dancers endurance and athletic prowess was incredible.

The story of Spartacus has spawned many adaptations – novels and movies, as well as ballet. Of course when you mention the word Spartacus, many people will immediately think of the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas. I can remember seeing that film on television many years ago, however that film was based on the novel by Howard Fast. The ballet Spartacus tells a slightly different variation of the story.

Living from 111-71 BC, historians believe that Spartacus may have been a roman soldier, who “escaped”, but was then recaptured, and along with his wife, enslaved. Forced to fight as a gladiator, Spartacus led a slave uprising, known as the Third Servile War. While many survivors of the battle were publicly crucified, supposedly around 6,000, Spartacus is believed to have died on the battlefield.

The Ballet of Spartacus shows the ruthless arrogance of the Roman Empire as they invaded, enslaved people, forced them to fight as gladiators for their own perverse amusement, separated husbands and wives, and sexually abused women. The four main leads in the ballet, Spartacus, his wife Phrygia, the roman leader Crassus and his consort Aegina, were brilliant. The performance was not just incredibly technical and athletic, but also portrayed Spartacus’ anguish at the loss of his freedom, his joy when reunited with Phrygia and his courage in the final battle. His crucifixion at the end of the soldiers spears demonstrated some very inspired and dramatic choreography. The final moment though goes to Phrygia, as she defiantly declares that Spartacus’ name and sacrifice be remembered in the annals of history.  And so they are today.

After the performance, Bec and I declared that one day we would like to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform live. One of the benefits of the simulcast is that we had a variety of camera angles – views that even people in the Lyric theatre would not see. We saw close ups of the dancers and could see their emotional response as they literally poured everything into their performance. To see them perform live on the stage would be a once in a life time experience. The simulcast experience was amazing, despite some initial technical issues which fortunately got sorted pretty quickly. It’s probably not as good as being right there in the Lyric Theatre, but it was definitely the next best thing and it was a fantastic opportunity for people around the state of Queensland to see a performance by a world class ballet company – something which many regional people may never be able to experience otherwise. I think the state gov of QLD and QPAC really need to be commended for their determination to being the arts to the regions.

Dangerous Liaisons

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On Friday night I went to see Queensland Ballet’s performance of Dangerous Liaisons at our local Empire Theatre as part of their regional tour for 2019. If you have read the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782, or seen the 1988 screen version starring Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, then you may remember that it is a scandalous tale of seduction, revenge and betrayal set in pre-revolutionary France. The blurb on the back of my penguin edition says…

“Depicting decadence and moral corruption in pre-revolutionary France, Dangerous Liaisons is one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Two aristocrats embark on a sophisticated game of seduction and manipulation to bring amusement to their jaded existences. As their intrigues become more duplicitous and they find their human pawns responding in ways they could not have predicted, the consequences prove to be more serious, and deadly, than Merteuil and Valmont could have guessed.”

I read the book a few years ago, as it is listed on the 1001 List – 1001 Books to Read Before You Die – but I haven’t seen the movie. Classic books are not always an easy read for contemporary readers, especially when they are written in an epistolary form, that is, as a series of letters, which is the case for Dangerous Liaisons. It can also be a bit tricky keeping the various characters with their french names clearly sorted out in your head as you read. Some readers find the story deliciously wicked and others have lauded the way it delves into the dark side of humanity. I don’t quite remember my initial reaction which probably means that I need to read it again. It may be one of those books that gets better with each read.

“a classic tale of seduction and betrayal”

Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted a number of times for stage, opera, ballet and screen, but this particular version by Queensland Ballet was a world premiere when it opened in Brisbane in March of this year. It was promoted variously as a “classic tale of seduction and betrayal”, “a hedonistic tale of love, virtue and humanity” and an “evocative and vivid work that will scintillate audiences” (QLD Ballet). It was also stressed that it was a production for a mature audience. Well, they got that right. It was the raunchiest ballet that I have ever seen. 

Now I did know the story, and I did expect it to be somewhat risqué. But hey, it’s ballet. How provocative could it be?

It was an incredible performance. The period costumes were fantastic. The music fitted perfectly. It was brilliantly executed and the emotion portrayed by the dancers was outstanding. It was also provocative because it clearly depicted the licentious and morally corrupt behaviour of the french aristocracy. Some reviews, that I read post-performance, described the production as brave and sensual, some noted the literal depictions of libertine behaviour, while one likened it to a strip club.  

I think it is the story itself that sits uncomfortably and causes a sense of disquiet. It is not the licentious behaviour of the french aristocracy so much, who obviously had way too much time on their hands and seemed determined to have sex with anybody and everybody. I do hasten to add that it was not all members of the aristocracy who were so inclined. No, it is the deliberate seduction and corruption of a young, naive, virginal girl for the sordid amusement and vengeance of of the two central villains, without a single thought or care for the consequences. Remember, this is the 18th century and there is a clear double standard when it comes to sex and morality. In the wake of the “Me Too” movement and regular reporting of revenge porn, domestic violence, sexual assault and catfishing, it is this part of the story that causes discomfit.  Perhaps discomfit is not what we expect from ballet. Perhaps we expect Swan Lake: beautiful, graceful, romantic, tragic.

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Art has many different purposes. It entertains us. It educates. It challenges. I like to read books that I know will challenge and expand my horizons. I go to see some movies for the same reason. One of the most memorable films for me was “Cry Freedom” (1987).  Set in South Africa during  the late 1970s, it depicted the reality of apartheid. One of the things that was particularly memorable for me came when the audience exited the cinema –  in absolute silence. We were shocked, stunned, appalled by what we had seen. Challenged. So, if we can expect to be challenged by literature and by film, why not ballet?

If you explore the Queensland Ballet website, you will see their motto – Move Boldly. 

If you read their vision statement this is what you will see…

“Our dream and our endeavour is to connect people and dance across Queensland through a program of delightful, exciting and challenging work, collaborating with leading artists and organisations.”

I did find Dangerous Liaisons somewhat challenging. It reminds us that the oppression, degradation and humiliation of women has a very very long history. It shows us the depths to which humanity so often descends. It provokes deep thought and reflection about the way women continue to be treated, the double standards that are still applied today and the very important role that art plays in culture and society. 

I am glad that Queensland Ballet is a company that seeks to challenge as well as entertain. I appreciate their goal to bring ballet to those of us who live out in the regions and I hope they will continue to stage challenging works in the future.

A Night Out at the Theatre

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I really love old buildings. I love the detail in the architecture, the arched windows and the sense of character that I often find missing in contemporary buildings. Toowoomba is blessed to still have many of its historic buildings and I love wandering around the city streets, bemused at the way they sit juxtaposed to contemporary buildings, wondering about the people who helped build them or who used to work in them.

One of our favourite historic buildings is the Empire Theatre. It was opened on the 29th June 1911 and had the latest technology of that time to show the most exiting advent in entertainment – big screen movies! Sadly, much of the original theatre was destroyed by fire on 22 Feb 1933. Despite this devastating setback, the theatre was rebuilt and the two walls that were left standing after the fire were incorporated into the new design. Amazingly, the theatre was able to reopen at the end of the year on 27 Nov 1933. 

The Empire Theatre continued to be at the centre of Toowoomba’s cultural life for many years. Unfortunately, the lure of the television set and other entertainment led to the theatre’s closure in 1971. For a while it was used as a warehouse and then as a TAFE college and then sadly, it just fell into disrepair. Fortunately, this was not the end of the story.

Eventually the need for a performing arts centre resurfaced and the Empire Theatre was restored and reopened its doors on 28 June 1997. Today, the theatre blends contemporary technology with the architectural grandeur of its past, still retaining some of the features from both 1911 and 1933. One of the most outstanding features is the grand proscenium arch, which is possibly one of the last of its kind left in the southern hemisphere. The arch is back lit with a rainbow of colours and provides a stunning frame for centre stage.

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It still is the largest performing arts centre in regional Australia and hosts a variety of world class performers. You can read more about the Empire Theatre, it’s history and its cultural program here.

We have enjoyed seeing a number of ballet performances and musicals at the Empire Theatre. Last year we went to see a local production of Wicked and earlier this year we went to see the Pirates of Penzance. It was Bec’s first Gilbert and Sullivan musical, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Not long ago the Empire Theatre was one of a number of locations around Australia that screened sessions from the Sydney Writer’s Festival free to members of the public and just recently Dan, Bec and I enjoyed the Queensland Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake.

There is something about the story of Swan Lake that fills our hearts with a blend of joy and sadness. If you only ever see one ballet in your life, it should be Swan Lake. The beauty and grace of the swans and the tragic ending of the doomed lovers always moves me to tears. Bec learned ballet for a few years when she was younger, so we have seen a few different ones – The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Dream and La Fille, Mal Gardée – but Swan Lake is always our favourite.

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