Concert Hall, QPAC
August 9, 2018

Queenslanders were treated to a dynamic and eclectic concert, the third in the series from the Camerata Queensland Chamber Orchestra in Camerata – Bliss, featuring Julian Bliss from the UK on the clarinet, and fellow Queenslander Sudha Manian as a wild card mystery segment on the Sitar.

Julian Bliss is considered to be one of the world’s best clarinettists, and has been in the limelight since playing Gershwin’s Summertime live on ITV in the UK at the age of five. Despite being only 28, he has played at most of the world’s leading festivals and venues, and as a soloist has appeared with many international orchestras. In 2012 he formed the Julian Bliss Septet, after being inspired by Benny Goodman the “King of Swing” jazz clarinettist, playing at International Jazz and Latin venues including Ronnie Scott’s in London. He even has his own brand of clarinet as part of the Conn-Selmer range. He has just been performing at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville.

Camerata were founded in 1987 by the violin lecturer Elizabeth Morgan AM as an ensemble of emerging artists, and have been the chamber orchestra in residence at the QPAC since 2005.

The concert opened with one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most intense works, the Serioso String Quartet, Op. 95, written amidst a dark and extended decade-long personal and professional crisis, which is reflected in the contrasting themes, from the explosive Allegro to the chromatic bitter despair of the finale. The Camerata musicians were arranged in a standing horseshoe formation with only the cellos and double bases seated, enabling them to express the intensity of the music through their swaying movements, and giving fluidity to the sound.

The Invitación al Danzón for clarinet and string orchestra, composed by saxophonist and clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, was in violent juxtaposition to Beethoven’s lament. It was frothy and punchy with an underlying tango rhythm. In a recent Limelight interview, Bliss described D’Rivera as “one of the greatest jazz sax and clarinet players and also one of the nicest, kindest people I’ve met.” Bliss is indeed amongst the clarinet greats, displaying incredible technical skills. He was a joy to watch as he transitioned between registers with ease.

There was an energetic symbiosis between Camerata and Bliss, which was electrifying during the finale of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. It was written for Benny Goodman, whose music has been a great influence on Bliss with his syncopated, jazzy style. Copland writes across musical genres interweaving swinging jazz with boogie-woogie, and the earthy folk rhythms of Brazil and Latin America. The Concerto is fiendishly difficult for the clarinet. When Goodman complained to Copland requesting changes, only two small alterations were made, making it a technically taxing solo which Bliss breezed through. Copland also recreated the sounds of the percussion instruments from the strings using techniques such as spiccato, pizzicato and martellato, keeping Camerata on their toes, or should I say bows, until the very end.

Camerata also played percussion in the wild card mystery segment featuring a Persian Sufi prayer mat and Sudha Manian on the Sitar, in what she described as a Bollywood treatment of an “Ode to a Rug.” She flowed from tuning the Sitar into a raga (a repeating sixteen beat progression), with the droning of the tambura replaced by the strings from Camerata, and the rhythm beating from the body of the cello to replace the tabla percussion. It was a fascinating improvisational interlude in the middle of an eclectic concert, with a stark contrast between the structured formality of Beethoven and Mahler, interspersed with the jazzy swing of Copland and D’Rivera. The juxtaposition of the music was daring and unusual tapestry of sounds. My only criticism was that with the concert title of Bliss, it wasn’t as “Blissful” as I would have hoped, with Bliss only playing two pieces and not treating us to an encore.

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