One of the opening concerts of the Brisbane Festival brought together the talents of acclaimed conductor, Dane Lam, internationally recognised concert pianist, Jayson Gillham, and the youthful, multi-talented composer, Sebastian Lingane. At a time when most of the artistic community is locked down across Australia, the Brightly Brisbane Festival is a welcome addition to the cultural calendar, not only in Queensland but vicariously throughout Australia. And celebrating the best of our local, youthful talent was well-received.

Dane Lam Jayson Gillham

Dane Lam and Jayson Gillham at QSO’s Queensland’s Finest concert. Photo courtesy of Queensland Symphony Orchestra

In their early 20s, Sebastian Lingane’s resume reads like someone who has enjoyed a very full life already. A percussionist, pianist, ukulele player, part-time accordionist and composer, they have also lived across the globe in Europe, Asia and Australia. The world premiere of their tone poem, entitled Illuminating Paradise, was commissioned by the QSO and described by Lingane as “a love-letter to a period of change and progress”, which they recognise musically as the early 20th-century, but which they readily admit could be compared to our current world situation.

The work started gently and lyrically, the evocative sounds of the principal woodwind players leading to an ethereal and haunting solo violin, exquisitely played by newly appointed Co-Concertmaster, Natsuko Yoshimoto. This evocative melody led to some heightened tension in the higher strings, with pizzicato from violas and celli, accompanied by urgency in woodwind, horns and fierce brass offering a sense of danger in this reading. One could hear Lingane’s winding serpent theme, as it slithered through the orchestra, at the same time introducing a lyrical, dream-like melody. The rhythmic sonority of the second part of the work was powerful, full of colour and warmth, creating a melodic palette with its pulsating almost dance-like rhythms. With many marvellous individual solos and a repeat of the haunting solo violin, as well as including all sections of the orchestra to great effect, Illuminating Paradise is an impressive, sophisticated and well-crafted work, boding well for Lingane as a future composer of note.

It was a luxury to hear Queensland concert pianist, Jayson Gillham, now an international star, playing one of the great Beethoven Concertos, No 4 in G. He did not disappoint. The opening soft piano chords of the Allegro Moderato movement, leading to the theme taken up by the strings, was beautifully realised. It was followed by first-rate playing from principal oboe and flute, with additional themes carried across the whole orchestra before a return to the piano. The arpeggios that followed were gloriously evocative and powerful in their delivery. Gillham demonstrated not only a highly-polished technical virtuosity but a thoughtful sensitivity in his fingering. The fiendishly difficult cadenza was splendid, a mixture of sparkling lyricism and assertive strength. Showing Beethoven at his heart-wrenching best, the slower Andante con moto movement enabled Gillham to give us some mesmerising moments with dazzling arpeggios in the upper register. Bright, jaunty playing from the orchestra, with forthright strings and fine woodwind solos, led into the final Rondo: Vivace. With brisk tempi and the orchestra recapitulating on previous themes, the whole was brought to a joyous end in a lengthy coda with some exhilarating playing from Gillham. A very fine rendition of this exceptional Concerto.

Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel lustige Streiche, based on the pranks and adventures of a German peasant folk hero, completed the program. As a composition, it is musically excellent, but also rhythmically great fun, allowing Strauss to showcase all sections of the orchestra with great dexterity. It is a good piece to demonstrate QSO’s skills, with conductor Dane Lam in his element, teasing out the many musical colours of the characters in the individual instruments. Revolving around Till’s adventures, the work runs through various themes of his mischievous deeds towards a funeral march after Till has been caught by the authorities. The character of Till was ably represented by the swaggering horn solos of Malcolm Stewart and the screeches of the E Flat Clarinet of Brian Catchlove, both played with panache. The brass was strong and energetic, with some beautifully paced lyrical woodwind solos, followed by sharp strings and powerful snare drums. The strident clarinet announcing Till’s path to the gallows, followed by silence and two very soft notes, was powerful. The ending returns full-circle to the melodic lyrical strings of the opening giving it an upbeat finale, suggesting people like Till can never be destroyed.

Lam was exemplary throughout the concert both on the podium and in his introductions of the pieces to be played. He has an easy, fluid quality as a speaker that works well and is moreover an asset on the podium where his energetic style and strong, clear beat is well received. He managed Lingane’s new work with aplomb, bringing out the nuances of the musical language and the rhythms of the work with precision and focus. His attention to detail in Beethoven’s Concerto, drawing out the marvellous musical colours and complexities of this work from the orchestra, was first-rate. His tempi were fast but the orchestra rose well to the occasion and his speed added a joyous excitement to the Concerto. Additionally, he had great fun with the Strauss tone poem. Overall, this was a marvellous concert, well realised and delivered by an exuberant orchestra.