The Concert Hall at QPAC was almost packed out for Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Orchestral Adventure program for at least two reasons: the headliners, conductor Elena Schwarz and violinist Jack Liebeck.

Schwarz, who has Brisbane family, finally made it here after two abortive attempts. She brought verve and zest and sensitivity to the program. The evening opened with the Australian premier of Cathy Milliken’s Piece 43 for Now – what a clever play on words. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43 Milliken translated the world and local turmoil into her creative project. In Piece 43 listen for the sounds of empty Brisbane streets and the absence of our artistic community; it’s in the silences that much of the meaning dwells.

Picture Mozart, 19, as the concertmaster in the Salzburg court; and he wrote a series of violin concertos—think of this when listening to Violin Concerto No. 3 in G. K.216. No wonder the concerto brims with the optimist of a young man with the musical world at his feet; sure there are some darkish-emo moments but he’s still a teen. This performance was a sheer delight, soloist Jack Liebeck parried with the strings and soared on his own; the flutes trilled—Alison Mitchell and Hayley Radke and it all ended with a soft landing of mutual admiration. A masterful performance ably controlled by Schwarz and executed by Liebeck and QSO. The audience didn’t want to let Liebeck leave; thank you for your encore(Eugène Ysaÿe Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27, No. 2 “Jacques Thibaud”).

Most composers don’t actually get to nine when it comes to symphonies. And for the few that do, well No. 9 is the Macbeth of the symphonies. Anyway, could it be that the real reason composers avoid numbering their ninth symphony is to avoid comparison with the uber No. 9, Beethoven’s? Russia, 1945 and Dmitri Shostakovich. Now I’m tone deaf when it comes to political ideologies in music. But I can hear ‘march’ and I can hear ‘circus’ so it doesn’t take much to hear the subtext of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

While the short Symphony’s decadent formalism might have failed to capture the grandiosity of a nationalistic piece, what it does capture is Shostakovich’s sensibility and in doing so, extends the Symphony beyond a political reach. Certainly, the QSO’s performance captured the verve and frustration of Shostakovich. It was beautifully choreographed by Schwarz and the QSO loved it, but not as much as the audience loved it.

The resounding applause at the end wasn’t just for Shostakovich but for the entire programme. This is my favourite program for the season so far; oh wait, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was fantastic too and there’s Beethoven and Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Handel’s Messiah to come.

Concerts sell out quickly, so don’t dither, book. For the rest of the year’s programme visit Orchestral Adventures will be rebroadcast on ABC radio— September 24th at 1pm, don’t miss it.