There is no city prouder of Ray Chen than Brisbane.  All of the cliches apply: he’s internationally renowned, award winning, high profile…but most of all he’s a great guy.  It was clear at his Sunday performance with Queensland Symphony Orchestra that Ray just loves performing.  And the audience loved watching him even better.

If you haven’t heard of Ray then briefly: his wins at Yehudi Menuhin (2008) and Queen Elisabeth (2009) competitions launched him on the international stage. (Wow he was young).  Since then he has played for tv shows, at Nobel Prize concerts, and with so many great orchestras: London Philharmonic, Berlin Radio, Los Angeles Philharmonic and so on.  He’s big on Insta and You Tube.  Google him.

In the QPAC concert hall, he played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D for Violin & Orchestra.  His performance had verve plus. He leans into the music. And this is what sweeps the audience along—the energy and emotion of Chen’s performances. If the Stradivarius he plays doesn’t impart the narrative (which is highly unlikely), then performance does; for Ray, the violin, and the music merge to become a total experience. It was thrilling to hear and entertaining to watch.

Truly you must see Ray perform – his finger work is astounding, his stage presence is warm (such a tepid word), and he exudes charisma.  But above all he’s a great violinist—his standard encore ‘Waltzing Matilda’ shows the ballad in a whole new light. Ray’s arrangement highlights the Irish, ghostly sadness lost in our cheery renditions. If one piece of music encompasses Ray’s musical talent, it’s this one.  It’s available on YouTube.

It was a difficult act to follow, after Ray the QSO played Shostakovich’s Symphony No 8. Wow.  Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero masterfully took us through the dramatic rollercoaster. Such a brutal, tragic, powerful ‘war’ symphony.  Secretly, its Shostakovich’s favourite – and he was pilloried for it.

The five movements sweep through the darkness, the menace of war.  The clashing symbols balance with the quietest music you’ll almost not hear. Even the attempts at reconciliation or acceptance are pretty lame. Listen for echoes of Holst’s Mars and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred. Strangely enough, what I found particularly effective was the performative aspect of the violinists sitting bows poised over strings – it was this verge of readiness that mirrored the symphony’s edge-of-the-seat narrative.

This season’s QSO programme continues to impress. Each performance is packed – so if you are up for a little Beethoven (Piano Concerto No 1) or a smidge of Elgar (Symphony No 2)—Joseph Swensen will conduct returning pianist Jayson Gillham on the 28th and 29th July.  Get thee to the QSO website double time—tickets are almost gone.

Upcoming for August are: Reel Classics (August 11th and 13th ), Chamber Players’ ‘Death and the Maiden’ (20th), and in the QSO studio Mozart, Haydn and Bartok (25th).

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

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