Aside from the Royal Albert Hall’s BBC Last Night of the Proms, Symphony for Me must be one of the fastest-‘selling’ classical music events around the globe. Admittedly, the Brisbane tickets are free (which may have something to do with it). But it appears that the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) and Brisbane Festival have a bit of a success on their hands. For each of the three events, all tickets have gone less than 20 minutes after going ‘on sale.’ Such a success, that complaints about not programming the event in 2017 ensured that the concert was programmed for ‘BrisFest 2018’, and is already confirmed for 2019.
Classical music may have connotations of expense and exclusivity, but events such as Symphony For Me remind audiences of the importance of music in memory and story. We may not think of ourselves as classical music buffs, but certain orchestral pieces evoke memories of advertisements, major family events, fragments of childhood memories, special films, or epic moments in life. Most people, it appears, have a fascinating story linked to certain pieces of music. The 2018 concert included stories of migrants, of new beginnings, of time with Dad, and of much-cherished films.
Hosted by local TV news presenter, Andrew Lofthouse, the program was well-paced. Community members were brought to the stage to introduce their special piece of music, before greeting the conductor and then sitting stage left on a special bench to hear their music played just for them. Just in case anyone was tempted to shed the odd tear, a box of tissues was strategically placed under the seat, and a number of cameras were on hand to share the moment with the rest of the audience. Most of the tears were shed by the rest of the audience, however, as those on-stage sat in rapt attention, enjoying every last drop of their special music.
Even if you think you don’t really like classical music and believe it’s not for you, I guarantee you would have found a piece to enjoy or that you recognised. It was great to see some of the children who nominated tunes dressed as their favourite film character: ‘Hermione’ (aka Cleo from Chapel Hill) and Jessica both requested Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (John Williams), and ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ (Anderson, accompanied by his Dad, Karl) and Zara all wanted to hear the Main Theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Klaus Bedelt). Stories of new beginnings included decisions to move to Australia (the second movement from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World), of the fall of the Berlin Wall (the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7), and of a wedding day (Alan Silvestri’s Main theme from Forrest Gump).
It was fascinating to hear each of the stories behind the pieces of music—and my two favourite pieces from the evening program were highlights because of the stories they connected with. It was just wonderful to see Karl sit on stage, lost in memories of time with his late father, as he listened to the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.7 (Tchaikovsky, completed by Semyon Bogatyrev). For the final piece of the evening, Ben and his Mum spoke of how inspired he was by a previous concert, and how he has now taken up trumpet-playing (much to the horror of their dog). The orchestra, conducted by Brett Kelly, seemed to enjoy playing the Main theme from Star Wars (John Williams) as much as Ben enjoyed hearing it.
Yes, it was a selection of pieces selected and performed for the couples, families and individuals who were on stage. But, together, they created a symphony for everyone.
I wish QSO and QPAC did this more often—bringing new audiences to classical music and in to the heart of the superb facilities in Brisbane’s Southbank. However, I can see why this is a once a year treat. Even with the challenge of getting tickets in that mad 20-minute scramble once the box office opened, many ticket-holders decided not to turn up on the night. Which was a pity; not only did they miss a great evening, but they prevented others attending. This is always a challenge for any free event, and I wish the organisers well in thinking through how they can achieve 95%+ attendance next year: perhaps entry by donation (I’m sure $10 per ticket would have made a great donation to Queensland farmers, and if people have paid then perhaps they may turn up to the event?), ‘rush’ tickets on the day, or ??? Whatever the solution, I do hope that future events have fewer empty seats.
Verdict: Definitely worth the 20-minute ticket scramble to see Brisbane coming together through story, community and music.
Audience tip: Symphony For Me is a one-day only event, but organisers have already confirmed that this will return as part of the 2019 Brisbane Festival 2019 program. Watch out for an opportunity to request your personal favourite piece, and get ready to explain why you chose it. And make sure you put the sign-up date for tickets in your diary now, as the event was one of the fastest-selling in the 2018 program. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website.
Catherine Lawrence, perspectives
The reviewer attended the Saturday 15th September 2018 performance (7pm).