Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) launched their 2013-14 season of concerts on 21 September with an evening of music that took on a celebratory air, at the Opera House, Katara Cultural Village.
The evening also marked the first time that rising star Han-Na Chang had conducted the orchestra in her capacity of QPO’s Musical Director.
QPO are clearly excited about Chang’s arrival, and before she could even step out onto the stage to conduct her first piece in charge of the 101-piece orchestra, La Valse: Poéme chorégraphique pour orchestra by Ravel, a film was shown that featured clips of the 11-year-old Chang winning an award for her virtuosity with a cello, footage of her conducting the QPO earlier this year, when she made a guest appearance waving the conductor’s baton, and interviews with the 30-year-old from South Korea.
Once on the podium proceedings could begin. Dressed all in black with a mop of dark hair, diminutuve Chang cut an impish figure on stage, but as she waved her baton her stature grew and it was clear who was in charge.
From the opening bars of Ravel’s La Valse, an intriguing waltz that challenges the virtuosity of both the conductor and the orchestra with its many variations upon the standard waltz rhythm, it’s clear that we’re going to be in for a night of excitement.
Sometimes the brass section sounded a little harsh, but despite this, the performance of La Valse added energy to an already celebratory atmosphere.
Arabic music, which forms an important part of QPO’s repertoire, was well represented during the evening’s program in the form of a rendition of Marcel Khalifé’s Concerto for Qanun and Orchestra, with Gilbert Yammine performing deft fingerwork on the Qanun, much to the delight of the audience.
There’s something cinematic about Khalifé’s composition, which at times sounds like it could provide the soundtrack for a film from the 60s or 70s featuring the likes of Michael Caine or Steve McQueen. Only a couple of criticisms, it’s a long piece – perhaps a little too long – and at times it felt like it would have benefitted from some careful editing; plus on a couple of occasions the soloist and orchestra seemed to be slightly out of synch.
The first night of the new season ended with a joyous rendition of all four movements of Beethoven’s bright and multi-textured Symphony No.7. If ever a composition was written to show off the talents of an orchestra, then this was it. By now, Chang was well into her comfort zone and it showed.
The first night bodes well for what’s to come in the 10 months to come, during a packed season. Han-Na Chang will conduct on 16 occasions, and, going on opening night, we can expect great things from the newest addition to Qatar’s small music scene.