Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, has been described as Australia’s sexiest orchestra. Make of that what you will, but its talented players are musical chameleons, performing everything from classical and rock to Tibetan chants. Reach-for-the-sky standards, an emphasis on redefining the classical concert and advocacy for Australian composers have earned this string troupe an excellent reputation and a dedicated following.
Cross-genre collaborations with dance and theatre are Camerata concert staples. Cinematheque, the outfit’s Brisbane Festival concert (it played at QPAC September 15) twinned arthouse cinema with orchestral performance, an ideal showcase for Camerata’s tight unity and capacity to synchronise with oscar-nominated filmmaker Andrew Lucas’ zany short films. Four were commissioned for this program and three were reprised from 2015’s Halloween special, Things That Go Bump In the Night.
Combining visual and sonic mediums is a challenge. In this technologically assisted event coordinated by Geoff McGahan, each player wore a sophisticated metronome aid which marked the tempo, indicating when to broaden the pace or speed up.
Some of Lucas’ films are themselves impressionistic responses to music, and therefore less taxing to combine in performance. Lost paired sympathetically with Robert Davidson’s plaintive Elegy From a Short Hour Unseen. Here the melancholic piece sympathetically underscored the forlorn rollie, a toilet roll woman, cast adrift in the bush. Lucas’ whimsical One-Way Street, a cheeky riff on the antics of anthropomorphic rubbish in Alice Street integrated superbly with Leroy Anderson’s Plink, Plank, Plunk! a fun interrogation of the plucked string. Camerata’s pacy pizzicato was spectacular.
Lucas’ stop-start sci-fi animation Farewell the Sky dovetailed with Solstice by Cameron Patrick. The musical background was sensitively drawn with a subtle palette of colour.
The stabbing in Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho, viscerally illustrated in Bernard Herrman’s Suite for Strings is a vital touch point. Integrating Herrman’s work with Lucas’ Psycho Strings, Camerata produced convincing screeches and an authentic Hollywood sound with a lush vibrato but strangely, the outcome wasn’t blood curdling.
Camerata is known for unconducted performances, but synchronising film and music in this way was tricky in Stravinsky’s demanding Concerto in D. Vivace the first movement was a Camerata solo, the second, Arioso meshed precisely with Housefly. This sinister-cum-ironic fantasy spotlighted a mean fly, a smug 1950’s woman and Barbie pink cupcakes.
A real plus throughout the event was the manner in which music and cinema informed and enhanced one another, neither discipline dominating the other. One exception was Housefly, because this was such a riveting film the audience’s attention was absorbed by this rather than Camerata’s polished execution of Stravinsky’s challenging work.
The Disassembly Macabre captured old-world horror; a squirming man chained to a gurney at the mercy of a sadist, with a weird and wonderful twist. Violinist Sally-Ann Djachenko’s astute leadership achieved a vivid delivery of Saint-Saens’ ghoulish Danse Macabre.
Erik Griswold’s Love to Love Your Strings, Baby!is a salute to disco and Gloria Gaynor’s 1975 hit Love to Love You Baby. Camerata’s distinctive rhythmic flair powered Portrait an animated reflection on Lucas’ childhood in 70’s and 80’s Brisbane. Griswold, Patrick and Davidson’s works are included on Camerata’s recently launched Sunshine Sounds CD – which features homegrown composers Chris Perrin, Isabella Gerometta and Chris Healey and celebrates Queensland towns.
Due to the need for a large pool of professional players to boost The Ring Cycle’s Wagnerian orchestra in forthcoming rehearsals, this enjoyable and impressive entertainment was Camerata’s last for 2023.
Next year’s season includes four mainstage events with local, national and international soloists, involvement in two Queensland Ballet productions and recitals by Camerata artists and the quartet-in-residence.
In keeping with Camerata’s reputation for performing in non-traditional spaces, the ensemble is now negotiating performing in Rockhampton’s Beef Week in its tour of North Burnett and also in some of the region’s aged-care facilities, schools and kindergartens.
Camerata presents Orava in Nocturne, featuring the Orava Quartet, on 7 October at The Edge Auditorium, State Library of Queensland
The 2024 Season will be revealed on the 26 October.
Sunshine Sounds CD can be streamed online