QPO: An Orchestra In Tune With Its Community
Social Media reporter Phillip Soalheira catches up with Matthew Schwarz, Chief Conductor with the Queensland Philharmonia Orchestra (QPO), a semi-professional student ensemble based in Brisbane. As well as being a music student at Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium, Matthew conducts and runs the orchestra, which will soon be celebrating its third anniversary of making music
Phillip: Matthew, you’ve been running the QPO for three years. What are the biggest challenges in your role?
Matthew: The challenges vary. They range from musical to administrative to organisational, but the biggest would definitely be finding money to run the orchestra. At the beginning of the year we ran a crowdfunding campaign to support the orchestra. We raised around $1500, which was enough to get us started for this year’s program. The majority of income comes from ticket sales.
Finding performance venues for the orchestra has also been tricky, but we’ve finally managed to establish our major performances at the Old Museum Building in Bowen Hills.
Administration has significant challenges, such as finding like-minded people to sit on the board. You need people who share your vision, who want to help the orchestra and make it something really positive that people want to be in. Our current board members, all of whom are Griffith students, have their heads in the game and are helping drive the orchestra to new heights.
Musical challenges involve getting people to play for each concert and deciding on a repertoire, but this orchestra has a great spirit and a desire to present a good product. It can be tough working with students, because we’re always busy and trying to organise our own lives, but all the coffee keeps us going!
Phillip: I’ll be the first to admit that! So, the QPO has been going for three years and no doubt you’ve had to change things over time. What are some of the differences in the way the orchestra works now as opposed to in the beginning?
Matthew: We sure sound better! The actual roster of musicians has undergone many changes, and even our section leaders have changed quite a bit over time. We constantly re-evaluate what we’re for and what our mission is. There’s no use doing something without a goal or purpose.
At first we were more self-serving, focusing on making more opportunities for the people in the orchestra, but as we’ve developed we’ve become more about the people we perform for, which is very important. We’re still there for the students, to offer them performance experience, but we now aim more at creating a positive experience for the audience.
In our first year we played classical concerts in concert halls. Now we’ve expanded our horizons and do more things in the community. Last year we played at the State of Origin, which was very exciting as we were on TV for the first time and had a crowd of 80,000 people! We also do more outreach-focused concerts, where we take a small group of musicians from the orchestra and perform for free in places like retirement homes. We also occasionally hire our musicians out for weddings and other events.
Phillip: You’ve been the principal conductor with the QPO for three years now. What do you enjoy most about working with the orchestra?
Matthew: Definitely the sigh of relief after stepping off the stage at the end of the concert! And it’s always great to see that the orchestra is very receptive and really keen to do well, so that makes my job easier.
I’m very happy with the repertoire we’ve done. We’ve performed big pieces and symphonies by major composers that are no easy task. As a young conductor, it’s been a joy to conduct pieces like Tchakovsky’s 5th Symphony and Mahler’s 1st Symphony. It’s also good for the musicians to get exposure to a difficult repertoire like that, the kind they will have to perform in the future. It brings me joy to see the musicians enjoy that.
Phillip: We’ve talked about the past; let’s discuss what’s in store for the QPO. The orchestra is putting on a concert of John Williams music on October 24 to tie-in with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Tell us a bit about it.
Matthew: The concert will celebrate the release of the movie and also be a reminder for us of where we were a few years ago. In our first year, we did a concert of John Williams music at the Old Museum and it was really successful. It attracted a diverse audience of classical music concertgoers, film lovers and Star Wars enthusiasts.
This next concert will be a much bigger occasion. We’re going to be working with some phenomenal guest artists on the night, including Guy Noble and Diana Tolmie. Guy is a famous conductor and presenter, well-known through ABC radio, while Diana is a phenomenal saxophonist and lecturer at the Queensland Conservatorium.
We’ll also have people dressed up as well-known movie characters, and some cool lighting effects. It will not be your average classical music concert either; you’ll be allowed to Instagram and Twitter during the show, and make a bit of noise. It should be a great occasion.
Phillip: Sounds like it will be lots of fun. To finish, what do you see in the future for the QPO? Where is this ensemble heading in the next five years?
Matthew: The orchestra is currently going through a rebranding, or restructuring. We’re thinking about what we can do differently for audiences. We plan to offer three major concerts each year, as well as implement some more specialised events, like chamber concerts in churches and more outreach events.
Continuing on in the spirit of the John Williams concert, we’re looking at doing more concerts based on popular music. We’ve got a Pops concert and Broadway concert planned. Maybe something Disney-oriented? You never know! I see the orchestra eventually becoming a higher-standard semi-professional ensemble, mostly tailored to music alumni.
Phillip: Thanks for your time, Matthew. I’m sure we’ll all look forward to seeing the QPO perform in the future.
The Queensland Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Matthew Schwarz, will be performing its 3rd Anniversary Gala Concert at 7pm on Saturday, October 24, at the Old Museum Building, Bowen Hills. And be sure to look out for the John Williams concert in December. You can follow the orchestra on Facebook or on its website.