Arts Review

Beethoven and Elgar

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra Presents Beethoven and Elgar 

Concert Hall, QPAC

28th-29th July, 2023


Conductor Joseph Swensen

Soloist Jayson Gillham


Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1

Elgar Symphony No.2


Dr Gemma Regan


Gillham’s tender tenacity as he attacked the keys with both speed and grace was incredible to watch

It was a packed concert hall for the QSO Morning Masterworks concert of Beethoven and Elgar. Incredible, considering it was only a Friday lunchtime, so some may have been playing hooky to witness the return of the much revered Australian-British pianist Jayson Gillham. He has performed in orchestras across the world and had a three-album deal with ABC Classics including Beethoven’s recording of the Piano Concerto No.4 with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. 

Gilliam has been described as one of the most refined and elegant pianists of his generation and is renowned for his incredible performances of Beethoven’s piano concertos. On his last visit in 2021, he wowed Queenslanders with his rendition of the iconic Piano Concerto No.4 whilst performing with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Queensland’s Finest concert. 

Gillham wowed Brisbane again with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, described by Gillham as ‘youthful and vigorous.’ Beethoven wrote it at the tender age of 20 to showcase his burgeoning piano skills and it was his third concerto (despite the numeration), with the first draft at the age of fourteen!

After a long introduction from the QSO the piano tenderly joined the scene with Gilham caressing the keys so skilfully his renditions of the piano concerto would have been envied by Beethoven himself. His tender tenacity as he attacks the keys with both speed and grace is incredible to watch. His long arms and hands were a blur as they flew across the keyboard in the cadenza’s, which is then recapitulated by each part of the orchestra in the Rondo. A repeating three-note motif of a minim followed by two crochets an octave above had Gillham exchanging and even crossing hands between each to maintain the incessant flow of notes.

The QSO were faultless in their support of Gillham throughout the piece fading with a lovely soft pizzicato from the strings. Gillham was whooped and clapped for three encores until leaving the stage to the QSO for the seldom-played Symphony No.2 by Elgar. 

Finally, we were to witness the unusual conducting style of the multi-faceted American, Joseph Swansen. Frustratingly, he had been concealed by the piano lid throughout the piano concerto. 

He is internationally acclaimed as a triple-threat conductor, violinist and composer starting a new position as Music Director of the Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine at the start of the 2024-25 season. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada in Spain and has won the Leventritt Foundation Sponsorship Award and the Avery Fisher Career Award and is also a much sought-after teacher. 


Elgar’s Symphony No.2. is rarely performed in Australia, requiring precision ensemble playing from the QSO and specific knowledge and feel for Elgar’s English emotive soundscapes. Elgar wrote his romantic masterwork in 1911 as a tribute to King Edward VII, who died in 1910 and had knighted Elgar for his musical services to the country. As a traditional royalist, the piece is full of pomp and circumstance oozing with the might of the British Empire from a position of privilege.

Elgar describes it as “a passionate pilgrimage of a soul” quoting his friend Percy Shelley, “Rarely, rarely comest thou a spirit of delight” which was the theme of the first movement Allegro vivace e nobilmente. It is a mix of pomposity and ghostly marches with the brass trotting like night marchers amongst the foggy fells. The woodwind added to the effect whilst a three-note motif repeated within the supernatural strings caused an unsettling of the soul.

The funeral of the second Larghetto movement oozed with waves of sadness and grief as Elgar mourned the passing of the King. The Rondo perked the audience up from the doldrums with a trotting percussion described by Elgar through Lord Tennyson’s poem, Maud as “horses galloping over a shallow grave”.

Moderato e maestoso, the fourth movement, had Elgar wringing out every last ounce of pathos as it returned to the ‘Spirit of Delight’ theme, he just didn’t know when to stop! Throughout the hour-long symphony, Swenson flailed his arms like a bored teenager using large unspecific circular motions. However, he was very entertaining in the more exciting moments wiggling and flailing as if swimming backstroke away from the QSO!

The two contrasting pieces were good showcases not only for the supernatural musical skills of Gillham but also of the whole orchestra, who showed they could both support soloists with a musical backdrop whilst becoming the anguished British soundscape created by Elgar.

Beethoven and Elgar was recorded by ABC Classics FM for future airplay.



Quick Listens

Les Jobson from Dreamkillers - teaser interview

Sasha Čuha: about 'Svetozar!' & electric gusle

4ZZZ's radio drama 'Connie' by Joel Quick

4ZZZ's radio drama 'Morph' by Kathryn Rothe

Opera at 4ZZZ with Milijana Nikolic, mezzo-soprano & Rosario La Spina, tenor

Eurovision Song Contest 2021 - review by Blair Martin

Gina Vanderpump - Miss Sportsman Hotel

4ZZZ's 45th Birthday special by Alex Oliver

Jack Vidgen - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020

Jaguar Jonze - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020

Mitch Tambo - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020

Didirri - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020

iOTA - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020

RICHARD BELL The Venice Biennale EMBASSY 2019 4ZZZ Radio

OZONE Radio Play #001: Dog Park

Bloods Interview

Christopher Port on the New Releases Show

Didirri on Zedgeist


TRAILS takeover 4ZZZ Alphabet Soup PART 2

TRAILS takeover 4ZZZ Alphabet Soup PART 1

Port Royal performing "One of a Kind" live on 4ZZZ Alphabet Soup

Port Royal on Alphabet Soup


Dark Essence interview with Pop Will Eat Itself

Marc of Fingerless interview with Linda Dark on Alphabet Soup Pt 2

Marc of Fingerless interview with Linda Dark on Alphabet Soup Pt 1


Queer Radio interview with Jayde Westaby, "Tanya" in "Mamma Mia"

Queer Radio interview with Ian Stenlake, "Sam" in "Mamma Mia"