The Australian World Orchestra – a look back at 2011.

With the Australian World Orchestra set to take the stage again in Sydney under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta in 2013, we revisit the inaugural performances held in Sydney, in September 2011.

“The chance to see just how good the musicians are that we export to the world”. So said Alexander Briger, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Australian World Orchestra, at the project launch attended by the NSW Minister for the Arts, George Souris. The three concerts presented by the AWO in Sydney and Parramatta, during late August are unprecedented, and as Briger adds “It’s not just a series of concerts, but a history-making event”.

Ninety musicians will gather in Sydney – all of them working with elite orchestras both in Australia and overseas, from Vancouver to Vienna, Leipzig to Los Angeles and Stuttgart to Singapore and Melbourne to Munich. What they have in common is that they all trained in Australia and have gone on to major positions in the best orchestras both here and all over the world.

The list is of performers is extensive – as their credentials and to name a few seems like a disservice to the greater group.

Suffice it to say that 45 orchestras are represented by this gathering of Antipodean talent – among them, The Gewandhaus of Leipzig, The Vienna Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony, The Royal Concertgebouw, The Chicago Symphony…..and from closer to home – the major capital city Symphony, Chamber and Opera and Ballet Orchestras.

As if that isn’t enough, other glitterati performing include conductor Simone Young, didgeridoo artist Wiliam Barton and composer Brett Dean who will conduct his “Vexations and Devotions” and then join the orchestra to play viola in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. This work of course, needs voices and it’s hard to pick a more thrilling quartet than soprano Cheryl Barker, mezzo- soprano Elizabeth Campbell, tenor Steve Davislim and bass baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes – all of whom have performed in the great opera houses of the world – with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Gondwana Voices.

Briger has first hand experience of such a project, having conducted the similarly created Japanese Virtuoso Symphony Orchestra, and describes the model as one that is proven to work. Likewise, the World Orchestra for Peace establish in 1995 by Sir George Solti and now conducted by Valery Gergiev represents 45 orchestras from 24 countries. They perform every two to three years, often giving more than one concert that year. Their last performance was in Abu Dhabi in January 2011. Not every musician is able to play in every concert, but there is a core that prevails. Solti said -‘I could not escape one very essential idea. Isn’t it amazing that we musicians can produce a united Europe or more even a united world. Why can’t the politicians?’

Then, there’s the Lucerne Festival Orchestra founded in 2003, which gathers each year under Maestro Claudio Abbado with core musicians from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Watching their 2009 performance (Mahler’s Ruckert Liederwith mezzo soprano Magdalena Kozena and Mahler’s 4th Symphony), the sight of the musicians hugging each other, the tears of joy and the unanimous standing ovation left an indelible impression. The “leitmotif” of the orchestra “the idea of friendship, freedom, and a joy in making music together” was palpable.

And so the idea comes to Australia. the programme will include other colossi of the orchestral repertoire -Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6, The Pathetique, Wagner’s prelude and Venusberg Music from Tannhuser, and Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, alongside the choral/orchestral work by Dean and Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry with William Barton playing the didgeridoo.

Audience development is an important aspect of this venture – as much to perpetuate and develop the love of classical music as well as to inspire the next generation of musicians. Two family concerts have been scheduled – one in Sydney and and after school concert in Parramatta, Sydney’s demographic hub. There will be master classses and open rehearsals that young musicians can join, and a select few will have the opportunity to perform in the main concerts alongside the masters.

Briger’s ambition is that this will become an annual event in Sydney. This inaugural 2011 will be dedicated to the memory of his uncle, conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who was part of the creative team before his death in 2011.

Sally Clarke,violist with the SWR Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart sums it up:”Something akin to a cultural Big Bang! The world will never be the same”.



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