Bringing them home to make music…writes Fraser Beath McEwing

May 27, 2015 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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On Tuesday 23rd of July, at five o’clock in the afternoon, ninety-five of the finest Australian orchestral musicians in the world will file in through the side doors of the Sydney Opera House concert hall stage.

Nick Deutsch

Nick Deutsch

There will be some confusion as each searches for his or her allocated chair. Once seated, they will open the scores on the stands in front of them and begin a warm-up. Celebrity conductor, the unmistakable Sir Simon Rattle, will be introduced and he’ll chat for a while from the podium. Then he’ll raise his baton. When he brings it down it will semaphore a sound that has never been heard before. The Australian World Orchestra, 2015 edition, will play its first note.

The Australian World Orchestra was the impossible dream that became possible when conductor Andrew Briger and his musical family put their skill and passion into the idea of assembling Australian musicians from all over the world to play a concert together as a never-heard-before orchestra. The first concert was held in the Sydney Opera House in 2011, with the intention of repeating the exercise every two years.

July of this year will see its latest incarnation.

In 2013, the AWO secured Zubin Mehta to conduct the orchestra in a program of Stravinsky and Mahler. Together they produced a sound and a performance that drew rave responses from audiences and critics alike. For 2015, another leading conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, will direct two works by Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn and Forgotten Songs. The major work will be Bruckner’s demanding Symphony No. 8, which will bring the best out of the AWO. For Forgotten Songs, the orchestra will be joined by high profile Czech mezzo-soprano, Magdelana Kožená, accompanied by a specially written orchestration by Australian composer, Brett Dean.

The back stage story of how the AWO is put together is almost as interesting as the performance itself. In addition to artistic director Alexander Briger, one of the prime movers is prominent Australian oboist, Nick Deutsch, who has stationed himself in Germany for the last 20 years, but plays all over the world as a soloist, ensemble member or as part of some of the great orchestras, including the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. He sits on an artistic committee of five Australian musicians who, between them, keep in touch with other Australians playing in major orchestras around the world, and invites a number of them every two years to join the AWO – which doubles as an Australian homecoming. And it was Nick Deutsch who, with another artistic committee member, flew to Vienna to talk to Sir Simon Rattle about conducting this year’s concerts.

“He didn’t take much convincing,” Deutsch says. “He was keen to do it – as was Zubin Mehta previously. In fact, the orchestra will reassemble in India in October for a concert, again conducted by Zubin Mehta.”

Deutsch explains that the process of musician selection happens organically, without the tensions that are prevalent in professional music circles. He says that, without exception, the players jump at the invitation to join the AWO and even agree among themselves the roles they will take in each grouping. Forty-five of them will be brought from overseas and they will be joined by a further fifty drawn from the best players in Australian state orchestras.

“When they fly in they are invariably excited and a just a little nervous,” Deutsch says. “Many of them haven’t seen each other for years. It’s like a family reunion.”

“These are not ninety-five soloists,” he adds. “They are orchestral players, used to sitting down and making music together. That’s another reason why it works so well.”

The orchestra will play two concerts in Sydney on Wednesday 29 July and Friday 31 July, both in the Opera House, and one in Melbourne on Saturday 1 August in Hamer Hall. Further details: www.australianworldorchestra.com.au. Ticket sales Sydney: (02) 9250 7777. Melbourne: 1300 182 183.

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