Italian Maestro Riccardo Muti conducts the exceptional Australian World Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House for the opening of their 2018 concert season.
Italian conductor Maestro Riccardo Muti with The Australian World Orchestra. Photo by David Collins.
The Australian World Orchestra is an occasional gathering of our top musicians as they moonlight from their proper jobs at orchestras and conservatoriums from Zurich to Salzburg and Hong Kong to the BBC. In just a week or two they come together, putting aside their many stylistic and cultural nuances, to form a cohesive musical collaboration. It helps that they all know each other, with the great majority growing up in the Australian Youth Orchestra, so this is a reunion of friends as well as a collaboration of colleagues. And what a superb result awaited the audience at the Opera House as the AWO took to the stage with the legendary conductor Riccardo Muti and violinist Natalie Chee, from the SWR Symphonieorchester in Stuttgart, as concertmaster.
The program offered two well-known and much-loved works, Brahms’ Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. After a late start, the Brahms was marred by disruptions and disturbances from the audience, rather ruining the contemplative nature of this elegant and expressive work.
That’s no reflection on the quality of the playing which was exceptional throughout. Muti gave a light and airy reading of the Brahms, especially in the lengthy allegro non troppo first movement, with every instrument and passage given the space it needed to fully breathe. The cellos and woodwind gave warmth and depth to the second and third movements to beautiful effect. But it’s the final movement of the Brahms that is really magnificent in its musical extravagance. Muti’s baton sliced through the air like Harry Potter’s wand, pacing the allegro con spirito finale. The double basses played like their life depended on it accompanied by great drum rolls and the entire orchestra in full flight.
After a little rearrangement of the players, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 in F minor filled the second half of the program with Daniel Dodds, of the Festival Strings in Lucerne, taking the concertmaster’s chair. The Fourth Symphony is often known simply as 'Fate', and the composer himself said 'Fate…hangs perpetually over our heads and is always embittering the soul,'.
The portentous trumpet opening set the tone for a considered and soulful working of this beautiful piece that also celebrates life and love. There were tender moments from the piccolo and clarinet and some impressive pizzicato from the entire string section. All this exploded into a riotous finale with crashing cymbals giving a magnificently dramatic ending.
Muti took several bows and then launched into a chat with the audience about the importance of music in today’s world, thankfully stopping before straying too far into a political diatribe. A lively reading of Verdi’s overture from Nabucco was a popular encore.
Over the course of his stellar career, the 76-year-old Muti has worked with almost all of the world’s leading orchestras. And he should feel quite at home here, having been made an Honorary Citizen of Sydney on his last visit.
This was a superb performance and a credit to all the players of the AWO.
Australian World Orchestra
Conductor Riccardo Muti
Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D major
Tchaikovsky Symphone No. 4 in F minor
Sydney Opera House May 2 & 4, Melbourne Arts Centre May 5.