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When the world is your orchestra

May 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

Australian World Orchestra conductor Alexander Briger (front centre) with, from left, musicians Frank Celata, Amy Brookman, Matt Hoy, Anna McMichael and Simon Oswell.IT ALL started out as a daydream. The many Australian musicians who grace top orchestras around the world would meet in airport lounges and concert halls, or at reunions on the rare visit home. Over a barbecue or a post-concert drink, the idea of a fantasy football league of Australian musicians always came up. For many years, however, it was just that: fantasy.
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”We’d been talking about it for years,” says Alexander Briger, conductor and artistic director of the Australian World Orchestra (AWO). ”We’d see each other after performances, or someone would get a really major position and you’d go out for a drink. We were always saying, ‘Imagine what an orchestra of all of us would sound like’. But everyone always said it’s impossible, it’s just logistically impossible.”

Then in 2005, Briger was invited to conduct the Japanese Virtuoso Symphony Orchestra, hand-picked soloists from Tokyo’s nine major orchestras who come together periodically to form a super-orchestra. ”I was blown away. The standard was incredible and the three concerts were packed, with standing room only.”

The experience convinced Briger to pursue his dream, so in 2009 he moved with his wife and young family back to Sydney to try to make it happen. Two years later, the first concert of the Australian World Orchestra was greeted with a five-minute ovation from a packed concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

”When the orchestra walked out, the audience went ballistic,” Briger says. ”We were in tears. Richard Evans [then chief executive of Sydney Opera House] said he’d never seen a reaction like it.”

Briger has just announced the Australian World Orchestra’s second season: three concerts in October 2013, two at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and one at the Sydney Opera House, all under the baton of conducting superstar Zubin Mehta. The orchestra will number about 90, with more than half of the players flying in from overseas. There will be a week of rehearsals at the Australian National Academy of Music, with masterclasses and mentoring sessions for students along the way, plus chamber music concerts planned in the lead-up.

Over a coffee on a cool spring morning in Sydney, Alex Briger seems remarkably low-key about what he has set in train. At 43, armed with a sound professional reputation, a certain charisma – an essential attribute for any conductor – and boundless enthusiasm, he has achieved what many said was impossible.

But high achievement is something of a family tradition: one of Briger’s uncles was the late Sir Charles Mackerras, who rose from the ranks of the Sydney Symphony to become an internationally celebrated conductor. Another uncle is Alastair Mackerras, former head of Sydney Grammar School, where Briger himself studied. And music is clearly in the blood: the Mackerras family tree can be traced back to the so-called ”father of Australian music”, Isaac Nathan, the first man to import a piano into Australia in the 1840s. As for Briger, he has forged a solid international career conducting opera and symphonic music.

Sir Charles Mackerras was a strong supporter of Briger’s enterprise from the start, looking forward to conducting during its first season. He died before it came to pass, but the AWO continues to be a family affair, with sister Gabrielle Thompson, who is a film producer, coming on board as managing director.

The family home, a gracious house overlooking Sydney Harbour, is commandeered for important meetings, and Briger’s conducting career – he is off to Paris next month to conduct a John Adams opera at Theatre de Chatelet – has to be fitted in around planning and fund-raising.

”What have we done? What have we created? It’s taken over our lives!”

Aside from the logistics of co-ordinating more than 50 elite musicians’ diaries, finding time in major concert halls and persuading one of the world’s top conductors to take a week out of his schedule to come to Australia, one of Briger’s biggest headaches is money.

In 2011, each player’s seat was sponsored for $5000, roughly the cost of flights, accommodation and fees. This time around, the Myer Foundation and Arts Victoria have come on board with the enthusiastic support of the state government. Moreover, the high-profile Indian-born conductor, Zubin Mehta, is a big drawcard for audiences and sponsors alike.

Mehta is the world’s most famous Parsi, a member of India’s ancient Zoroastrian community, and his arrival is anticipated with excitement by the Parsi communities in Sydney and Melbourne – Briger has already been given a menu to take to Mehta for his approval.

But with such high hopes, the question remains: will this band of musical gypsies be any good?

To answer, Briger describes the first rehearsal of 2011. Simone Young was conducting, and they began with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, which starts with a mournful melody in the bass instruments.

”I knew that double bass section was going to be phenomenal. And then the violas come in and I knew it was going to be a great sound. Everyone just stood there, stunned. Then Simone said, ‘I think we’ve got an orchestra’.”

The orchestra performed to sellout crowds and rave reviews, but it was the reaction of his colleagues that Briger found most affecting. Comments such as ”Thanks for rejuvenating our musical lives”, ”It’s so inspirational to play with all these old friends, and realise the musical dream”, and, when he emailed players to invite them to play in 2013, responses such as ”AWO. Three letters that bring a smile to my face.” That alone told Briger he was on a winner.

Briger has an ambitious 10-year plan, and is already juggling names and places for 2015. The vision is for the AWO to become a fully fledged arts organisation that facilitates activities – chamber music, for example, and education initiatives – for Australia’s family of globe-trotting musicians.

”I don’t think people realise what we’ve achieved on a grand scale in the classical industry. We’re just everywhere. AWO is about celebrating what we’ve achieved, what we can achieve. We have to keep this going.”

The Australian World Orchestra will perform on October 2 and 4, 2013, at Hamer Hall. Bookings: 1300 182 183, artscentremelbourne南京夜网.au

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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