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Alexander Briger will become only the second Australian to conduct the Israel Philharmonic when he steps in for an ailing Christoph Dohnányi next month. The Australian World Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director has been asked to take over the six-concert programme by IPO Executive Avi Shoshani on the recommendation of Music Director For Life Zubin Mehta.
“It’s pretty phenomenal,” says Briger, speaking to Limelight fresh off the plane from the AWO’s concert tour to Singapore. “I'm so excited about it. The Israel Phil has such a huge name. Of course, the orchestra has this mystique about it, with Friends of the IPO all over the world, including here in Australia – people like Frank Lowy.”
Dohnányi, 87, who led an acclaimed programme of Brahms, Bruckner and Berg in Sydney earlier this year, has had to cancel several engagements in recent months and had been booked for a substantial tranche of concerts in Tel Aviv and Haifa. “It’s six concerts,” Briger explains. “They include Brahms’ First Symphony, Schubert’s Ninth and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Paul Lewis – it’s a huge thing for me.”
In fact, Briger has been in Maestro Mehta’s sights for a few years now, ever since the AWO Artistic Director persuaded him to conduct the orchestra’s second concert series in Australia. “He did talk to me about it a while back, but quite casually,” Briger admits. “Zubin says things like, ‘Dudamel comes, and Danny [Barenboim] comes’, so basically it’s massive names that go there. But then I got the call from Avi Shoshami – he and Zubin run the whole affair – and that was that.”
Briger will follow in the footsteps of Australian conductor Kynan Johns who replaced an indisposed Wolfgang Sawallisch in 2004, conducting the IPO in performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Meanwhile, last week saw the AWO impress Sydney audiences in concerts of Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Elena Kats-Chernin (led by Briger) and Beethoven and Dvořák (conducted by his colleague Stanley Dodds). The following whirlwind trip to Singapore saw the orchestra well-received by audiences and critics, as well as being acknowledged at events attended by the Australian High Commissioner Philip Green and Attorney General George Brandis. “I think what we have shown is that the brand is intact, regardless of whether we have a star name to conduct,” says Briger. “That was the aim this year, and I think the reviews prove it.”