Arguably the world’s finest orchestra, the Concertgebouw, is set to present concerts in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in November 2013.
Conducted by Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons and joined by guest pianist Yefim Bronfman, the concerts form part of their 125th anniversary tour. This will be the orchestra’s first visit to Australia and their concerts are certain to be among the year’s hottest tickets.
It’s a massive undertaking but one they are taking in their stride. “Our first tour was in 1897 to Norway. It was an invitation of Edvard Grieg,” said Managing Director, Jan Raes. “This time though there are 120 musicians and 22 nationalities. And we have one Australian – violinist Jane Piper.”
Established in 1888, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra quickly developed into one of the leading European orchestras, enjoying particularly longstanding relationships with each of its chief conductors. Extraordinarily, Mariss Jansons is only the sixth in 125 years.
While some eyebrows might be raised at the conservative nature of the programme, Mr Raes explained the reasoning behind their choices. “The whole repertoire is linked to our history,” he enthused. “Richard Strauss conducted the orchestra many times and wrote Ein Heldenleben for them. In Australia we play Wagenaar because he’s a Dutch composer in the style of Richard Strauss. Stravinsky because he was conducting the orchestra many, many times and Tchaikovsky No. 5 because it was written in 1888.” Bronfman, a close ‘friend’ of the orchestra, will play Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.
Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons is one of the most admired conductors of his generation and a renowned perfectionist. Raes was quick to praise his colleague. “He’s caring, he’s serving, he’s respectful. It’s never about himself. He’s not a star, he’s thinking about humanity. The orchestra respect and love him. They’re not scared. He’s a normal human being, but always working, always a workaholic. He uses every second of the rehearsal. He’s never happy with the result.”
As recently as 2008, the Concertgebouw was voted the “World’s Best Orchestra” by Gramophone Magazine with the UK’s Guardian newspaper reporting it as “arguably the world’s greatest… the depth and eloquence of the strings, the quick‐witted brilliance of the woodwind and the rounded security of the brass are unfailing.”
Asked about the famous Concertgebouw sound, Raes was equally forthcoming. “Our Concert Hall is unique, the sonority, and also the way of playing. It’s a golden acoustic…it’s very difficult to make an awful sound, but it’s also difficult for orchestras to hear each other on stage. You have to play soft enough to hear your colleagues and that’s the reason this orchestra is never forcing. It creates a chamber music attitude.”
The Concertgebouw is the latest high profile orchestra to visit Australia, following the Berlin Philharmonic with Sir Simon Rattle in 2010 and the Vienna Philharmonic with Christoph Eschenbach in 2011. They are, however, the first orchestra ever to tour to six continents in a single year.