In the AWO’s orchestral programme there is always a kind of reunion or party atmosphere – does that happen for the chamber concerts as well?

Definitely – although probably slightly less euphoric because chamber music can be more exacting than orchestral performing, and there’s generally less time to put together complex musical structures. When every note you perform (or don’t!) is audible (and visible!) and there’s no conductor, then you need a different awareness. It’s a wonderful way to be collaborating with other AWO musicians – I guess on a more personal level.

Coming from different orchestras around the world, how challenging is it to come in and find a voice as an ensemble?

I always maintain that you can’t push 100 musicians on stage and say, look, there’s an orchestra! For some reason it works with the AWO; although our ages vary greatly, we seem to have a similar aesthetic, and similar creative willpower. And I have to say that in most of the AWO  projects to date I’ve felt that the viola section (and the entire orchestra for that matter) were producing a really amazing homogenous and complex sound, which is a separate phenomenon to the wonderful energy that the musicians bring to the stage (which is also incredible). I think that’s where conductors differ, not every conductor ‘allows’ that to happen, and it’s miraculous when it does. So I guess the answer is – it’s possible to find that voice, and we need everyone giving their best.

Sally Clarke, Australian World Orchestra, AWOViolist Sally Clarke. Photo: supplied

Is there a different culture rehearsing and working with Australian musicians?

One of the things that always strikes me is that it’s such a relief to use Aussie slang, and not have to explain why it’s funny. Seriously though, there is often a different kind of equanimity in the atmosphere and a flexibility that I really appreciate. And just the fact that a lot of us knew each other when we were teenagers in youth orchestra gives us a connection that can be endemic to fantastic music-making.

How does playing in chamber formations change the way you approach the larger AWO orchestral concerts?

In the words of Herbert von Karajan, all music needs to be approached as chamber music. It’s a micro-macro thing: the awareness that you have in chamber music, of the different voices and their movements and developments, stands you in really good stead when applied to an orchestra. I remember working with Sergiu Celibidache, at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, he’d stop conducting and point at you and say, “sing the next theme and tell me who plays it.” It put the fear of God into me and also taught me a lot of respect for musical structure. And in this AWO setting, I guess it’s about the musical/personal connections created during the chamber music project, getting to know the other performers in these different settings.

What excites you about this particular AWO programme?

Funnily enough, these are works which I often performed in youth orchestras back in the day in Australia… I remember performing Tchaikovsky Four in Beijing, on the 1983 Queensland Youth Orchestra tour – and John Curro getting so carried away that he was singing in the last movement, it was hilarious! Oh, the memories! And Brahms Two was the first symphony I performed with Australian Youth Orchestra, with Christopher Seaman conducting… It feels like meeting old friends again.

Apart from the nostalgic value, these are works which really have stood the test of time; I feel there’s an emotional value in these compositions which makes them contemporary – and that’s what’s interesting and exciting. All good music is contemporary; I feel it’s a documentation of and a tribute to our emotional existence, which is our commonality, across the globe, across the ages. By the way I live in Karlsruhe, the city in which Brahms’ Second Symphony was premiered. It’s funny or sad or something that there’s an H&M in that building now.

And I’m thrilled to be working with Maestro Muti, who is one of the most accomplished and interesting musical personalities of our time. How great that this has eventuated, a big shout out to our AWO team who made that possible. I’m so looking forward to being part of the dynamic that will be AWO, with Brahms and Tchaikovsky, under his baton in 2018!

Sally Clarke performs in the Australian World Orchestra Chamber Ensemble at the Concourse, Chatswood, on April 27


Riccardo Muti will conduct the Australian World Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House May 2 – 4 and Arts Centre Melbourne May 5.