The Metropolitan Orchestra has made something of a specialty of big Russian repertoire – what is it about this music that you and the musicians respond to?

I completed my conducting studies in Russia (St Petersburg and Novosibirsk) and I was immersed in the repertoire and given such amazing insight into it all by my teacher. I feel ‘at home’ with Russian repertoire, it’s a part of me. We actually have many Russian musicians in our orchestra who feel the same way.

TMO definitely has an affinity with the repertoire, they really get their teeth into it and give it their all. I think we are all drawn to the story-telling of the music, the juxtaposition and mingling of joy and sorrow, the lush melodies and the underlying passion.  I think that this passion is something that really resonates with the orchestra and is a positive performance trait for which we’ve become known for.

Sarah-Grace Williams, The Metropolitan OrchestraThe Metropolitan Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Sarah-Grace Williams

At the centre of the program is Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto with Tamara-Anna Cislowska as soloist. How typical is this work of Shostakovich’s writing?

The concerto is actually an uncharacteristically cheerful piece for Shostakovich, much more so than most of his other work. It is playful, graceful and undeniably charming, a stark contrast to some of his more serious, angst-ridden works.

Shostakovich wrote that the work had “no redeeming artistic merits”. What do you think he meant by that?

He wrote this ‘simplistic’ work for his son Maxim’s 19th birthday – quite an epic birthday present – who performed it at his graduation from the Moscow Conservatorium. Perhaps he was getting a head-start on his critics, pre-empting negative responses  (which he had become used to) for this student piece, but the critics were greatly taken with the concerto’s charm, carefree spirit and lyrical warmth.

Do you think the piece deserves to be heard more often than it is?

Yes, absolutely. Whilst I do love the darker,  more tortured sounds found in his other works, I find this piece just delightful and it has tremendous appeal to audiences (and pianists)!

What are the challenges of this music for pianist and conductor? And what are the pleasures?

I would say the challenge for the pianist is probably gaining a deep enough understanding of the work to make sense of the many changes of mood and then portray these accordingly. It really is an enjoyable work for pianists, conductors and orchestras alike. We’re going to have a great time with this one.

What do you think Tamara-Anna Cislowska will bring to the performance?

Tamara is an impeccable musician who really thrives on Russian repertoire. Her performances are always fueled by great passion. I think that she will give a performance that is equal parts immensely powerful and charmingly vulnerable.

How did you put together the rest of the program, the Rimsky-Korsakov and the Rachmaninov?

We regularly survey our musicians and audience members to find out what they would like to see programmed and these two works were amongst the most requested pieces from both groups. I think they are perfect bookends to the Shostakovich (which was the first piece programmed for this concert) so it was quite an easy program to devise – if only all programs were as easy!

What do you hope the audience will come away with?

The same thing as I always do – I hope that we transport them somewhere very special and they feel they were part of an experience that grabbed their hearts at the deepest level. It is a wonderful opportunity when performing in these intimate venues that every audience member can feel connected with the musicians. It is our goal to give the audience an immersive experience which satisfies all of their senses. We will be doing our best on Saturday night to achieve this once again.

The Metropolitan Orchestra performs Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov at Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Sydney on August 25