Sir Simon Rattle and wife Magdalena Kožená struck down with virus just hours before Melbourne performance.

As one of the most hotly anticipated orchestral events of 2015, and given the astonishing calibre displayed by the Australian World Orchestra as they opened their season under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle at the Sydney Opera House last week, Victorian music lovers flocked in their droves to the Melbourne Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall for the AWO’s third and final performance of its tour on Saturday evening. However illness threatened to derail the sold-out Melbourne performance, as the concert’s soloist, Sir Simon’s wife Magdalena Kožená, and the great British maestro himself were struck down with flu just hours before the performance.

Mezzo soprano Kožená was forced to withdraw from the performance, meaning Australian composer Brett Dean’s newly orchestrated arrangements of Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées (Forgotten Songs) was not able to receive its Victorian premiere. Sir Simon, who was running a high fever, did however conduct the remaining two pieces of the programme, Debussy’s l’après-midi d’un faune, and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, although he needed to conduct portions of the performance while seated.

Addressing the packed auditorium to announce his wife’s unfortunate withdrawal shortly before the performance, Sir Simon revealed that the pair had caught the virus from one of their three children, who have all travelled to Australia with their parents for the AWO performances. In typically jovial fashion, and despite his high temperature, Sir Simon remarked that while his children were good at affection, they were also skilled at infection.

A spokesperson from the Australian World Orchestra said, “We share the disappointment of the Melbourne audience last Saturdaynight due to the last minute withdrawal from the programme of Debussy’s Forgotten Songs by Czech mezzo soprano, Magdelena Kožená, due to ill health. Magdalena was particularly disappointed as this was to be her Melbourne debut and the ‘Songs’ had been especially orchestrated for her by her good friend Brett Dean, who was also performing in the orchestra.” Despite Sir Simon’s ill health, the orchestra received a unanimous standing ovation following the performance. 

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