The Australian maestro will bring the expat supergroup together with ANAM students in Melbourne this July.

Internationally acclaimed conductor Simone Young will lead the Australian World Orchestra in its headline concert for 2017. The event will also involve a unique collaboration as 48 AWO musicians join 51 young instrumentalists from the Australian National Academy of Music for an epic performance of Olivier Messiaen’s massive, erotically charged Turangalîla–Symphonie.

Young’s last full-time post at home was as Music Director of Opera Australia from 2001-2003 although she has returned regularly to conduct all the major state symphony orchestras. Now a regular presence in Vienna, Zürich, Munich, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and London, she was until recently Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg, posts she held from 2005-2015.

“Simone Young is quite simply a tour de force and a unique personality in the world of music not just in Australia but internationally,” a delighted Alexander Briger, Artistic Director and AWO’s Chief Conductor told Limelight. “She’s an extremely personable woman, with a warm character and has a very strong bond with not only this country but its musicians.”

Young is in fact making a welcome return to the AWO, having conducted the very first rehearsal and performance of the national ‘supergroup’ back in 2011. “She’s intensely musical, commands respect, but at the same time is tough,” Briger continued. “We are so happy to have her back working with us.”

Although Messiaen’s later works increasingly focus on his deeply held Catholic belief in the Divinity and frequently incorporate his beloved birdsong, the relatively early 10-movement Turangalîla symphony reflects forms derived from Indian classical music and ideas of Eastern spirituality plus a major dose of romantic love and death (Tristan and Isolde was a major influence). The fifth section of the symphony, entitled Joie du Sang des Étoiles (Joy of the Blood of the Stars), is a sensual frenetic dance representing the union of two lovers on a cosmic scale and one of the sexiest pieces of classical music ever composed. Written between 1946 and 1948 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, it was a young Leonard Bernstein who conducted the premiere.

“The Turangalîla symphony is one of the most colossal and demanding works in the repertoire with a completely distinctive and unique sound world,” said Briger who admitted to being thrilled at the prospect. “It surely has to be one of the greatest works of the 20th century, standing alongside the Rite of Spring and Mahler’s Ninth symphony.”

The work demands a full scale orchestra with up to 11 percussionists playing vibraphone, keyed or mallet glockenspiels, triangle, temple blocks and wood block, cymbals (crash and three types of suspended), tam tam, tambourine, maracas, snare drum, Provençal tabor, bass drum, and tubular bells. It also calls for celesta and a full complement strings (32 violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos and 10 double basses), plus two concert soloists – one on piano and the other conjuring the magical tones of the electronic ondes Martenot.

“We don’t hear it all that often because of its technical demands,” Briger admitted, adding that he believes there is only one ondes Martenot in Australia (which on this occasion will be played by Jacob Abela). The concerto-sized piano part – written as a love letter to Messiaen’s future second wife Yvonne Loriod, who played it at the premiere – will be taken in Melbourne by Timothy Young.

The single concert represents the first time the AWO – an organization strongly committed to music education – has collaborated on this scale with a major tertiary college. “We’ve done it every year, mixing AWO and the Australian Youth Orchestra with [Sir Simon] Rattle, and last year under me with regional Con kids,” said Briger. “We really love combining our musicians with the next generation – it’s everyone giving back. We’ve had a relationship with ANAM since 2013. So it was a natural fit. When Nick Deutsch [former oboist with the Berlin Phil and an AWO regular] became Artistic Director that furthered the relationship.”

“ANAM represents the future musicians of the AWO, it’s as simple as that. The young musicians at ANAM are already professionals in their own right. So, to be guided by our phenomenal musicians in the AWO is a dream come true. Simone Young is a specialist in this work and has conducted it many times before. So, the combination is going to produce the most thrilling result for Australia audiences.”

In addition to the Hamer Hall concert, the AWO has another new initiative up its sleeve. Called ‘AWO Chamber 8 On Tour’ eight musicians from a mixture of major international and national orchestras will tour to four Australian capital cities, including what will be AWO’s debut performances in Brisbane and Perth. Chamber 8 is made up of Paul Dean (Clarinet), now Head of Woodwind at the Queensland Conservatorium; Lyndon Watts (Bassoon), formerly of the Munich Philharmonic; Andrew Bain (Horn) from the LA Phil; Dan Dodds (Violin) currently with Festival Strings Lucerne; Natalie Chee (Violin), Concertmaster of the Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart; Tahlia Petrosian (Viola) from the Leipzig Gewandhaus; David Berlin (Cello) with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Matthew McDonald (Double Bass), currently with the Berlin Philharmonic. The programme will comprise the Beethoven E Flat Septet and Dvořák’s Second String Quintet (otherwise known as his Double Bass Quintet).

“We’re thrilled to bring together this exceptional ensemble for this concert series, eight remarkable Australian musicians from different corners of the globe,” said Briger. “This is a rare opportunity to experience the sheer brilliance of Australia’s musical jewels”.

AWO plays Messiaen at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne on July 29


Chamber 8 on Tour is at QPAC on July 24, City Recital Hall, Sydney on July 25, Melbourne Recital Centre on July 27 and Perth Concert Hall on July 31