Joseph Nolan plans to welcome the Queen of Sheba amongst a programme ranging from Bach to Britten.

Perth Cathedral has launched its Concert Series 2017 with a combination of West Australian premieres and impressive soloists – plus of course the St. George’s Cathedral Consort and Choir. Music Director and internationally acclaimed organist Joseph Nolan spoke to Limelight about the thought behind his engaging and eclectic season, which kicks off with a double bill of Fauré’s Requiem and Walton’s Auden-inspired The Twelve on May 5.

“I only have one agenda, which is to ensure we pack each concert out,” says Nolan. “It is an irrefutable fact that Perth audiences love the old masters and my aim is to perform them to the highest international standards, find something new in them musically and to programme them in innovative ways.”

Nolan’s ‘blockbuster’ of sorts will be the WA premiere of Handel’s oratorio Solomon, a grand choral extravaganza that, in addition to the ubiquitous Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, features an array of musical numbers to rival Messiah. “Solomon seems an obvious choice to me as whilst I adore Handel’s Messiah, Perth often seems to have four performances every year in close proximity,” says Nolan. “Placing Solomon early in November – in fact, Nov 4 – also avoids the Christmas crush and general exhaustion of the public in December.”

Handel’s oratorio has a straightforward story. Act I shows Solomon wooing his Queen, Act II the famous ‘who gets the baby’ judgement, and Act III the visit of Sheba’s exotic monarch “from Arabia’s spicy shores”. It also features, From the Censor Curling Rise, surely one of the greatest Baroque double choruses ever, and a viable alternative to Zadok the Priest (who also, incidentally gets a singing role in Solomon).

The casting is impressive too: Sara Macliver as both Queens (and presumably a harlot), Paul McMahon as Zadok and Andrew Foote as ‘a Levite’. Rising star mezzo soprano Ileana Rinaldi will sing the role of Solomon. “Handel actually favoured a woman for this role and so I have decided to go with this young woman’s fantastic voice and genuine acting ability,” says Nolan.

The Cathedral concerts – very much Nolan’s baby – are playing an increasingly important role in Perth’s musical life. “It is easy to forget that eight years ago the series (and the Cathedral Consort) did not exist,” he recalls. “I was convinced that both were crucial to our outreach. Many people come into the Cathedral who would not normally step inside a religious institution and so many find something very spiritual about the combination of music and atmosphere.”

Box office isn’t bad either, with concerts regularly selling out – their last ‘Emperor’ concert was fully booked two months in advance. “That’s why we are now taking Solomon to the Concert Hall so that more people have the chance to hear our work,” Nolan explains. “The Cathedral Consort has reached a remarkable standard and this is what keeps our audiences so large and loyal.”

The second concert (July 3) will be a special event, as Nolan gets to know and explore duet repertoire for violin plus chamber organ or piano with WASO Concertmaster Laurence Jackson. “Actually, we have never met!” Nolan admits. “We have such busy schedules that email correspondence has been our way of getting to know each other. Laurence is spoken of so highly by his colleagues and I have of course heard him play in concerts. He is obviously a consummate musician and judging from emails, he is a very nice guy.”

An evening of Bach (Singet dem Herrn), Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, completes the programme (on August 11), all of which is underwritten by Perth philanthropists Alex and Julian Burt. “West Australians are very generous judging by the many financial donations we receive,” says Nolan.

Meanwhile, he has ambitious plans in mind for the years ahead: “We have built a lot of trust on this model but I hope to soon slowly but surely introduce more challenging programming,” he says. “For instance, undertaking a James MacMillan St. John Passion, rather than Bach. We have a very good news story here in Perth, but being the most isolated capital city in the World, it can be frustrating getting this news and our brand out to the wider world!”.

The St. George’s Concert Series runs from May 5 to November 4, 2017