With Romeo and Juliet at its heart, a Shakespearean theme weaves through the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2018 season, with a Shakespearean theme weaving across the year – the orchestra’s 70th anniversary – culminating in two concerts inspired by Romeo and Juliet. “In October we will be giving a concert performance of Gounoud’s Romeo et Juliette,” said TSO Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Marko Letonja. “This builds on the success of our operas-in-concert of recent years, Tristan und Isolde and Carmen.”

The star-studded cast of the concert performance – presented in association with Victorian Opera – will feature Slovak soprano Adriana Kučerová and Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik (highly praised in Opera Australia’s Pearlfishers) in the title roles, alongside a cast of Australian singers including David Parkin, Samuel Dundas, Sally-Anne Russell, James Eggleston, Roxane Hislop, Michael Lampard, Nathan Lay and Brenton Spiteri.

Slovak soprano Adriana Kučerová

“A week or so before Roméo et Juliette we will be performing Romeo Retold, a concert of magnificent works inspired by Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy. Romeo Retold is a special stand-alone concert to commemorate the TSO’s 70th anniversary,” said Letonja. “Yes, the TSO will enter its eighth decade in 2018! I hasten to add that the two concerts I have singled out are by no means the only highlights of 2018. Far from it! We will be welcoming major artists for the first time, among them conductor Sir Andrew Davis, violinist Veronika Eberle, and pianists Nelson Freire and Simon Trpčeski. Johannes Fritzsch will conduct concerts in his new role as TSO Principal Guest Conductor and it is a pleasure to welcome back artists who have built up a rapport with the TSO and Tasmanian audiences over many years, among them Eivind Aadland, Stephen Hough and Howard Shelley.”

The two Romeo and Juliet concerts are just the beginning, with works inspired by the bard woven through the whole year. “The concepts for the programme came about for a couple of reasons,” the TSO’s Director of Artistic Planning Simon Rogers told Limelight. “Marko Letonja and I had been working for some time on inviting tenor Pavol Breslik and soprano Adriana Kučerová to perform the title roles in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.  We had also been discussing (for an equally long period) performing selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suites, which Marko conducted in his very first concert as TSO Artistic Director in 2012. So the idea was born to link these two performances in successive weeks, dedicating our 70th Anniversary concert to three retellings of the Romeo and Juliet story – Bernstein’s West Story: Symphonic Dances and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, in addition to Prokofiev’s version.“

But there was still more Romeo and Juliet in the mix. “As part of a new multi-year collaboration with Victorian Opera, we were invited to perform Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Melbourne’s Hamer Hall next year,” Rogers said. “This already added up to quite a lot of Romeo and Juliet in one season! We decided to broaden out this theme to feature Shakespearean works throughout 2018. Shakespeare has been an inspiration to an incredible number of composers, yet each composer has such an individual and personal take on Shakespeare’s masterpieces, spanning centuries of composition. It was therefore in some ways the perfect theme: a way in which to introduce a tremendous variety of styles and periods of composition, yet binding the season together as a whole.”

German violinist Veronika Eberle

Letonja will open the season in March with two concerts showcasing Beethoven. The first sets Beethoven’s Violin Concerto – performed by Veronika Eberle – alongside Berlioz’s King Lear and Stravinsky’s Jeu de Cartes. The second sees pianist Nelson Freire tackle the Emperor Concerto on a programme with Mahler’s What the Flowers Tell Me (arranged by Benjamin Britten) and Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. “We planned our two opening concerts together,” explains Rogers. “We wanted to make a bold statement in our 70th anniversary season by programming two of the most profound of all concertos in consecutive weeks. We are extremely fortunate to present two excellent soloists, German violinist Veronika Eberle, somewhat of a specialist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and legend Brazilian pianist, Nelson Freire, performing Beethoven’s mighty Emperor Concerto, his first performance in Tasmania.”

Later in the month, Letonja will conduct the orchestra in a matinee performance, featuring TSO Principal Cellist Sue-Ellen Paulsen as the soloist in Friedrich Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra alongside an abridged version of Grieg’s Peer Gynt. “Sue-Ellen Paulsen was fortunate to see dedicatee Heinrich Schiff play this in Vienna in her youth and has wanted to play it ever since,” said Rogers. “It is actually very well written for the cello, (albeit fiendishly difficult), but mostly I love it because it is terrific fun. I think is a real highlight of our season.”

In April Christian Kluxen will conduct the Orchestra in a concert of Ligeti, Sibelius and Schubert, in a concert featuring Geoff Lierse as the soloist in Strauss’ First Horn Concerto before pianist Jayson Gillham joins the orchestra, making his TSO debut to perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto under the baton of Norwegian maestro Eivind Aadland later that month in a programme with the overture to Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony.

Avi Avital, Tasmanian Symphony OrchestraAvi Avital. Photo by Uwe Arens/DG

Long-time TSO collaborator, pianist and conductor Howard Shelley will return to Hobart to pair Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto with Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital joins harpsichordist Erin Helyard and the TSO at the end of April for a concert of Bach and Vivaldi.

May will see a new work come to Tasmania, with pianists Kathryn Stott and Piers Lane performing Carl Vine’s brand new Concerto for Two Pianos, a co-commission between the TSO and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. “The TSO performs and records a lot of Australian music, a commitment we take very seriously,” said Rogers. “I would like to credit my colleague Evan Kennea at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra for offering this project to TSO – as an admirer of Carl Vine’s writing for the piano, in both solo works and concertos, I jumped at the chance to co-commission his Double Piano Concerto. Piers Lane has recorded and performed with the TSO on many occasions, including Carl’s Second Piano Concerto, and fellow soloist Kathy Stott is also known to Tasmanian audiences, having given an excellent recital in our 2015 season. Combining all these factors, it was a compelling offer!” The Concerto will be bookended by the Love Scene from Humperdinck’s The Merchant of Venice and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by Rory Macdonald.

In June Sir Andrew Davis will lead the TSO in a programme of British music in June, featuring Elgar’s well-loved Enigma Variations, Vaughan Williams’ Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, music from Britten’s Peter Grimes and Walton’s Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V while Johannes Fritzsch will conduct Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest, and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, with soloist Stephen Hough.

Greta Bradman © Pia Johnson

July will see guests soprano Greta Bradman and pianist Simon Trpčeski join the orchestra, conducted by Guy Noble and Letonja respectively, while August will see the orchestra perform Fauré’s Requiem (Letonja joined by soprano Valda Wilson, baritone James Clayton and the TSO Chorus) on a programme with a brand new work by Australian composer Melody Eötvös. “The TSO is also dedicated to be bringing through younger compositional voices,” said Rogers.  “We currently feature three composition courses amongst our training programmes – the TSO Composers’ Project for Senior Secondary School and College students, the National Women Composers’ Development Program with Sydney University and the TSO Australian Composers’ School for emerging composers. Melody is a graduate of the latter and has gone on to teach at the prestigious Indiana University in the USA.”

“Marko Letonja has known Melody’s works since working with her as winner of the 3MBS National Composers’ Award and was keen to give Melody the opportunity to write for the TSO last year,” he said. “She composed an excellent work, The Saqqara Bird, which was notable for its clever use of orchestration and imaginative colours. In 2018, Marko is delighted to offer Melody a special 70th anniversary season commission, to write a major new work on a Shakespearean theme.”

Soprano Siobhan Stagg will sing songs by Fauré at the end of August, on a programme with Mozart’s Symphony No 40, conducted by Leo Hussain, before conductor Kazuki Yamada and pianist Cédric Tiberghien return to the TSO to present Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G in September. Stagg makes another appearance in September, singing Strauss’ Orchestral Songs on a programme featuring Schubert’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Fritzsch.

Karina Canellakis. Photo © Todd Rosenberg

Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd joins the Orchestra in October, conducting Haydn’s Symphony No 44, Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing suite, Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto, which will showcase the TSO’s Concertmaster McGrath as soloist. American maestro Karina Canellakis will make her TSO debut conducting Schumann’s Julius Caesar, the Webern arrangement of Bach’s Ricecar from The Musical Offering and Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, alongside Elena Kats-Chernin’s new Third Piano Concerto, performed by Tamara-Anna Cislowska.

The final concert on the main season will see violinist Ning Feng perform Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto on a programme of Berlioz, Fauré and Beethoven conducted Fabien Gabriel before a Christmas concert conducted by Benjamin Northey and Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Christian Curnyn (with soprano Sara Macliver, mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell, tenor Henry Choo and bass Morgan Pearse) brings the TSO’s 70th anniversary to a close.

The Full Season