Wagner Tannhauser: Prelude and Venusberg Music
Sculthorpe Earth Cry
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6
Sydney Opera House, August 26

The concept of bringing prominent Australian orchestral musicians from the four corners of the earth to play in a short concert series at home has long been a dream of conductor Alexander Briger. One can only admire and wonder at the organisation required to enable such an event to take place.

The Australian World Orchestra’s inaugural concert opened with Wagner’s Tannhaüser overture. After a wobbly start (the early woodwind entries were tentative) the performance achieved considerable power and brilliance. Simone Young excels in this repertoire and drew some beautiful playing from the orchestra. One of her strengths as a conductor is in the gracious phrasing she coaxes from the strings.

Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry is a remarkable work. No other composer has been able to capture musically the vast expanses of our country as he has, reflecting the dry hard sky and hot desert plains of Australia. The genius required to meld the ancient didjeridu with Western music has rarely been so effectively achieved.  The virtuosity of soloist William Barton in fusing so successfully with the orchestra was dazzling. It is a great and moving work, here performed to perfection with the composer (a great supporter of the AWO) in attendance.

The overall standard of playing was mostly excellent, at times virtuosic. However, one is dealing with the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, and a large orchestra that has not played live together there before can be forgiven for falling foul of its variable acoustics. The rapid string passages in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique were a scramble and the balance between sections was not always ideal.

I have no idea what the future of this enterprise is, but I hope we’ll see it continue. As a party exercise (in the best sense) it has merit, and gives us all the opportunity to hear how good many of our expat musicians are. Beyond that, I am not sure what to make of it all. The ticket prices were high, as one would expect for such a venture, and the hall only about two thirds full at the first concert (I believe it was sold out for Beethoven’s 9th).