On Saturday night the Australian World Orchestra (AWO) conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti mesmerised Hamer Hall’s capacity audience with Brahms’ Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s monumental Fourth Symphony.
The AWO, or as Simone Young apparently once called it, “the Australian Youth Orchestra with wrinkles” comprises distinguished Australian musicians representing approximately 35 orchestras from around the globe. Its members occupy chairs in the world’s leading orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, Chicago and London Symphony Orchestras and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
This night’s drawcard was legendary Italian Maestro Riccardo Muti, one of the most celebrated conductors alive. Muti’s appearance in Australia was facilitated through Sydney-born Chicago Symphony trombonist Michael Mulcahy, who convinced his chief conductor to direct the orchestra in that night’s performance. There was excitement in the air. When the musicians entered the it seemed that they were tremendously proud to be performing with their esteemed colleagues from all over the globe and with one of the world’s best conductors.
When Muti stepped onto the podium, respect was instant and the musicians were prepared to give their all. The first movement of Brahms’ Symphony No 2 in D major, op. 73 (1877) was presented with warm yet full-bodied sound and shaped in a song-like manner. It could have gone on forever. Muti’s gestures were pragmatic, quite small at times, but clearly showed his in-depth knowledge of the score and the amount of thought he put into his interpretation of the work. The sensitively performed second movement, Adagio non troppo, was followed by the charming Allegretto grazioso. The famous opening of the fourth movement, Allegro con spirito, indicated in sotto voce in the score, which produced a spine-tingling experience. Muti then encouraged the musicians to play even softer…
After the interval the AWO presented Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op. 36 (1877), composed in the same year as Brahms’ Second Symphony. The first movement was characterized by a convincing brass chorus, the second movement, Andantino in modo di canzona was reminiscent of the material in the first movement. The Scherzo was a delightful pizzicato movement—definitely one of the highlights of the evening’s performance— introduced by the string section and followed by the grand finale where all sections of the orchestra were able to showcase their ability and musicianship. A special mention to the cultivated, balanced and tight timpani and percussion section. The applause was enthusiastic and well deserved.
The biggest applause, however, was reserved for Maestro Muti and in a cheeky exchange with the audience he questioned, “An encore? “Verdi perhaps”? We were then treated to a captivating Overture to Verdi’s Nabucco displaying his love for the music of his native Italy. Overall, Muti was amazing and there was quality playing in all sections of the orchestra. The sound of the string section, however, was truly special, out of this world actually, and perhaps only Muti and the musicians themselves know how this was possible to achieve.
Himself a conductor, Dr Mario Dobernig reviewed the Australian World Orchestra with Riccardo Muti on May 5, 2018, at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, the single concert given in Melbourne, (with two more in Sydney).
For more about this unique orchestra, read Classic Melbourne’s interview with their director Alexander Briger, on these pages.