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Sebastian Lang-Lessing leaves the TSO

by Suzanne Yanko

In Melbourne for a Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) concert last weekend, its Chief Conductor and musical director Sebastian Lang-Lessing mused on his long association with the orchestra he is soon to leave. In the way of modern conductors, Lang-Lessing arrived in Tasmania with plenty of runs on the board: an international career that started at the Opera Bastille de Paris and was followed by engagements across the USA and Europe. Lang-Lessing had first conducted the TSO in 2000, and accepted the top job in 2004, making this his eighth season as chief conductor. Other engagements along the way included Music Director of the Opera National de Lorraine (1999 – 2000) and the Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique in Nancy. With the world his oyster, why did the conductor settle on Tasmania as his home for nearly a decade? “Out of love for this orchestra,” Lang-Lessing said. “It’s very special not only in Australia, but the world; unique in its structure and dedication to certain core repertoire. There was a fantastic opportunity to work on a more distinctive profile than bigger orchestras were able to do.” “Because of our size we need to specialise and did so very successfully with Classical and early Romantic music. You can see it in our recordings; the complete Schumann and Mendelssohn symphonies, now Mozart.” As well as these, the TSO has put its distinctive stamp on the Beethoven symphonies, recording all nine with Lang-Lessing’s predecessor David Porcelijn. And a Beethoven Festival later this year will mark the end of Lang-Lessing’s tenure with the orchestra. He has already been welcomed as the new Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, and next year’s engagements include a tour with American soprano Renee Fleming. Now, with so many more opportunities to conduct opera laid in front of him, more than he was ever afforded in Tasmania, Lang-Lessing nevertheless remains passionate about opportunities for Australia’s island state. “It’s essential to have a number of performing arts and companies in a state, and the TSO is the core of that; without us, there’s not really much happening so it’s very, very important for the orchestra to try to create bonds with other organisations, such as the ballet,” he said. He intends to keep a connection with the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), which he describes as “a fantastic organisation [that] should be supported.” “I conduct a lot of [ANAM’s Artistic Director] Brett Dean’s music so there’s always that link between ANAM and the TSO , said Lang-Lessing, whose recent concert in Melbourne opened with Brett Dean’s Testament. “It deals with Beethoven the man, his struggles in dealing with his deafness as a man and an artist and Dean captured that very well,” said Lang-Lessing. “It’s an amazing piece – and interesting to watch, with two sets of bows.” In the same concert, Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, Classical, was “the piece every orchestra in the world fears – it’s so hard and difficult, especially for the first violins.” “It has to be so clean, crisp and virtuosic, but I think it’s a wonderful piece to showcase the TSO. It will work very well in this beautiful hall [the Melbourne Recital Centre], basically just made for us.” Resident in Hobart’s purpose-built Federation Concert Hall – whose acoustics were recently revamped by the team responsible for the acclaimed MRC – the TSO has 47 musicians, which is comparable to a large chamber orchestra. Its new Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Marko Letonja is impressed. Currently preparing a new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung for the Opera national du Rhin, Letonja has said that in his two appearances with the TSO he was “impressed by the way we were able to get to the heart of the music and deliver the best possible experience for the audience.” Preparing to hand over the baton, Sebastian Lang-Lessing declares, “Absolutely, a piece of my heart will stay in Tasmania. It’s a place you fall in love with. A lot of people never leave but as musicians you can’t just stay somewhere forever, you have to move around.” He will return to Australia as soon as next year, conducting the Cape Town Opera in a gala concert during the reopening of Hamer Hall. “You have to hear the Cape Town Opera Chorus to really experience choral singing at its best. It’s amazing singing, fantastic,” Lang-Lessing says, and of course, you believe him. Suzanne Yanko recently interviewed conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing for The Weekend Score on 3MBS 103.5FM.

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