Sydney Youth Orchestras 2019 Season: Curated by Chief Artistic Advisor Christopher Lawrence
Australia’s finest emerging orchestral musicians will perform at home in their state of NSW and tour the United Kingdom in 2019. SYO’s Chief Artistic Advisor Christopher Lawrence introduces highlights of the season of Sydney concerts by surveying some of the greatest recordings of the program. In a selection from the discography spanning more than 75 years from Toscanini to Chailly, Lawrence discusses why these performances are so effective and what they can teach a new generation of players.Read more…
- Janáček • Taras Bulba, Rhapsody for Orchestra JW VI/15 • 3. The Prophecy and Death of Taras BulbaTaras Bulba, Rhapsody for Orchestra JW VI/15
3. The Prophecy and Death of Taras BulbaSir Charles Mackerras, Wiener Philharmoniker℗ 1981
- Beethoven • Symphony No. 5 in C minor op. 67 • I. Allegro con brioSymphony No. 5 in C minor op. 67
I. Allegro con brioCarlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker1974, Wien, Musikvereinssaal
- Dvořák • Requiem in B flat minor op. 89 B 165 • Part 2 • 1. Offertorium: Domine, JesuRequiem in B flat minor op. 89 B 165
Part 2 • 1. Offertorium: Domine, JesuMaria Stader (Soprano), Sieglinde Wagner (Alto), Ernst Haefliger (Tenor), Kim Borg (Bass), Karel Ančerl
Czech Philharmonic, Czech Chorus1959, Prague, Rudolfinum
- Prokofiev • Romeo and Juliet op. 64 (1938) • Act I • 13. Tanets rytsarei (Dance of the Knights). Allegro pesante 'Montagues and Capulets'Romeo and Juliet op. 64 (1938)
Act I • 13. Tanets rytsarei (Dance of the Knights). Allegro pesante 'Montagues and Capulets'Claudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker℗ 1997
- Prokofiev • Romeo and Juliet op. 64 (1938) • Act II • 24. Tanets piati par (Dance of the Five Couples). VivoRomeo and Juliet op. 64 (1938)
Act II • 24. Tanets piati par (Dance of the Five Couples). VivoClaudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker℗ 1997
- Prokofiev • Romeo and Juliet, Ballet Suite No. 1 op. 64a (1936) • 6. Romeo and Juliet. LarghettoRomeo and Juliet, Ballet Suite No. 1 op. 64a (1936)
6. Romeo and Juliet. LarghettoClaudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker℗ 1997
- Prokofiev • Romeo and Juliet, Ballet Suite No. 1 op. 64a (1936) • 7. Gibel' Tibal'da (Death of Tybalt). PrecipitatoRomeo and Juliet, Ballet Suite No. 1 op. 64a (1936)
7. Gibel' Tibal'da (Death of Tybalt). PrecipitatoClaudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker℗ 1997
- Brahms • Akademische Festouvertüre (Academic Festival Overture) op. 80 • AllegroAkademische Festouvertüre (Academic Festival Overture) op. 80
AllegroBruno Walter, Columbia Symphony OrchestraJanuary 1960, Hollywood, American Legion Hall
Verdi: La forza del destino: Overture – Arturo Toscanini, NBC Symphony Orchestra
If today’s up-and-coming players ever want to know what the whole Toscanini ‘thing’ was about, this 1945 recording demonstrates what he could get from an orchestra: unequalled fire – the opening brass calls! – freakish precision (the string pizzicati sounding like a single instrument), a tensile strength in the singing line, and an urgency that shirt-fronts the listener. It’s as if the orchestra can’t wait to tell us what it has to say. And we think that things are faster these days! Toscanini’s genius was to make every note in the score audible, and to convince musicians that playing like this would be the most important thing they would ever do in their lives. For many of them, it was. If you ever think the whole orchestra schtick could get boring, press ‘play’ on this performance.
Janáček: Taras Bulba, Rhapsody for Orchestra, 3. The Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba – Sir Charles Mackerras, Wiener Philharmoniker
The Sydney Youth Orchestra’s Chief Conductor Alexander Briger AO is the nephew of Charles Mackerras, who did more than any other conductor to pioneer the Czech composer’s works in the English-speaking world. Mackerras (and Briger) ‘get’ the idiosyncratic syntax in Janáček’s music – its interface with the modulation of Czech language, shards of melody over jagged rhythms, an obsessive repetition that looks ahead fifty years to minimalism. Mackerras also elicits a sinewy sound from the Vienna Philharmonic in a series of Decca recordings of the composer’s operas and major orchestral works that are now considered definitive. The large orchestral forces are supported at times by an organ, deployed midway through this concluding movement to radiant effect.
Brahms: Symphony No 3 in F major op. 90. 1. Allegro con brio – Riccardo Chailly, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Aimez-vous Brahms, as the Françoise Sagan novel asked in 1959. The answer used to be so emphatically ‘yes’ that the German was considered one of the ‘three B’s’ in music. People seem more equivocal these days as aesthetic tastes in classical music have changed from Teutonic late-Romantic gravy to the astringency of ‘historically-informed’ ensemble sound. But it turns out that Brahms wasn’t as stolid as we thought, and his music thrives when conductors let daylight into the orchestral textures and put the pedal to the metal. I love Riccardo Chailly’s Brahms recordings of the past few years with the superlative Leipzig orchestra, urging the music forward at speed, imbuing it with a refreshing lightness of touch. They remind us that aesthetics are always just a matter of fashion and opinion, and that the business of reinvention in performance ensures that in the right hands, music can always be heard for the first time.
Copland: Appalachian Spring, Suite – Antal Doràti, London Symphony Orchestra
One would have thought Copland’s sunny New World diatonic riposte to the mid-twentieth century’s serial convolutions in European art music would be delivered best by an American orchestra; indeed, Copland himself and his friend Leonard Bernstein have made compelling recordings of this masterpiece. But Appalachian Spring came into being in 1944 as a ballet, and as ballet conductors go there aren’t any better than the Hungarian, Antal Doráti. He keeps the music’s ‘Spring’ in its step and never countenances the ensemble imprecision that occasionally creeps into Bernstein’s gloriously expansive 1960 version with the New York Philharmonic. Doráti also has the London Symphony Orchestra sounding as if they’re sitting literally at the tip of his baton, in one of the most lauded recordings in the great Mercury Living Presence series that shows how well orchestral sound could be captured back in 1961 with only three mics, compared with the technology of today. As the Shaker song quoted in Appalachian Spring says, ‘…’tis the gift to be simple.
Beethoven: Symphony No 5 in C minor op. 67, 1. Allegro con brio – Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker
The curse of such a totemic work as this for young players is that they might sit down at the first rehearsal and wonder what on earth they could possibly say that would be remotely new or interesting about those first four notes, the binary code that constitutes the entire first movement. The answer is to forget about their past – the countless repetitions, the clichés about Fate, Beethoven’s struggles, existential concerns – and see the printed part on the music stand as a tabula rasa, a starting point for the work’s premiere performance. That’s certainly the effect I get from Kleiber’s shattering 1973 recording of the work that seems less its definitive statement and more a demonstration of its continuing possibilities. The Fifth’s history is of no consequence; only the future will do. Will The SYO’s 2019 performance crack that code? Of course not. All we can do is keep trying. Meanwhile, the Vienna Philharmonic plays like elegant terrorists, knowing that Beethoven was blowing up the joint.
Dvořák: Requiem in B flat minor, op. 89, Part 2, 1. Offertorium: Domine, Jesu – Soloists, Karel Ančerl, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Chorus
The Sydney Youth Orchestra’s annual collaboration with Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in 2019 explores the normally buoyant Dvořák’s darker side in his vast 1890 setting of the Mass for the Dead. (So dark, in fact, that its key signature of B flat minor demands every black note a piano can provide.) Commissioned for first performance in Birmingham as a late-Victorian elephantine choral spectacular, most of its performances have nonetheless been confined to the Czech lands – making the 2019 Sydney performance as much a discovery as an event. Among a surprising number of available recordings for a reputedly neglected work, this 1959 version by Karel Anćerl has idiomatic authenticity, with a graininess from the renowned Czech Philharmonic string section that takes the ‘bloat’ out of the sound. Listen for the first entry of the Czech Chorus men’s voices at the beginning of the Offertorium, a beautiful rendition of what is almost 19th-century plainchant. The antique resonates through this movement, concluding with a choral fugue whose subject is based on a 15th-century Czech folk tune.
Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme op. 36 ‘Enigma’, Var. VII-IX (‘Nimrod’) – Pierre Monteux, London Symphony Orchestra
Edward Elgar. Albert Hall Orchestra
Frenchman taking on this quintessentially English masterwork? Sacre bleu, guv’nor! But yes – the conductor most renowned for presiding over the infamous premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps in 1913 made this classic recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (of which he was then Chief Conductor) in 1961. A lifetime of Gallic good taste prevents his version of the beloved ‘Nimrod’ variations tilting into mawkish sentiment or bombast, and the LSO of those days is in superb form with one of the greatest brass sections in the world. As something more than a curio, I’ve added Elgar’s own recording of ‘Nimrod’ from 1926. The composer’s own renditions of his music generally have more muscularity than today’s performances, which can often verge on the corpulent. Keep it lean and fast, I say! This performance is well worth scrutiny, featuring string portamenti to scoop up and down the intervals. With historically-informed performance now a given in Baroque music, can ‘period’ Elgar be far away?
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet op. 64 (excerpts) – Claudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker
There were several reasons to program Prokofiev’s take on the Shakespeare classic for The Sydney Youth Orchestra. The instrumentation requires nearly every instrument and player we can find, and the score demands a degree of technical virtuosity that tests even high-level professional players. Best of all, though, is that there’s something poignant about the greatest story of young love being told by an orchestra the same age as the warring Montagues and Capulets. For the protagonists, the feelings were new; for many in The SYO, this passionate music will be likewise a first meeting. The fight scenes should bristle with a dangerous, super-hormonal energy; the Balcony Scene should almost combust with the overflow of feeling. Many in The SYO won’t be complete neophytes in such matters, but they’re closer to the source than their professional elders. Mind you, Claudio Abbado and his Berliners scrub up superbly well as lovers and fighters in their tour through Prokofiev’s fair Verona. The SYO percussion section in particular will have a ball.
Brahms: Academic Festival Overture op. 80 – Bruno Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Brahms never went to a university himself, but he knew enough about student life to use popular under-graduate ditties in this thank-you piece of 1880 after the University of Breslau awarded him an Honorary Doctorate. Bruno Walter was already a child at the time, and exactly eighty years later (1960) recorded the work in stereo. If the result is a reflection of his memory of 19th-century orchestral sonics, it is a valuable lesson. The string articulation during the soft opening evokes the distant clatter of footsteps – our students making a nocturnal break for the pub? – and the wind section mimics it exactly. Clearly, the sections are listening to each other like the members of a large chamber ensemble. This is one of the quicker versions, too; Walter lacing the good-humour with explosive excitement. Studies are over, life awaits. It’s rather like being in an excellent youth orchestra.
Christopher Lawrence's career spans more than 40 years of broadcasting, most notably on ABC Classic. He has also been a successful orchestral and opera recording producer, winning three ARIA awards and an International Emmy. The author of four books that have been published in Australia, the US, UK, Hungary and China, Christopher was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Communications by the University of Central Queensland in 1999 for his achievements in media.