Alexander Briger was awarded the Order of Australia in 2016 for “for services to the arts as a leading international conductor and founder of the Australian World Orchestra.” He is back in Sydney from his home in Paris, prior to the upcoming tour of the AWO.
He seems slightly apprehensive, if not anxious, when I phone him at the Sussex Street address in Sydney, where he’s spending his last week of mandatory quarantine. He is accompanied by his three-year old daughter and wife, Caroline, a French mezzo-soprano. The news that all of greater Sydney has been placed in quasi-quarantine is splashed over all the TV news bulletins and Briger is afraid that if things continue in this vein, the concert series scheduled for Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne will be further affected. As it is, after our conversation the restrictions are extended for a further week.
“Where I’m living in Paris,” Briger says, “it’s a disaster and getting worse. We stay indoors a lot more these days and there’s a curfew at 6pm. There has not been a restaurant or a bar open for a year…and shops have been closed for the last two months. I was lucky enough to do ‘The Turn of the Screw’ at the Paris Opera, but just after that President Macron closed everything down. My wife was singing in a production of ‘Rusalka’ down in the south in January and February, and we saw the effects it was having on so many cities and towns. My child goes to kindergarten, and that was closed. There hasn’t been a university open for a year. Children are at home all the time and parents have to stay at home.”
Formed 10 years ago to include expatriate musicians playing with leading orchestras all over the world, The AWO has been reduced to 250 players due to the cost of flights to and from Australia – not to mention the extra cost of quarantining for 2 weeks. Consequently, the AWO is utilising only 4 overseas players who are already in Australia. Says Briger. “They haven’t flown in specially, they just happen to be here. The rest of us are all locals. This time we’re bringing states together rather than countries. We have someone from every state.”
Briger is concerned that if infections spread, it might affect some of the dates for the 3-concert tour of the AWO in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
The program opens with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, followed by Paul Dean’s Symphony 2021 specially commissioned to inaugurate the 10th anniversary of the AWO and composed during last year’s bushfires. This is followed by Schumann’s 2nd Symphony.
Dean describes his symphony as starting with ‘daybreak at our local park where we walk the dogs every day (but) daybreak descends into a storm, an allegory for the plight of where we are…. what happens after the storm is always gentler and more beautiful than before.’
Briger is passionate about the work. “It’s so intense,” he enthuses, “it’s like a cross between Scriabin and Walton. It’s not atonal but it’s not C Major. He uses very advanced harmonies. It really speaks to me. It’s extremely progressive and rich and very heartfelt and this makes me weep. It also reminds me of heavy Bartok. If you can imagine Bartok mixed up with Walton, a touch of Scriabin and some vary late Mahler, that’s what we’ve got. I’m sad we haven’t got the full AWO orchestra playing it. If we ever do it again, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got 8 double-basses and 16 first violins and it can be re-orchestrated to include a tuba. It’s not possible this time because we’re performing in the City Recital Hall in Sydney, with the closure of the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House…it is what it is.”
I was at the Opera House in 2013 to witness the AWO performing Mahler’s First Symphony and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring under the baton of Zubin Mehta. It was riveting…even the late Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and the then Attorney General Senator Brandis thought so!
Randolph Magri-Overend for SoundsLikeSydney©
Alexander Briger image credit Ned Mulvihill
The Australian World Orchestra performs in Canberra (Llewellyn Hall) on June 2, in Sydney (City Recital Hall) on June3 and in Melbourne (The Recital Centre) on June 4. All concerts commence at 7.30pm.
Randolph Magri-Overend says
When I first set foot on the Sydney Opera House stage to act in Boris Godunov in late 1979, I hoped my Nannu Gusi was taking note from up above. He was the driving force behind my love for classical music, especially opera. Since that first step I played out my fantasies many a time in other operas. At the time I was trying to make it as a classical singer…even a young Simone Young was my coach. But I was never successful and later in life I became a ‘disc jockey’ for the likes of Fine Music (amongst others). I also wrote reviews, programmes and wrote articles for their magazine. I hope I can share with you the joy I harbour for music.