The silence in the majestic halls of the prestigious Sydney Opera House on a cold July evening was quite palpable. After all, the audience that walks its hallowed halls is infamous for being unforgiving. When the serene yet hyperactive Sir Simon Rattle, who on most days conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, placed himself on the rostrum, moments before he was to call the orchestra at hand “an international treasure”, one knew that the concert would go on to become.
The Australian World Orchestra (AWO), which played this prestigious concert — the music of which resonated in a cathedral-like setting — will hold four concerts in India in October. The baton will change though. The orchestra, in India, will come under the meticulous instruction of renowned conductor Zubin Mehta, who played with them in 2013 in Australia, and was impressed by “their organic way of playing music”. In the Capital, the concert will take place at Indira Gandhi Stadium on October 30, before which there will be performances in Mumbai and Chennai.
“This is the first time such a large number of Australian artistes will tour India. Also, we are melding the two countries, if you see. While Zubin (Mehta) is one of your biggest cultural imports, this orchestra is ours,” says Gabrielle Thompson, CEO of the orchestra.
Being held as part of a cultural Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, the concert in October also marks Mehta’s return to India after being embroiled in much controversy over the concert in Kashmir’s Shalimar Bagh in 2012. Mehta, who is based out of Tel Aviv these days and conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, is known for his terrifyingly guarded yet completely hypnotic manner of conducting an orchestra, mostly without the score, a fact that is upheld and feared by concert artistes. “There is this stately demeanour to him. If he just looks at us from the corner of his eye, we know he wants more,” says violinist Asmira Woodward Page, who also plays as a chamber musician with String Orchestra of New York City.
What’s interesting about the AWO is the fact that all 105 Australian musicians are employed by some of the finest orchestras world over and come together for just a season in Australia. “It’s like this wonderful reunion. Some of them have known each other for ages and the camaraderie shows in the music. In sheet music, where you aim for precision along with an organic style of playing, that becomes important,” says Alexander Briger, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the orchestra.
When in India, the orchestra will play compositions by Brahm, Schubert and Mozart. While Wagner, because of his anti-semitic music, isn’t played in Israel, Mehta has chosen to give it a miss in India too. However, like his last India concert, where he had the Bavarian Orchestra play Kashmiri folk, there are chances that Indian concert halls may resonate with surprise short Indian compositions towards the end. Mehta, who has invited the artistes to India, says, “I was quite impressed by the technical prowess of this orchestra when I conducted them in Sydney in 2013. It is, therefore, with greatest joy that I have invited this orchestra to my country.”
“Collaborations where the two art forms collide are extremely interesting and give both the sides a chance to improvise. The maestro (Mehta) hasn’t told us about that yet. But he can throw a surprise,” says Belinda McFarlane, principal violinist with AWO, who is based out of Britain and primarily tours with the London Symphony Orchestra. She, however, isn’t worried about the oral legacy of Indian music vis- a-vis the understanding of written down western classical music adhered to till the last syllable. “I think the integrity of an art form is universal. So for me, even if a country like India and its music is steeped in oral legacy, the music that the orchestra will play will appeal to the people, because at the end of the day it is all about the seven notes,” she adds.
The orchestra will play in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai between October 25 and 30. Tickets will be available on bookmyshow.com