Master stroke: CSO's chief conductor Nicholas Milton.
There's an atmosphere of excited anticipation at the CSO as final preparations are made for the second program of the 2014 series, to take place at Llewellyn Hall on Wednesday and Thursday, May 7 and 8.
Nicholas Milton, the orchestra's chief conductor and artistic director, is returning to Canberra for the first time this year to conduct the program, fresh from the announcement of his appointment as musical director and chief conductor of the State Theatre in Saarbruken, Germany, an opera theatre with a fine orchestra in the distinguished tradition of major German companies. Milton was chosen from more than 100 finalists in an international search. "Our recent work together was absolutely magical and wonderful for me as an artist and as a conductor," Milton says, "and I'm excited to contemplate the artistic journey we'll undertake over the next five years."
But Milton won't be deserting the CSO. He will continue his role with the orchestra until at least 2016. "His commitment isn't changing," Henry Laska, chief executive of the orchestra, says. "Nick is so connected to the music industry and this timing seemed perfect. We're always excited when he joins us on stage. He drives us forward with his commitment to delivering music at the highest possible level."
The full resources of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra will be called on for its performances at Llewellyn Hall on May 7 and 8.
The second concert in this year's series certainly provides the opportunity for the orchestra to perform, under Milton's baton, at this level.
First, there's Mahler's Symphony No.1, a work that calls for the full resources of an orchestra. At these two performances there will one of the biggest assemblies of instruments ever seen on the Llewellyn Hall stage, including four of each of the woodwind instruments and seven french horns. Bjorn Pfeiffer, the CSO's media liaison officer, who is also the orchestra's tuba player, says that Rainer Saville, CSO's principal trumpet, is very excited about the Mahler. Saville is a versatile young instrumentalist who also plays baroque repertoire with the noted Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.
Mahler himself said, "A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything" and the composer certainly incorporated a world of music in his first symphony. He used the main theme of his song cycle, Songs of the Wayfarer, as the main theme of the first movement and in the third movement there is a section based on the song Frere Jacques. There are delicate representations of bird song and rousing percussion sections. It's a mighty work that extends and challenges an orchestra.
Australian pianist Clemens Leske is looking forward to performing with the CSO and working with Maestro Milton again. He'll be the soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4. "The Beethoven is really sublime music," he says, "and it's always a great pleasure to get out there on stage and perform glorious music with your colleagues."
Leske, who has performed as soloist with all of Australia's symphony orchestras as well as playing extensively overseas, has known Milton for many years. "I jumped at the chance of playing the Beethoven 4 when Nick suggested it," he says.
"Beethoven must have been in a mellow mood when he wrote this work," he comments. "It strikes the limits of the piano - high and low octaves - and covers all the emotions. It begins with a majestic movement and then the slow movement is full of anguish but it ends with a light-hearted finale."
Leske doesn't claim to be a Beethoven specialist. "In fact, I like to play all sorts of styles and I think that chamber music is beautiful," he says. "I wish all good luck to the CSO."
"Clemens Leske will be wonderful," Laska says. "It's always good to have a soloist that we haven't had before."
Laska was very impressed with the young musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music who performed with such panache at the recent Four Winds Festival at Bermagui.
"Nick is so connected with young and emerging artists and it would be great if we could build a bridge between the CSO and these kids from ANAM," he says. "Nick uses every second of rehearsal time and really drives the artistic standards," Laska says. "He loves to communicate with the audience and he's a delight to work with."
To begin the concert Milton has chosen the overture to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro - a sparkling start to a concert that will put the orchestra on its mettle and delight the audience.
The Canberra Symphony Orchestra; Llewellyn Series 14.2 Mahler; Llewellyn Hall ANU; Wednesday and Thursday, May 7 and 8 at 7.30pm; Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 ticketek.com.au; Information: www.cso.org.au