Being a resident of the United Kingdom, I have not had the opportunity of either attending a concert, or, in the absence of a discography, any other way or listening to music performed by the “Australian World Orchestra” (AWO).
The AWO was established in 2011 by Australian conductor Alexander Biger and his sister, the film-maker Gabrielle Thompson. The inaugural patron of the orchestra was Sir Charles Mackerras, the great Australian conductor who died in July, 2010. He was the uncle of Biger and Thompson.
As the name implies, the Australian World Orchestra is an orchestra composed of world-class musicians who perform with other major orchestras around the world – elite musicians from the international stage who make music with orchestras such as the London and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as from Australia’s own accomplished state orchestras.
A number of critics world-wide consider the AWO to be one of the world’s great orchestras. Following an AWO concert conducted by the renowned British Conductor Sir Simon Rattle, one commentator went so far as to say, “Sir Simon Rattle shows the Australian World Orchestra’s in a class of its own”. This is, indeed, lavish praise and is echoed in the work with the AWO associated with other conductors, such as the Italian Riccardo Muti and the Indian Zubin Mehta.
Being effectively a guest ensemble, the AWO is limited in the time available for concert performances and opportunities to record its music. Therefore, and unfortunately for local (Australian) music lovers, it gathers only for a week every year, and plays just three concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. World tours by this orchestra are a rarity.
In the interests of the lovers of classical music around the globe, it is to be hoped that available time and circumstances will permit the music of the Australian World Orchestra to be more widely accessible and known.
It was in reading an article about the work of the AWO and its conductor, Alexander Briger, that I was reminded of a classical music concert that went out on British TV last year. The orchestra brought together an invited guest ensemble of internationally acclaimed musicians and, whilst not being the AWO, it contained a number of Australian musicians. For me, the highlight of the aforementioned concert was the rapt performance of Gustav Mahler’s sublime 9th Symphony.
As a leading musicologist, Professor Robert Greenberg, the Music Historian-in-Residence with the San Francisco Performance and a former Instructor with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has stated: “Mahler’s music focuses on the lonely, isolated individual, the struggle between hope and despair, the questions of death and redemption, and the grieving process.” In many ways, the music of Mahler is about the experiences of every human being.
As you, the reader, may be aware, the 9th Symphony, the composer’s last completed symphony, is about Gustav Mahler seeking of some form of resolution of his life experiences. These experiences included a lack of public acceptance – he was an Austrian-born Jew; the trauma of tragedy – the deaths of a close brother and a much-loved daughter, as well as the adultery of his wife.
Mahler was a conductor and composer who suffered at the hands of the prejudices that went along with being at the close of one era, “Romanticism” – the 18th century literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that emphasized emotion and imagination and an appreciation of external nature, and the beginning of another era, “Expressionism” – the early 20th century art movement that celebrates inner reality as the only reality, the importance of emotional experience over physical reality.
Coincidentally, the development of Mahler’s music, as with other composers of the Expressionist movement, took place at a time in history that witnessed the rise of Existentialism, “the tradition of philosophical enquiry that held the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject – not just the thinking subject but the acting, feeling, living and authentic human being”. The “Existentialist Attitude” was first brought to the attention of the philosophical world by the Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.
Human beings live an existence that is characterized by disorientation, confusion or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world – a tragic world. In this world the individual is responsible to give meaning to life and living it with passion and sincerity, with “authenticity”. Through his sublime symphonies and songs, this is what Gustav Mahler sought to do and express, and to inspire others to do the same. His is the music of soul and inspiration.
After listening to the Australian World Orchestra performing the “life affirming” 4th Symphony of the paramount Russian composer, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky – another major composer whose music expresses tragedy (observe his 6th Symphony), one commentator was moved to quote the following words of Tchaikovsky: “If you cannot find reasons for happiness in yourself, look at others. Get out among the people… Oh, how happy they are! Life is bearable after all.”
It is the music-making of orchestras such as the Australian World Orchestra, the music of great composers like Gustav Mahler and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, and the thoughts and writings of philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard and the Existentialists, that do, indeed, help to make life bearable… and much more!