When the final notes from the tuba, trumpets and trombones poured out, signalling the end of the concert, they seemed also to flow out from the collective breath of the audience at The Music Academy.
Pitch-perfect, mesmerising, an acoustic feast, the Australian World Orchestra (AWO), led by maestro Zubin Mehta, deserved being labelled “an international treasure” by Sir Simon Rattle, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mumbai-born Mehta, whose Chennai performance comes after nearly a decade, owes his musical lineage to his father, concert violinist Mehli Mehta. Having conducted an orchestra rehearsal when he was in his teens, Mehta abandoned his pre-medical studies in Bombay for the melody-filled chambers of the Akademie fur Musik, Vienna. In the years since, he has conducted the works of composers from baroque to modern, and is today the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
After a spectacular series of concerts two years ago, Mehta was delighted to invite the AWO to perform in the country of his birth. The 80-strong ensemble, founded five years ago by Artistic Director and Chief Conductor, Alexander Briger, distils in its performances the varied experiences that its musicians gain from being part of orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra for the rest of the year.
When the handsome, 79-year-old Mehta took centre-stage and held it for the next two hours, he proved why the best conductors are more than just metronomes in coattails. When he lifted his arms, it was not only to lead the orchestra through the inflections of the scores of the masters, it was also to embrace their music.
Mozart was the man of the evening. The concert, without microphones, began with the four-minute ‘Overture’ from the celebrated The Marriage of Figaro. An operatic standard in D Major since it was first performed in 1786, the strings displayed vibrant hues in the whisper-soft rhythms that raced to a fiery end, sounded by the brass and the percussion.
Acclaimed soprano Greta Bradman’s two pieces for the evening, ‘Der Holle Rach’ and ‘Una Voce Poco Fa’, shimmered like the golden gown she wore. Cricketing icon Don Bradman’s granddaughter, the performer has nearly a thousand concert appearances. Singing in German and Italian, her voice soared, as she played the angry Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and the joyous maiden in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Bradman chose well from her vast repertoire — the demanding songs allowed her to display her incredible operatic span.
Daniel Dodds on the violin and Tobias Lea on the viola were the star soloists of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major. Dodds engaged with his three-century-old violin as much as he did with the audience. Lea lent a strong foundation to the string symphony that the duo played. After the interval came Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, a piece so pastoral it painted the beauty of the Austrian countryside. It demanded the full strength of the orchestra, and the heavy brass tones and light flute notes were rich yet delicate.
Both conductor and orchestra performed with zest even the encore piece, Antonin Dvorak’s ‘Slavonic Dance’, with a vivacious note that brought alive the great washes of colour from a Balkan dance to round off a concert that will live on in memory.
The AWO’s concerts in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi were made possible by the Australian government and several corporate houses. Dr. Janardhana Rao of the Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce and N. Murali of The Music Academy helped bring the AWO to Chennai. Pianist Anil Srinivasan and tennis idol Vijay Amritraj introduced Mehta and the AWO to the eager and elegantly-dressed audience.