“The only instrument that doesn’t make a mistake is this one,” Maestro Riccardo Mutiquips to the orchestra as he brandishes his baton. The formidable Italian conductor and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director is jovial – affectionate even – as he conducts the Australian World Orchestra in rehearsal ahead of concerts in Sydney and Melbourne.

“I’m so sharp!” he complains after singing a line from the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4, which the AWO will perform alongside Brahms’ Second. “Con amore!” he commands the violins in another passage, before getting a laugh from the musicians with: “It doesn’t mean anything, but it makes an impression.”

Riccardo Muti, AWO, Australian World Orchestra Maestro Riccardo Muti. Photo © Todd Rosenberg

Despite the jokes and anecdotes, however, Muti brings a quiet, focussed intensity to the rehearsal, which he runs with incredible attention to detail, shaping this orchestra – comprising Australian musicians from all over the world – to his musical will.

“I was really surprised, because I had no idea how it would go,” violinist Natalie Chee (whose day job is Concertmaster with the SWR Symphonieorchester in Stuttgart) tells me in the lunch break, referring to the orchestra’s first...