When the Vienna Boys Choir give the world premiere of a new work by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin next week, concert-goers might be skeptical when the lads sing the words “I love a sunburnt country”. Of the 25 boys, aged between 9 and 14, most don’t speak a word of English and hadn’t set foot on Australian soil until this week, touching down in Brisbane to begin their national tour. Yet they will be performing Kats-Chernin’s setting of the iconic Aussie poem My Countryby Dorothea MacKellar.
Conductor Manolo Cagnin admits it was initially “difficult” for the boys to relate to the piece, Land of Sweeping Plains,when they had never seen the sweeping planes. But a trip to Taronga Zoo was a good place to start. “Now we’re feeling the magical atmosphere,” he says, “So we are absolutely proud to sing it. Elena did a great job and it is one of the best pieces on our program.”
The program for the Australian tour includes music by Carl Orff and Mozart – mother’s milk for these well-trained young choristers – and a psalm setting by Schubert, one of the most famous Vienna Boys Choir alumni in its staggering 500-year history.