Perhaps it is a little naive or sentimental of me, but I do believe that you make music better with people you care about. Part of the reason that the rapport between me and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is so strong is because we really care about each other. And it’s the same with soloists.

Throughout my concerts as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, many of the guest artists who are performing as soloists are people I have worked with often. I find it exciting to connect Sydney audiences with the best artists from around the world, and August features two of my very favourites: Spanish pianist Javier Perianes and Danish baritone Bo Skovhus.

Simone Young © Sandrah Steh

The career trajectories of pianists tend to fall into two categories. Every year somebody new breaks through in one of the piano competitions and is hailed as the next Horowitz. But then there are others whose career is a slow burn, their reputation and artistry growing and blossoming with every year. Javier Perianes is the second kind.

Javier is a phenomenal pianist. These concerts will be his Sydney debut, but we have worked together in both Spain and in Perth, which is where we met. We realised very quickly that we had a strong personal connection through the great conductor Daniel Barenboim – Javier has worked with Daniel very closely, and of course I was Daniel’s assistant back in the early 90s.

Javier is an incredibly versatile musician. He and I have only performed Beethoven and Brahms together, but I also heard him give a recital of works by French composers, which he played with such delicacy and sensitivity. Javier is an old-school pianist, one who combines an extraordinary virtuosity with great musicality. He can do the whole range of repertoire: he can dazzle you with the Brahms concertos and those bravura cadenzas, but then he can play a Chopin Nocturne and leave you dumbfounded that those same hands that were just so powerful can create such delicate phrasing.

For me, phrasing is the definition of a great musician – those performers who look past the bar lines, beyond the syntax of the music, and go through the work on the big structure. And that is how Javier conceives of music. He thinks in phrases. He really does have everything you could want in a pianist – incredible virtuosity and great delicacy.

Javier will be performing Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, which was the first thing we performed together back in 2016 – and I am excited to be doing it for our Sydney audience. Our connection in this music was immediate. As a conductor, when you meet a soloist for the first time you have a ‘getting to know you’ rehearsal without the orchestra, where the two of you sit and talk about how to negotiate certain sections. And as soon as Javier started to play, it was as though he just knew how I want to do Beethoven.

Javier Perianes © Igor Studio

I am incredibly excited to be setting off on a complete cycle of all the Beethoven piano concertos with Javier. He is going to come back to Sydney once a year and we are going to work our way through them. It is such a rare opportunity to work through these pieces with one artist – the Beethoven concertos are so popular that I think orchestras can be guilty of simply throwing one on the schedule anytime they need a crowd-pleaser. Instead, we are going to really give these works the attention and detailed care that they deserve, and Sydney audiences will get to experience them, performed with Javier’s great insight and passion, and develop a whole new relationship with this extraordinary repertoire.

Then there is Bo Skovhus, who is coming out to perform as soloist in Brahms’ German Requiem, and he is also doing a Lieder recital in the Concert Hall.

Bo and I have been working together since 1995. He is one of those artists who does everything, from Haydn and Mozart right through to the latest compositions, and we have performed many works together, from filming two operas – The House of the Dead  by Janáček, and Aribert Reimann’s Lear – to Lieder recitals, Wagner and concerts.

The core of our connection is Vienna, where we have done most of our work together, and Bo has put together an entire program that is all to do with that beautiful city. He is doing that in the same week as the Brahms Requiem – and for Brahms, his two key cities were always Vienna and Hamburg, and of course Hamburg was my home from 2005–2015, when I led the State Opera and the Philharmoniker, so it is a program close to my heart.

Bo has put together a program for the recital of songs by Haydn and Schubert, but also Robert Stolz, a wonderful composer of Viennese operetta-style songs, who does not get performed in Australia very often. I am sure Bo will have a couple of surprises in there as well, and that is going to be a lovely concert. It will also be interesting to explore the Opera House Concert Hall as a venue for such an intimate performance, especially after the grandeur of Mahler 2.

Bo Skovhus © Roland Unger

One of the joys of being a chief conductor is that it allows you the opportunity to bring artists back over a number of years, and to establish a relationship between an artist and the audience. Bo is exactly the kind of artist that I would like to bring back again at some time, as we are doing with Javier.

Bo really is a great Lieder singer, and a great interpreter of language. He is Danish originally, but he is multilingual, and is as beautifully communicative in English, French and Italian as he is in German. His many years in Vienna and his close affinity with Lied Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart – make him a perfect interpreter of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem.

Having performed most of the famous Requiems, I find it fascinating that there seem to be two very distinct approaches: the first is all fire and brimstone and we finish in a state of horror, like the Verdi, and then there are others that, while not avoiding the fear, or the pain, and the confrontation with death, finish on a tone of consolation and hope – like Britten and Brahms.

Curiously those are both Requiems that diverge from the Latin Mass, and contain texts foreign to the traditional body of the mass. That I feel is indicative of the personal connection their composers felt with them, and they are responding to texts written in their language.

Looking at our 2022 Season, hope emerges as a recurring theme. We are performing a number of works that are powerful, and moving, and confrontational, but that finish on a tone of optimism and hope. Which, after the last two years, is perhaps not a bad metaphor for where we would like to find ourselves.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents Bo Skovhus in Recital on 5 August. He also performs in Simone Young conducts A German Requiem from 5–7 August. Javier Perianes performs Beethoven with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 10–13 August.

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