Amidst the puppets and pranksters, Miriam Margolyes’ Peter promises to bring the Adelaide Symphony’s house down.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has launched its 2017 season with top-notch soloists, a mix of old and new music, and with storytelling very much to the fore. And while the likes of Alina Ibragimova and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet should bring plenty of sparkle to some of the sober parts of the programme, that doyen of raconteurs Miriam Margolyes looks set to grab her share of column inches with her much-anticipated take on Peter and the Wolf.

Although he has plenty to look forward to, Principal Conductor Nicholas Carter begins with a brief synopsis of where the orchestra is now, before going on to talk about where they are going. “Opening the 2016 season with Simon O’Neill, Michelle DeYoung, and Shane Lowrencev singing Die Walküre in the Festival Theatre was a personal highlight for me, for the orchestra as well, and also a bit of a coup for Adelaide,” he says. “The city has developed a close relationship with Wagner over the past two decades, and to revisit him in this symphonic context was really special. Let’s hope that that sows the seed for further Wagner down the track.”

Nicholas Carter conducts the ASO

James Ledger’s Hollow Kings, which was world premiered in Melbourne, was another highlight for Carter who considers Ledger to be one of Australia’s great living composers. “He has an exceptional and fascinating imagination, and has real skill in writing for the orchestra. It’s been really interesting to study his music, and see how that relationship develops as well. The key to putting together good programmes is developing great relationships, and James is certainly somebody that we’ve grown to love through his music here in Adelaide. Trying to find the right kind of balance between contemporary music, the great classics, and other things that might be off the beaten track and can appeal to a different demographic is what we are learning, and will be important next year as well.”

The key to putting together good programmes is developing great relationships

For 2017, the Great Classics concerts are especially dear to Carter’s heart – a series that he has curated himself. “I’m doing all the Great Classics concerts, and the theme there is storytelling and connections. So, for example, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony in the first concert also has Simon Tedeschi playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The connections between Gershwin and Rachmaninov in America are well known, and it really highlights the Old and New World sounds existing in one place at roughly the same time.”

Alina Ibragimova

For the second concert, they have Russian-English violinist Alina Ibragimova playing Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, in an evening entitled “Puppets and Pranksters”. “We’ve got Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, so obviously lots of jokey music, and Haydn’s Surprise Symphony just to show the Austrian sense of humour,” he explains. “I’ve not worked with Alina before, but I saw her when she came out with the ACO close to ten years ago now and I’ve followed her career and listened to many of her performances on CD. So I’ve been a fan of hers for a long while.”

Another programme is entitled Of Knights and Legends and features Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (the Romantic) alongside Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. “The description of the second movement as Orpheus taming the Furies on entering Hades is part of that storytelling strand,” says Carter.

He may be Principal Conductor (although still 30 years of age), but Carter is unable to prevent his secret nipper bursting out as he anticipates conducting Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, narrated by star of stage, screen and TV Miriam Margolyes. “It’s going to be amazing, she’s just off the charts talented,” he gushes. “We’re also doing a suite from Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen to set the scene and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra as well, which she will narrate. We will finish with the Wolf. It’s a family concert, bits of this and that, but with her bringing all this music to life, in her unique and eccentric way, I think that’s gonna be one of the real highlights of the whole year.”

The Master Series returns as well, and features some impressive guests conductors. Mark Wigglesworth, a favourite in Adelaide, conducts a Viennese gala of Strauss, Korngold and Brahms. The young English conductor Rory McDonald returns to helm Sibelius’s Second Symphony coupled with Bax’s epic Tintagel and Grieg’s Piano Concerto (soloist Boris Giltburg) and violinist and conductor Anthony Marwood continues his ongoing relationship with the orchestra in Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

Carter himself will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony as well as Li-Wei Qin in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1. The concert includes Brett Dean’s Amphitheatre. “It was written when Daniel Harding first toured Australia, when he was four and a half,” Carter laughs. “Brett wrote this piece for Daniel to take around the country and as Brett’s up to his eyeballs in Hamlet for Glyndebourne right now we thought let’s do Amphitheatre to build up our repertoire of Brett’s music.”

Matthew Halls will conduct variations – Elgar’s Enigma and Brahms’ Haydn – while Carter’s two artistic associates will also feature in the Master Series – Jeffrey Tate will tackle Elgar’s Second Symphony and Pinchas Zukerman is conducting Dvořák’s Eighth as well as playing one of the Mozart Violin Concertos. “At the end of the year, I’m finishing the Master Series with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Alexander Gavrylyuk, and the Sibelius En Saga. It never gets done and it’s a gorgeous piece!” says Carter about one particularly meaty concert.

Pinchas Zukerman conducts

More populist strands are planned to find different entry points for different audiences through different repertoire. There’s a big Scotland the Brave concert – “A Last Night of the Proms sort of thing,” says Carter, and then there is a Movie Masterpieces evening and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in concert. There’s also a major collaboration with State Theatre of South Australia on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Two years ago Nicholas McGegan conducted a medley from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was brought to life by a couple of actors onstage, and that seemed to be a success, so we decided to continue that collaboration,” Carter explains. “We’re still in the process of sorting the music out but we’re certainly going to have excerpts from the Prokofiev. We’re also going to be doing parts of the Tchaikovsky Overture, the Nina Rota theme from Zeffirelli’s film and bits of Bernstein’s West Side Story. We want to create a unique palette of different styles, to bring the music to life.” 

An eclectic mix then, but of the works that he himself is conducting, what is Nicholas Carter most looking forward to getting his teeth into? “Because I do such a large amount of opera back home in Germany, I love music that is in some way operatic, or descriptive, or has elements of storytelling,” he admits. “The chance to do Peter and the Wolf with Miriam is just going to be a hoot, I think. But I’ve been steeped in German music making for the last six years – living in Hamburg and Berlin, and working with two of the greatest Bruckner conductors today, Simone Young and Donald Runnicles – so the chance to conduct my first Bruckner Four in Adelaide is going to be a real treat.”

Subscriptions to the ASO’s 2017 are now on sale


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