Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in Sydney for the first time

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is taking on Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, a performance so massive it’s billed as a once-in-a-generation event.

The formidable work, which has never been performed in Sydney before, calls for a massed double chorus of about 200 singers, plus 150 musicians and soloists.

Schoenberg originally wrote the piece in the early 1900s as a set of love songs for voice and Concert piano. He just got a little bit carried away when he decided to orchestrate it, according to chief conductor Simone Young.

« It’s huge, absolutely huge, » Young told AAP.

Not only has Gurrelieder never been performed in Sydney, it has rarely been heard in Australia at all – and the orchestra has marshalled classical performers from across the country to stage it.

The symphony’s program released on Wednesday marks 150 years since the birth of Schoenberg, as well as Anton Bruckner’s 200th anniversary, with performances of his Eighth Symphony.

There is new music too, including Wata by Australian composer Paul Grabowsky, and Eumeralla, a War Requiem for Peace by Yorta Yorta soprano and composer Deborah Cheetham Fraillon.

Broadly speaking, while Young wants to support local composers, she questions a national tendency to program local contemporary music.

« I want to break the national boundaries of contemporary music… for way too long we’ve only played Australian contemporary music in Australia. »

Hearing the best new creations from around the world would be unremarkable in the disciplines of visual art or theatre, she said.

One rising international star Young wants Sydney audiences to hear is French composer Camille Pepin, whose violin concerto Le sommeil a pris ton empreinte will open the orchestra’s 2024 season.

The concerto is a co-commission between the SSO and the Orchestre National de France, and premiered in Paris in 2022 featuring violinist Renaud Capucon.

« Camille is one of the big and brightest stars on the horizon… I really think Sydney audiences will take to her music in a big way, » she said.

In her third year with the SSO, Young feels she has earned the trust of the city’s audiences, and can entice them to hear the latest compositions as well as the classics.

« They’re going to come and hear something they haven’t heard before, because I’m there conducting it, » she said.

The season also features an instalment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with Die Walkure, and a collaboration with Bell Shakespeare on The Tempest, with music presented alongside excerpts from the play.

International performers include renowned pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, harpist Xavier de Maistre, cellist Alban Gerhardt, and violinist Augustin Hadelich.

Principal Guest Conductor Sir Donald Runnicles also returns to conduct Wagner, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Debussy and Ravel.

The SSO will also play live the soundtracks to some much-loved films, including Singin’ in the Rain, How to Train Your Dragon and Home Alone.

It’s all part of a vibrant and multifaceted program of music designed to provide for a city that is just the same, Young said.

As for the high jinks of Home Alone at the Opera House: « If that is something Sydney wants, well, that is something that Sydney will get, » she promised.

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