March 19, 2015
When it comes to writing about the arts, one of the real perks is the chance to have a chinwag now and then with some seriously smart and savvy individuals. This month has afforded me and my Limelight colleagues more than the usual opportunities to broaden our minds. Not only have I been privileged to talk to Hugo Weaving, one of Australia’s finest actors (and, I’d venture, literary brains) about the great Samuel Beckett – no simple subject he – but I’ve chewed the fat with Magdalena Kožená, a singer who (long before she became Lady Rattle) was part of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.
What got me thinking, however, was our cover feature on the great maestros. We managed to do the rounds of the chief conductors of each of our state symphony orchestras, discovering their musical heroes and asking what makes for greatness, not just on the podium, but also behind the closed doors of the rehearsal room. What emerged was a fascinating series of character sketches and not a few surprises. Marko Letonja, for example, nearly had to go on for Carlos Kleiber after the latter’s fear of standing in front of an orchestra had him on the verge of bailing out of a job. Not only is David Robertson a thoroughly clever chap, he also does an impressive (and entirely respectful) impression of Pierre Boulez, which, I regret, is quite impossible to capture in print. Asher Fisch learned a lot from a tipsy Leonard Bernstein and Sir Andrew Davis had more funny stories about Sir John Barbirolli than there was space in the magazine…
The link, I would say, is charisma and communications. Each of our ten ‘great’ maestros had the first commodity in spades, while the second manifested itself through varying capacities for dictatorial command and consummate diplomacy. And chatting to our current orchestral leaders reminds me not just of where they stand in a distinguished lineage stretching back to the mighty conductors of the past, but also of how lucky we are to live in an age where the thoughts and passions of these inspiring musicians are regularly made available to audiences, both on and off the podium. I hope this issue conveys just a little of that. And thank you to the great communicators.