Maestro Mehta leads the way

FIVE years ago, conductor Alexander Briger dreamed of bringing together Australia’s top classical musicians – including those based overseas – in a special series of concerts.

The dream turned into reality with the establishment of the Australian World Orchestra (AWO) in 2011.

Next month the second series of AWO concerts will be held at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and the Sydney Opera House with acclaimed conductor Zubin Mehta, who is music director and conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). The AWO orchestra will comprise 105 musicians including 48 from overseas.

It was Israeli-born, Australian-raised musician Nick Deutsch who played an instrumental role in the creation of the AWO and securing Mehta as conductor for this year’s concerts.

Deutsch, who has been based in Europe since leaving Melbourne in 1994 on a music scholarship and is currently a professor of oboe at Leipzig’s Hochschule fur Musik, was contacted by Briger in 2008 with the offer to join the AWO and recruit orchestra members.

“It was a brilliant idea and as I was based overseas, my role was to find Australian musicians who were overseas,” says Deutsch by phone from Darwin this week, where he is performing prior to the AWO series.

“After the success of the first concert series, which were conducted by Briger and Simone Young, we looked at the next series and wanted one of the world’s top conductors, so I approached Zubin Mehta, who I worked with at the IPO and the Munich Opera.

“I knew he loved Australia and he was very enthusiastic about the idea. He said ‘Yes’ immediately.”

Mehta has been to Australia many times, including with the IPO, but this will be the first time he is conducting an Australian orchestra.

“The AWO is great for the musicians, but more importantly for the audiences to get to hear the many Australian musicians who have done so well overseas,” says Deutsch.

“I have been playing in orchestras in Europe for 18 years and I am amazed how often someone will turn around during a break and say, ‘G’day, I’m also from Australia’. So many Australians have really made it in Europe, America and Asia – it is quite remarkable considering our population.”

The program for next month’s AWO concerts will feature Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Mahler’s 1st Symphony.

“They are both monumental works which are rarely featured on the same program,” explains Deutsch.

“It is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of The Rite of Spring, which took place in Paris in 1913 and the ballet of a pagan ritual of a virgin dancing herself to death was an absolute scandal for the audience.”

Deutsch says Mahler wrote his

1st Symphony in the German town of Leipzig, where Deutsch now lives with his wife, French violinist Odile Biard and their 11-year-old daughter Alma.

Deutsch was born in Israel in 1972 into a musical family. His mother, Tehila, was a clarinettist and his grandfather, Shimshon Drory, conducted orchestras of Jewish musicians in British-ruled Palestine.

When he was three his family settled in Australia, living in Sydney, and music was always part of his life and he attended the Sydney Conservatorium High School.

“As a 12-year-old boy I liked playing music, but it was not the passion of my life,” he recalls. “My piano teacher gave me a record of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony as a present for my bar mitzvah. After I listened to the recording, it was the beginning of a musical addiction that I have not yet got rid of.

“That’s when my love of classical music really took off and I went to every symphony concert that I could get to – the Sydney Opera House became my second home.”

Today Deutsch plays the oboe, but his musical journey covered many instruments.

“When I was very young I played the violin, but apparently I kept poking out my tongue while playing so my mum thought I should be a wind player and changed to the recorder and then the flute.”

When Deutsch was 19 he moved to Melbourne to study music at the Victorian College of the Arts and changed to the oboe, partly because there was a shortage of oboe players.

“I won several scholarships to study overseas. I left in January 1994 for Germany with no intention of staying overseas – I just thought I would go over until the first job comes up in Australia, but I was lucky and got a job overseas and became established,” he says.

One of his first jobs was with a Spanish orchestra, the Real Filharmonica de Galicia. Today he is a member of the Budapest Festival Orchestra,  a member of the Hindemith Quintet and performs regularly with the IPO.

Deutsch says he loves living in Leipzig, which has a population of only 600,000, but makes regular trips to Australia to visit his parents and sister, and to Israel where he also has family.

“Leipzig has four orchestras including the world’s largest orchestra. The amount of culture in the town is amazing. The local school is where Bach’s children studied and is celebrating its 800th anniversary,” he says.

“Schumann and Wagner were born in the neighbourhood; Mahler wrote his symphonies just down the road.

“After working in orchestras for 15 years, I decided to become a soloist. A professorship in Germany gives you the flexibility to pursue a solo career – it’s a dream come true.”

One of Deutsch’s current projects is to present a revival of works by Jewish composers killed in the Holocaust.

“They were incredibly talented composers, even geniuses, who were killed by the Nazis, some at a very early age. I want to try to resuscitate the lost works of the composers who are no longer living.”

Deutsch has already staged concerts of their works at Leipzig’s Jewish community centre and during a concert tour in Australia last year, and hopes to perform more of their works in Australia in the future.

The Australian World Orchestra performs at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne on October 2 and 4. Bookings: The AWO performs at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, on October 3. Bookings:

REPORT by Danny Gocs

PHOTO of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.