Q&A with Simon Rogers, TSO Director Artistic Planning
Simon, the Summer Season really was a wonderful way to delve back into live performances. Have you had a favourite concert so far, or is that like asking which child you prefer?
It is a bit like asking about a favourite child, yes! There is no question that by the time concerts come around to being performed, you feel like you have been living with them for a while and they become quite personal. The interesting aspect of 2021 is that this is actually the third version of the season – there was a pretty much fully planned version before COVID struck, then there was the version we sketched to develop a new model for 2021 and then there is the third version which is what we are all experiencing. It has certainly been a year like no other in planning terms, and the result is that it is harder to pinpoint a particular highlight so far – it’s just great to be back!
How did the idea of launching individual seasons come about and why is this the way we’re moving forward this year?
The idea was borne from many conversations at the end of last year, where we developed a series of assumptions about what we thought would be happening at different points this year. The continued uncertainty regarding everything from social distancing to vaccinations to interstate and international travel meant we developed quite a few season models for 2021. We then had the slightly intimidating decision of which option to choose and why that one, why not the other one? The result was what we are seeing now. Releasing seasonally means we can continue to adjust as the world adjusts, keeping our audiences and orchestra safe which is always our main priority. An added bonus is streaming all our main subscription concerts, which means as long as the orchestra can work, we will still be able to present concerts, despite any changes in COVID restrictions. We’ve found this is also a wonderful way to ensure all our audiences can continue to enjoy TSO concerts, no matter where they are!
All of this gives us the flexibility we need as we continue to be prepared to pivot in response to any changes – which is terrifying for a planner!
Is there anything coming up in the remainder of the year that you could perhaps share with our patrons?
To open the second quarter, we are playing a wonderful arrangement by Klaus Simon of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. I love this symphony - it is my personal favourite of Mahler - and as it is easily his most chamber in spirit, it is logical to be arranged for smaller forces.
What I find interesting about this arrangement is that it was quite well known already, but since COVID it has been performed widely around the world – it is a symphony which is the perfect size for the times. It is symbolic of what has been happening in terms of planning, and what has been invigorating for people in roles such as mine, as orchestras have been given the chance to perform completely new repertoire, the chance to discover new things.
Even though it is smaller, it won’t sound small. There is something about the way that Mahler writes that lends itself to such treatment – you really don’t miss anything in terms of the individual lines. I am sure the orchestra will adore playing it with conductor Johannes Fritzsch, and guest soprano and special artist for the TSO, Lorina Gore.
We (the Philanthropy team and beyond!) have loved seeing our TSO musicians step up into leadership roles, highlighting how lucky we are to have the calibre of musicians that we do. Has it been a similar journey for you?
Completely. It has been a joy to offer the opportunity to so many of our Principals to curate programs and to discover works new to us, especially those with multiple soloists and concertante works. It has also been a tremendous opportunity to offer a starring role to some tutti players, which you have seen a little in the Summer Season and will continue in the Autumn Season…. Watch this space!
With the musicians being actively involved in ideas for chamber repertoire, has there been a piece that you never would have thought of which musicians have brought to you?
Always! The great thing about music is that even if you have been immersed in music all your life there are still new pieces to discover. It is impossible to know all the repertoire, there is just so much great music that has been written. Some pieces are more logical and achievable than others, of course, but that is part of the charm - sometimes the more outrageous ones are the more tempting…. Sometimes not!
Finally, you have been heavily involved behind the scenes with our online concert streams. Can you take us through an overview of what your involvement here has been?
Well, it has simply been the biggest learning experience of my career. I helped develop the live streaming process as part of the team from the very beginning. When we started, we basically looked at each other and wondered how it would all work! But we quickly settled on the number of cameras, tested the equipment, worked a system for literally “calling the shots” (with someone following a score and calling camera angles depending on which instrument should be highlighted) and the team moved into their roles.
What I love about it is that it is an inherently musical process – we try to follow the arc of the music and build a narrative that is faithful to the score. It does of course involve some key musical decisions – often we try to change the choice of shots on repeats so that it is showing something different, sometimes we choose to illustrate the counter melody or accompaniment rather than the obvious. It does literally take split second timing, and it takes practice – sometimes quite a lot! Most concerts involve hundreds of shot changes, so it requires real concentration too. Like any musician will tell you, we are constantly striving to improve.
We have been blessed with a great team of people, hugely dedicated and very talented and we are particularly indebted to Dave Flower from Hype TV who pulls it all together live in the Producers chair – it is a wonder to behold watching him in action. We now we have a lot people from the orchestra involved (musicians and staff) and I am enjoying stepping back a little and watching them sharing in the fun.
Important Season information
The full Autumn Season is now online (www.tso.com.au), with TSO subscribers able to book early-bird tickets a week before concerts are made available to the public on Monday 22. Subscribers are also able to access concerts which are live streamed. To find out more, or to purchase a subscription, please contact the TSO Box Office.
Again, thank you so much for your support while we change the way we bring you music. We endeavour to keep you up to date with the latest modifications as they arise. We value your feedback so please share your new TSO experiences with us to help us on this journey.