It was a long trip for incoming Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) chief conductor and artistic director Jessica Cottis to arrive here from her base in London to conduct the Orchestra for the first time in her new role.
Arriving in town mid-March prior to Llewellyn One: Seven Deadly Sins at the end of the month, Cottis completed her two-week quarantine in Adelaide before making her way here.
As a result of international travel currently being so difficult, Cottis said the plan is to remain in Canberra for “a number of months”; much longer than normal circumstances would have dictated.
“In many ways it’s a pleasant, happy outcome in that I wouldn’t normally be here for so long,” she told Canberra Weekly.
The added time in Canberra comes at a fortuitous moment given Cottis’ recent appointment, allowing her to strategise and formulate a plan for the next few years with the Orchestra’s executive branch.
“It’s great to have this time in person,” Cottis said.
“Zoom is a wonderful thing, but there’s nothing better than being in an actual space in real time; it’s much more creative and in the moment.”
Speaking ahead of Llewellyn One, Cottis said she’s excited to take the podium with the Orchestra after many opportunities in Europe were cancelled last year.
“I was really fortunate in that during summer in Europe last year, a number of performances were able to go ahead,” she said.
“That was four months ago now and normally I conduct three to four programs per month, so it is a really long time.”
The program for Llewellyn One is headlined by title work, Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, written by the German-born composer in Paris in the 1930s as a witty satire decrying capitalism.
Described as a “dynamic, mesmerising work”, the performance will feature CSO 2021 Artist in Focus, soprano Lorina Gore, a banjo, and, curiously, a barbershop quartet.
“It’s extraordinary music that uses full sense of orchestra to amazing effect,” Cottis said.
The Llewellyn One program also includes Stravinsky’s Circus Polka, contemporary Australian composer Holly Harrison’s Fizzin’ Fury, and the Korngold Violin Concerto that will feature guest violinist, Courtenay Cleary.
All the music programmed for the performance was carefully considered by Cottis.
“They’re all really special works for me,” she said.
The Seven Deadly Sins was one of the first pieces Cottis conducted professionally for the Scottish Opera after completing her studies. She’s also just a big fan of Weill’s work.
“He’s one of a handful of composers who can real use music to express political and social ideas, and I find that very interesting,” she said.
“I love Korngold. It’s like jumping into a scented bath; it’s just immersive and beautifully perfumed.
“Stravinsky is a great composer of the last century, one of the titans of classical music.”
As for Harrison’s Fizzin’ Fury, Cottis premiered that work in 2019.
“It’s really nice to come back to her work with a different orchestra and different audience,” she said.
“It links in with the rest of program nicely as it’s also influenced a bit by other styles of music.”
Cottis sought to create a varied repertoire for the performance to create a “real adventure” for both the orchestra and audience.
“Much of the repertoire Canberra Symphony hasn’t played before, it will be a real adventure for us and a great way to start this relationship,” she said.
The internationally acclaimed conductor grew up in Canberra and said taking on this appointment with the CSO is a “moving” and “poignant” moment for her.
“As conductors, we spend our times quite literally flying around the world,” she said.
“It’s so important to give back actually, and Canberra has given me so much in my early musical development.
“With this opportunity, I feel I can come back and share my experiences abroad … That’s a very personal thing, but also a very important thing for me.”
Cottis first conducted the Orchestra in March 2017 and left impressed.
“It was really wonderful, a real connection there … I saw an orchestra so musical and really hungry to make music together in the best possible way.”
Four years later, now as artistic advisor, Cottis is keen to start a new chapter for the Orchestra with a new and extended vision, while also building on the “wonderful” work of previous CSO artistic director, Nicholas Milton.
“Now my role is very multifaceted, conduct the orchestra a number of times a year, but I’m programming the whole season and very involved in the vision of the orchestra moving forward,” she said.
“I’m really fascinated with how a concert can be put together and take audiences on a real journey of sorts, to be really transported somewhere else.
“It’s an orchestra we can shape how we move forward with a real focus on developing Australian music and Australian artists; it’s super meaningful for me.”
The CSO’s Llewellyn One: Seven Deadly Sins will be performed 31 March and 1 April 7.30pm at Llewellyn Hall, ANU; cso.org.au
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