Nikhil Sardana: Where did you grow up and pursue your music studies? What led you to choosing a career in conducting?
Alexander Briger: I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. I started playing the violin at a very young age and became serious about this instrument by the age of 12, practising all day long. I think at that age I decided to become a musician.
My uncle Sir Charles Mackerras was one of Australia’s most famous conductor. He was at the time also the Music Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. When I was 12, he had come out to Australia to conduct and that was the first concert I ever went to. I remember he did Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and listening to that was just a revelation for me. It was then that I decided to become a conductor, as I thought I wanted to do the same thing as my uncle and control that piece of music one day, which thankfully I did.
Over time, I decided to concentrate on conducting and went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to pursue a Bachelor of Music. I formed a chamber orchestra afterwards where I got my first experience conducting. Then I left Australia and went to Munich to pursue a conducting degree. Things just went ahead from there!
NS: When and how did you decide to start the Australian World Orchestra?
AB: I decided to form the Australian World Orchestra in 2009. I had been conducting the Japan Virtuoso Symphony Orchestra before that which is a similar version to the AWO. It is made up of Japanese musicians playing in different Japanese Orchestras. The difference is that they are all based within Japan.
I got the idea of doing this in Australia as we have so many fantastic musicians there. With this concept, I approached my sister Gabrielle to see if she would help get the AWO up and running. We started off by asking musicians if they would be interested in getting involved with this project. Of course, they all said yes! We then went ahead and booked the Sydney Opera House concert hall and contacted various organisations for financial support. It wasn’t easy, but we got it up and running. We first performed in August 2011 for a period of two weeks and it was a huge success.
After that we decided to invite a top 10 international conductor. The best person was Zubin Mehta as we had connections with him through members in the AWO. We were very lucky to get him to come to Australia and conduct the AWO in 2013. That season was incredibly successful.
Zubin Mehta then invited us to tour India. So we got the ball rolling on that one and did it last year in October 2015.
NS: How was your India tour?
AB: It was incredible and we had an amazing time! It was very hard to get the project up and running. It was expensive and there were various logistical problems with getting instruments into the country, with visas, hotels and transporting everyone around. But we worked very hard and Zubin Mehta helped us a lot with contacts. We absolutely had the time of our life and everything went without a hitch which was great!
NS: Do you think there is a growing interest for Western classical music in India?
AB: Yes, definitely and particularly in Mumbai. We did two performances there and they loved it. And New Delhi is certainly growing. Chennai was more geared towards Indian classical music. Mumbai’s own Symphony Orchestra of India is great and is doing very well. It is getting big name conductors and also has sell out performances all the time. There is absolutely a growing marketing for Western classical music in India.
NS: Would you come back to India in the future?
AB: Would love to! But we would probably do it with Zubin Mehta because it is so much fun with him. It is thrilling to have an Indian conductor lead us in India.