The Barbarians Chamber Orchestra goes Russian this year with a sensational tribute to Slavic musical genius on September 28.
Entitled Russian Rehab, the program features works by Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Amy Winehouse - tied together by the theme of rehabilitation.
Centrepiece of the concert will be Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.2, composed after the nervous breakdown Rachmaninov suffered in the wake of his first symphony.
"The orchestra performing the premiere of the first symphony was disinterested and under-rehearsed, the conductor at least moderately inebriated, and the audience and critics scornful and mercilessly savage," Barbarian director and co-founder Stan Chen explained. "Poor Rachmaninov sank into depression and was unable to compose anything for nearly three years until referred to a psychiatrist for rehabilitation. The result was the Piano Concerto No.2.
It is apt that the piano soloist for the concerto is Dr Tanya Hall, half-Russian on her mother's side, a psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Lake Macquarie Mental Health Service. "I abandoned my dream of becoming a concert pianist in order to study medicine, and never dreamed I would have the opportunity to perform my favourite piano concerto, the Rachmaninoff second," Tanya said. "This is a musical dream come true for me."
Other composers on the program were selected for similar thematic reasons.
"Modest Mussorgsky was extravagantly gifted, largely self-taught, brilliant and idiosyncratic," Stan explained. "His chief weakness was addiction to alcohol and he drank himself to death at an early age."
Mussorgsky will be represented by three works: Dawn on the Moscow River (Introduction to the opera Khovanshchina); Death Scene from the opera Boris Godunov; and Parasya's Dumka from the late unfinished opera Sorochyntsi Fair.
"Pyotr Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by crises and depression, both personal and professional, and debate continues as to whether his early death at age 53 was accidental or self-inflicted," Stan said.
The Barbarians will perform two works by Tchaikovsky: Joan's Aria from the opera Maid of Orleans (a fine example of Tchaikovsky's dramatic brilliance from his opera based on Joan of Arc) and Andante Cantabile (for solo cello and string orchestra).
"Dmitri Shostakovich battled most of his creative life to maintain his artistic integrity in the face of Stalin's regime which attempted to rehabilitate him from his 'degenerate' art into being a politically acceptable socialist composer," Stan said.
The Barbarians will perform Romance (from the film score for The Gadfly), a rare and lyrical moment of respite from Shostakovich's usual angst-ridden, driving, cataclysmic music.
"Amy Winehouse was a descendent of Russian Jewish emigres to the UK, and a phenomenon of jazz/soul," Stan said. "She died far too early of complications from intoxication and as far as rehab goes, enough said."
Russian Rehab is the biggest Barbarians project yet in a celebrated 28-year history built on the "expansive, run the ball" approach to chamber music inspired by the ethos of their rugby namesake.
This year's orchestra will feature 50 players drawn from Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and Sydney (many of them local medical professionals), one piano soloist, three-plus singers and one new brave conductor, Lachlan Snow.
"Lachlan takes the baton from our previous conductor Callum Close, and is an experienced community ensemble director who has recently moved to Sydney to work with Musica Viva in Sydney as their Philanthropy Manager, which includes managing Musica Viva's presence in Newcastle," Stan said.
Apart from Lachlan and Tanya, other soloists include soprano Anthea Harrington (local professional singer and singing teacher, also a handy violinist), baritone Dr John Christie (senior neurosurgeon in the Hunter Region and notable amateur singer), alto Natalie Downing (Associate Director of Faculty Services at Newcastle University, and an original Barbarian), and cellist David Robertson (luthier, proprietor of Hunter Valley Violins, and local treasure).
All funds raised will go towards Musica Viva In Schools, a program promoting music education and appreciation in schools, including the provision of musical resources to under-privileged schools.
Showtime kicks off at Adamstown Uniting Church at 2pm, Saturday, September 28. For tickets visit www.trybooking.com/beelk.