A con­cert by Si­mone Young is al­ways an event, but what would it take for her to ac­cept a role in Aus­tralia, asks Matthew West­wood

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

You won­der how Young does it, main­tain­ing a fam­ily in Bri­tain and keep­ing an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer on the go, and with an el­derly mother back in Aus­tralia.

“Be­cause Dad only passed away re­cently, and we lost my brother only a few years ago, she’s on her own in Sydney,” Young says. “I’m the only child, I’m on the other side of the globe and I have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties there. I just try to come out here as of­ten as I can to be with Mum. We talk ev­ery day.”

She con­tin­ues: “Look, it’s hard. And this pro­fes­sion is a very dif­fi­cult one to com­bine with real life. I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I walked into a su­per­mar­ket, which re­ally is sad be­cause I’m not that per­son.”

Un­like medicine or the le­gal pro­fes­sion, there is no ob­vi­ous ca­reer path to be­com­ing a con­duc­tor. Young’s par­ents weren’t par­tic­u­larly mu­si­cal.

Harry, her fa­ther, was a dap­per man who worked as a fam­ily so­lic­i­tor. He loved lis­ten­ing to mu­sic on the ra­dio and had a spe­cial fond­ness for mu­sic of the French im­pres­sion­ists. Her mother, born Sim­ice, em­i­grated with her par­ents from a fish­ing vil­lage in Croa­tia to the West Aus­tralian gold­fields. Young’s grand­fa­ther Svetin ran a pub in Boul­der called the In­ter­na­tional Club that was burned to the ground amid the anti-im­mi­grant vi­o­lence that en­gulfed the gold­fields in 1934. They lost every­thing they had brought with them from Croa­tia: her mother has only one pho­to­graph of her­self younger than the age of eight.

“Im­mi­gra­tion has al­ways been such a dodgy is­sue, still is, ev­ery­where,” Young re­flects. “And the mo­ment peo­ple feel fi­nan­cial pres­sure, the last wave of im­mi­grants are the ones who cop it.”

Young has de­scribed her­self as “thor­oughly Ger­man­ised”, hav­ing lived much of her work­ing life in that coun­try, but talk­ing with her in Bris­bane, she is very much the Aussie girl. Her man­ner is fa­mil­iarly Aus­tralian, re­laxed and friendly. Even when dis­cussing mu­si­cal con­cepts — for ex­am­ple, the con­nec­tion be­tween the rhyth­mic pulse of lan­guages and mu­sic — she speaks as if it’s a catch-up over cof­fee or a glass of wine.

Her fam­ily did not have a record player un­til she was 12 years old — such a thing was re­garded as a lux­ury — and her ex­po­sure to mu­sic was from opera broad­casts on the ra­dio or what she could play for her­self.

“I had sight-read my way through all the Beethoven piano sonatas by the time I was 12,” she says. “If I wanted to lis­ten to some­thing, it was ei­ther the ABC on the ra­dio, or I would scour church fetes and car-boot sales, and buy boxes of old mu­sic and sit down and sight-read at the piano. I had a cu­rios­ity for this stuff, and I had to hear it, that weight of sound.”

Af­ter her stud­ies at the Sydney Con­ser­va­to­rium of Mu­sic, and an ap­pren­tice­ship at Opera Aus­tralia and in Cologne, she be­came an as­sis­tant to pi­anist and con­duc­tor Daniel Baren­boim, one of the gi­ants of the mu­sic world. She re­calls Baren­boim once de­scrib­ing the mu­sic of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms as “key­board play­ers’ mu­sic”: play­ing the piano in­flu­enced the way they thought about com­pos­ing for or­ches­tra.

“It’s a ver­ti­cal weight, hav­ing to be car­ried through a hor­i­zon­tal line,” Young ex­plains. “That’s how you con­duct Bruck­ner, and it’s Wag­ner as well.”

Yes, it’s a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion, but she makes the point by way of ex­plain­ing her at­trac­tion to the Aus­tro-Ger­man mu­si­cal tra­di­tion: its weight and grav­ity, com­pared with, say, the up­ward in­flec­tions of Ital­ian mu­sic.

Among her achieve­ments at Ham­burg was a new pro­duc­tion of Wag­ner’s four-part Ring cy­cle — she brought the Ham­burg forces to Bris­bane in 2012 to per­form the first part, Das Rhein­gold — and the com­plete sym­phonies of

Con­duc­tor Si­mone Young

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