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I asked Lang-Lessing why Mendelssohn was the focal point. He was firm in his response. 'I champion his music because I have an affinity with him. There is a connection. I was also born in Hamburg and I deeply admire his orchestration. It is inspirational. His neglect is most likely due to anti-Semitism and very little to do with the quality of his music. If you search through the concert programs of almost any major orchestra in the last fifty years you will find Mendelssohn's overtures but rarely the symphonies'.
The event was celebrating Mendelssohn's worth as a composer and conductor. Two concerts replicated programs that Mendelssohn had conducted. The first of these on 3 August 2007 featured Weber's rousing Jubel Overture and Mendelssohn's ambitious second symphony Hymn of Praise in which he blended the sacred with the secular and the cantata with the symphony. Composed in 1840 as a musical celebration of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press, this is a blockbuster. There were huge numbers on stage. The TSO's chorus and the Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Choir stood behind the orchestra.
Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Photo © Alastair Bett
Lang-Lessing isn't the easiest conductor to work with, according to some. I imagine he has exacting standards, enormous reserves of energy, a challenging manner at times and steely determination geared to achieve his goals. Apparently, the players perceptibly lift their energy whenever he is around. In the performance of Hymn of Praise I was struck by the textural clarity, the energised focus of all the players, the full-bodied sound and the easy conversational exchange between sections.
Copyright © 9 August 2007
Gillian Wills, Brisbane, Australia