“I’m not sure there’s an orchestra in the world that takes greater pleasure in the act of performing than they do,” Steven Osborne laughs.
The celebrated pianist is talking about the Australian Chamber Orchestra, with whom he has played before. This program is a return to familiar ground after previous collaborations, and he’s enthused. “Every player is so totally committed to what they’re doing, and it’s really inspiring to play with.”
Osborne is well acquainted with guest performance, and the pressures on contemporary musicians and ensembles. Many orchestras, he divulges, are too heavily directed; in some, he says, “a quiet cynicism builds up over the years, and it becomes almost a taboo to express real enthusiasm."
The zest of the ACO is “partly because in the rehearsal process everyone’s welcome to contribute. It’s not Richard Tognetti simply telling everyone what to do. He doesn’t insist that his way of doing things has to be paramount: he listens to other people’s views. It’s partly that—that there’s a lot of discussion—and it’s partly that they go unusually far in trying to characterise things. So most orchestras in the world could give a performance without even a rehearsal—they could simply play through something and it would be a fairly generic, normally received way of playing something. But with the ACO, it’s a process of honing the character, they go so far to be extremely specific, and I think that’s part of what gives pleasure. That they’re saying something really, really clear and thought-about and heartfelt."
Osborne is a Scot and lives in Edinburgh. In this time of devolution referendums and Brexit, how does he see the idea of nationalism, so much a theme of the repertoire he is playing for this tour? He acknowledges that nationalism can be a celebration of shared values, but jumps straight to the more recent, malign associations of the word. “How common it is for people to hate their neighbours. I do think it’s important to take responsibility for one’s own situation. It’s easy to say, ‘Okay, it’s their fault.’ For me, when nationalism becomes a thing which is against neighbouring nations, I’m always suspicious of it. All of that emotion? ‘If only we could get past ‘them’, then things would be better’?” He pauses. “I don’t know, but I think that’s rarely the case.”
Steven Osborne joins ACO Principal Cello Timo-Veikko Valve and Australian violinist Kristian Winther later this month for three concerts centred around the Piano Trios of Dvořák, Brahms and Schubert. Details and tickets via the link below.