Just over 20 years ago I was interviewing the young Edinburgh-born cellist, Garry Walker, having become the 25-year-old winner of the Ninth Leeds Conductors Competition, his Town Hall performance receiving the unanimous selection of the jury
Next month sees his return to Leeds to open Opera North’s new season of six operas coinciding with the announcement that he will become the company’s new Music Director designate, an appointment he takes up in the next year.
“When you win such a prestigious competition many doors open, and then it is up to you to decide which you want to go through,” he related in his lunch-break during rehearsals for Martinu’s opera, The Greek Passion.
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He didn’t have to wait long when a few months later he was offered, in place of the indisposed Daniele Gatti, an 11th-hour London debut conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the opening concert of their major season at the Barbican.
“I was fortunate, and the doors that I walked through included the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and invitations from around the world conducting leading orchestras, though I have particularly enjoyed coming to Opera North which is something quite different, it’s more like joining and being part of a family.”
“Preparing Martinu’s almost totally unknown opera has certainly presented us with a special challenge, the story of refugees looking for a new homeland being particularly appropriate during the troubled years we now see in the Middle East.”
Opening at the Leeds Grand Theatre on September 14, this new production is directed by Christopher Alden, with Nicky Spence as Manolios, the ill-fated leader of the exiles, and the renowned Polish soprano, Magdalena Molendowska, as Katerina, the local girl who falls in love with him.
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Using a large orchestra, it was originally intended for London’s Covent Garden in 1957, but was eventually premiered in Zurich in 1961 in a shortened version, Opera North making this a landmark presentation by returning to the 1957 score. An offer to conduct that one opera came from Opera North two years ago, and before he began discussing the vacant position of Music Director. Presently the Principal Conductor of the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie, he will continue in that role for the immediate future, his forward commitment with Opera North starting in 2020 when he will then conduct two operas over the following year. “Now the people in Koblenz are particularly delighted that I will be with such a highly regarded company, and working with their symphony orchestra in the concert hall has given me long-term ideas to shape Opera North’s future orchestral series in Huddersfield and Dewsbury.”
The autumn season at the Leeds Grand Theatre also sees the return of Tim Albery’s much acclaimed staging of Handel’s Giulio Cesare opening on September 28, heading up the cast, and making her company debut, the Lithuanian mezzo, Justina Gringyte is in the title role, with the counter-tenor, James Laing, as Tolome.
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Third in the season, and from October 12, sees the return of Phyllida Lloyd’s vibrant update of Puccini’s La Boheme, showcasing a suitably young cast to recreate the impoverished bohemians. Moving on to January, Garry Walker is joined in Opera North’s artistic line-up by Antony Hermus who will make his debut in Opera North’s newly created role of Principal Guest Conductor. The Dutchman, arriving with much experience in opera, will open on familiar ground with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (February 1).
Is it an opera or a musical? Kurt Weill’s Street Scene probably comes somewhere between the two, the stifling heat in a New York street of tenement houses is about to go that much higher when Anna’s secret comes to light. Opening on January 14, Giselle Allen, Robert Hayward, Alex Benfield and conductor, James Holmes, will reveal those clandestine events.
A return of Alessandro Talevi’s staging of Benjamin Britten’s ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, with a cast headed by Nicholas Watts and Sarah Tynan completes the year, opening on February 15.
All operas will tour to Nottingham, Salford and Newcastle.
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