Paul Dyer reveals Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s season 2017

The artistic director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dyer (above), is a natural-born showman; in another universe, he’d be the front man of a rock band or a family favourite presenter on a ratings juggernaut TV game show. His infectiously uplifting enthusiasm is one of his most likeable attributes, especially when he’s on stage with his period-instrument Baroque ensemble, but he is something of a rarity within the world of early music.

The ABO’s particular genre of music-making is mainly concerned with repertoire dating back at least 260 years, to a time when instruments looked and sounded very different from the familiar strains of the contemporary symphony orchestra we know today.

Baroque music is a sphere of the classical world that is steeped in academic rigour and careful research as centuries-old techniques are revived and perfected. Such forensic attention to detail is utterly essential to achieving true musical authenticity, but with this can often come  an intimidating implication: with performers investing countless years honing their historically-informed craft, audience members need to be equally clued-up to appreciate the magnitude of this feat.

As a consequence, period instrument Baroque ensembles can often be regarded as an acquired taste, principally for connoisseurs. Dyer, however, has dedicated the past quarter of a century to challenging this notion.

“We don’t want to appeal solely to aficionados,” he explains.“People who come to our performances might very well be first timers, and it’s so important that they see the music of the Baroque isn’t an exclusive club, but rather an easy access point for all classical music. That’s why we work at making our concerts open and welcoming, because then our audiences feel accepted and that they have permission to enjoy themselves.”

Over the past 27 years, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has grown from a small and scrappy, niche-within-a-niche troupe, to one of Australia’s most respected ensembles across the full spectrum of classical music – a reputation cemented earlier this year with a 2016 Helpmann Award-win for Best Instrumental Ensemble Performance.

It’s an accolade Dyer is brimming with pride about, taking his “Bobby” on stage at recent performances. “Every time I’ve spoken to the audience about our Helpmann win I’ve felt this great need to turn around to the orchestra to remind them ‘it’s yours.’ The thing I love about being the artistic director of this extraordinary group of musicians is that I get to absorb the input of so many brilliant, insightful people. Some are extroverts, others more thoughtful. Some are comedians while others are intellectuals. All these personalities go into making ABO what it is, and I feel incredibly fortunate because of that,” says Dyer.

These days they may be lauded with laurels, but it’s been a hard-won success. “In Baroque circles, we often talk about the “affect” of a piece of music: whether it is meant to evoke sadness, or joy or excitement,” Dyer recalls.

“So when I started the ABO, I really wanted to impress upon our musicians that if you feel that “affect” you should show it, whether that’s to the audience, to your fellow performers, or whatever. Don’t be afraid, show how you feel. We received quite a bit of bad press for that from some of the critics in the early days, but I knew if we didn’t do it, those barriers that put off audiences would never be overcome.”

“My big thing is emotion,” says Dyer. “I think it’s vitally important that people don’t just hear music; they should feel music too.”

That’s not to say that Dyer’s strategy has involved any dumbing down. In fact, ABO’s commitment to championing rare gems of the repertoire is at the heart of their artistic offering. By his own admission, Dyer is something of a Baroque nerd: “I love musicology, and I absolutely adore finding rare gems that no one’s heard of. These are wonderful pieces, that never see the light of day for whatever reason, but they absolutely deserve to be played.”

Even though his programming often steps over the predictable greatest-hits – the 2017 season does, in fact, feature one of these staples, Handel’s Messiah, although Dyer is quick to point out, “we’ve never performed it before” – the ABO has cultivated a dedicated and growing audience without pandering to popularism.

The secret of this success is twofold. Firstly, the ABO swaps the intellectual elitism commonplace among European early music ensembles for the universally accessible language of human expression. “My big thing is emotion,” says Dyer. “It’s such an important thing, but it’s not easy to get right. I think it’s vitally important that people don’t just hear music; they should feel music too.”

To this end, his second master stroke is both a way to amplify the visceral in ABO’s performances and surpass expectations of what a concert of Baroque music should be. In recent years, Dyer has made multi-medium collaborations a hallmark of ABO’s offering. In the past they have partnered with dance artists, such as the Turkish Whirling Dervishes in their Ottoman Baroque concert in 2014, performers from a range of musical backgrounds, from Baroque stars to pop and jazz artists, such as Emma Beardsall who joined the ABO for their hugely popular annual Christmas performance, and exhibitions, as they will later this year during the NGA’s “Versailles” show.

Dyer believes these kinds of unapologetically entertaining fusions are a way to keep baroque music from being seen as a dusty museum artefact.

Perhaps their most fruitful and yet least obvious mash-up has been the ABO’s collaborations with circus. For the past two years, musical and physical virtuosity have shared the stage at some point during the season, and it was last year’s partnership with Brisbane-based circus masters, Circa (pictured below), which secured the ABO their coveted Helpmann-win.


Given the popularity of previous outings, it’s unsurprising that circus also features in 2017’s program, but while there’s an aspect of crowd-pleasing to this acrobatic spectacle, these two seemingly remote art forms share a legitimate historical synergy, as a type of 17th-century proto-circus was often accompanied by a consort of musicians.

But more than this, Dyer believes these kinds of unapologetically entertaining fusions are a way to keep baroque music from being seen as a dusty museum artefact. “Pushing artistic ideas and collaborations allows this music to still be changing, still be evolving. Even after hundreds of years there’s still untapped possibilities, and I think that’s wonderful,” Dyer tells me. “We want people to come away from our concerts feeling like they’ve been provoked by something, or enlightened by something, or excited by something. Whatever that reaction may be, it’s the act of passing something from the past to the present that people can keep with them that makes what we do so rewarding.”

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s 2017 season

Handel’s Messiah

Brace yourself for the ABO’s first ever performance of Handel’s sacred masterpiece.

Sydney – City Recital Hall

Wednesday 22 February; Friday 24 February; Wednesday 1 March; Friday 3 March; Saturday 4 March all at 7pm; matinee Saturday 4 March at 2pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 25 Feburary at 7pm, Sunday 26 February at 5pm.

Baroque Joins The Circus

The ABO once again join artistic forces with Circa for a thrilling and dramatic arts feast.

With a pasticcio, created by Paul Dyer and Circa Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz, of music from our ARIA Award-winning CD Tapas, this experience will see you gripping your chair more than once.

Program includes music by Monteverdi, Falconieri, Kapsberger, Merula and Cazzati.

Sydney – City Recital Hall

Wednesday 3 May, Friday 5 May; Saturday 6 May, Wednesday 10 May; Friday 12 May all at 7pm; matinee Saturday 6 May at 2pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 13 May at 7pm; Sunday 14 May at 5pm.

Dmitry Sinkovsky: The Singing Violin

Royalty and aristocracy. Opulence and grandeur. Drama, tension, exuberance and extravagance. To watch Sinkovsky perform is to see the two, equally impressive sides of his personality emerge – the virtuoso violinist and the emotional countertenor.

Program includes:

Geminiani: Concerto grosso No. 12 in D minor La Follia

Telemann: Concerto for 3 Violins in F major TWV 53:F1

Handel: Passacaglia from Sonata in G major HWV 399 Op. 5 No. 4

Vivaldi: “Longe mala, umbrae, terrors” RV 629

Locatelli: Concerto grosso “Il Pianto d`Arianna” Op. 7 No. 6

Vivaldi: Concerto à 10 stromenti in D major, RV562a, per la Solennità di San Lorenzo

Sydney — City Recital Hall

Wednesday 26 July, Friday 28 July; Saturday 29 July, Wednesday 2 August, Friday 4 August all at 7pm;  matinee Saturday 29 July at 2pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 5 August at 7pm; Sunday 6 August at 5pm.

Haydn, Mozart & Friends

Hear two great composers, who were also great friends, and experience how great genius loves company.

Program includes:

Cannabich: Sinfonia in E flat major

Haydn: Concerto for Cello in C major Hob.VIIb:1

Mozart: Harmoniemusik of Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Mozart: Concerto for Horn No. 4 in E flat major K495

Sydney — City Recital Hall

Wednesday 13 September, Friday 15 September; Wednesday 20 September, Friday 22 September; Saturday 23 September all at 7pm; matinee Saturday 23 September at 2pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 9 September at 7pm; Sunday 10 September at 5pm.

Bittersweet Obsessions: Monteverdi & Bach – Two Operas

Love and coffee, two things that inspire very different types of obsessions. Experience the dramatic power of two of the Baroque’s most persuasive storytellers.

Program includes:

Monteverdi — Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The combat of Tancredi and Clorinda)

Bach –Coffee Cantata BWV 211

Additional works by: Merula, Uccellini and Falconieri.

Sydney — City Recital Hall

Wednesday 25 October, Friday 27 October; Saturday 28 October, Tuesday 31 October; Wednesday 1 November all at 7pm; matinee Saturday 28 October at 2pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 4 November at 7pm;  Sunday 5 November at 5pm.

Noël! Noël! A Christmas Tradition

Don’t miss the ABO’s hugely popular festival celebration, for many the definitive Christmas music experience.

Sydney — City Recital Hall

Wednesday 13 December at 7pm; Saturday 16 December at 7pm; matinee Saturday 16 December at 5pm.

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday 9 December at 5pm; Saturday 9 December at 7.30pm.

Images by Steven Godbee.

2 responses to “Paul Dyer reveals Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s season 2017

  1. My question
    We donate to the orchestra and I would like to know please what the Latin inscription on the inside of your harpsichord means. We have just been to your dinner in Melbourne on Thurs 24 May, when Paul Dwyer made his appeal for a new harpsichord.
    The inscription reads something like ….”Scientia non habet …….nici …..”.
    Looking forward to hearing from you


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