The flags are all over the city. The buzz is mounting as the time approaches for Gian Luigi Gelmetti to launch his first season as the new chief conductor and artistic director of the Sydney Symphony. But Gelmetti is not the only newly arrived Italian in town.

Franco Bottone, who has worked with Gelmetti for 25 years, has recently taken up the position as artistic administrator of the orchestra. He will be Gelmetti’s man on the ground helping the lovable maestro implement his artistic vision.

Both are captivated with Australia, coming to what Bottone calls this, the newest world.

Both Gian Luigi and I are in our mid-50s -“ perhaps I am on the right side, he is on the wrong side, Bottone says with a grin.But for both of us probably it is the last time that we can look for something new. It’s human to look for something new, not because you are tired but just because you are curious.

Bottone speaks gently, his comments leavened with smiles and a subtle humour. He apologises for his English, but he need not worry, he is remarkably articulate and his accent is a delight.

His comments sparkle with fresh images.

A concert is the meeting of three fantasies, not one, he says when I ask about Gelmetti’s dynamic individualistic orchestral style.

There is the fantasy of the writer, the composer; then there is the fantasy of the performer; and then there is the fantasy of the audience. The concert is the magic moment when the three fantasies melt together. If you think you are just respecting the author’s fantasy without putting your heart and your body into it, you are not doing the author a great service because he needs the fantasy of the performer, and if you don’t give it, you are betraying him.

Bottone and Gelmetti are committed to a new vision of traditional work. Sometimes it means looking at it afresh, sometimes it means going back to the sources.
In March Gelmetti will present a Rossini concert and Bottone promises that the audience will hear the familiar music without the trappings of early 20th century exaggeration.

Gian Luigi has great knowledge of the Rossini style. He was one of the key figures in the Rossini renaissance of the last 20 years -¦ New critical editions threw out from the tradition a lot of vulgar habits in performing Rossini. Probably what remained of the comic Rossini from the first part of the century was only the wit but the orchestration, the notes, everything was overcharged, Bottone explains.

But the first concert on this year’s program is a performance of Verdi’s great Requiem. It’s the perfect symbolic gift from the Italian maestro to his new audience. It will be presented with the combined forces of the Sydney Philharmonic Choir and the visiting chorus of the Rome opera, where Gelmetti is also artistic director.

I’ve heard the Verdi Requiem hundreds of times before, Bottone says, but I think this will be one of the most exciting because of the colour we will have from the combined chorus. The other unusual thing is Gelmetti’s choice to have the original number of strings Verdi required in the manuscript, so a lot of bass strings will give such a different colour to this performance.

Bottone began his association with Gelmetti 25 years ago as a cello player in the Rome Opera orchestra but for the last 13, before he moved to Sydney two months ago, he was its artistic administrator. I ask if he misses performing.

No, he replies instantly, I play for myself and for my friends. At 48 I changed my job and instead of playing in the orchestra I started to play the orchestra.

Verdi’s Requiem will be performed at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on 25, 26 & 28 February. Gelmetti’s Rossini will be performed at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on 10, 12, 13 & 15 March. Bookings 9334 4600

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