Meet the Artist ~ Izaak Wesson ~ Musical Director, Iolanthe

Founder of the Perth Orchestra Project, Izaak Wesson leads POP as Artistic and Executive Director in creating innovative performances that fulfil the vision to create art that enriches the cultural vibrancy of Western Australia. Izaak is a conductor, musicologist, and arts administrator, currently completing his Master’s degree in music at the University of Western Australia. Izaak is also a member of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s Emerging Conductors’ Program and works with the Perth Symphony Orchestra. Izaak’s most recent work with Gilbert & Sullivan WA was as Musical Director and Conductor for G&S WA’s well-received season of The Sorcerer.

Photo: Nicholas Madeley

What have you found are the special challenges/pleasures of working on an established composition by a well-known classical composer such as Arthur Sullivan?

Working with repertoire that has an established performance tradition can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. On one hand you have a huge variety of interpretations to draw on when crafting your own, but at the same time this tradition means that there are audience and generic expectations that you are bound to uphold. One of the really liberating things about Sullivan’s music is that within this tradition various musical directors have added bits and pieces to their own productions over the years, particularly in their arrangements of the score. I’m very lucky to have Michael Brett (who is also the Director of this production) as our arranger for this season. We’re trying to lean into some of the darker, rich, and majestic orchestral sounds that lie at the heart of this score.

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

I very much enjoyed my undergraduate degree in French horn performance, but was drawn to conducting for the simple reason that you get to engage with the musical work in such a more holistic and in-depth manner. Being able to craft your own interpretation of any work through deep analysis and engaging with such a wide variety of talented musicians on such a regular basis are just two of the many things that I find so satisfying about being a conductor.

As a musical director and conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to singers and an orchestra?

As a conductor it’s really important to have a clear understanding of the work so that you can communicate clearly with the musicians. Being receptive to the ideas that musicians bring to the rehearsal room/stage is also an important part of the role…music – especially opera – is a collaborative art form that yields its best results when we are all working as a team.

The music of Iolanthe has elements that can be seen as musical in-jokes particularly Wagner, to the audiences of the time, have you discovered some of these and can you share any?

Sullivan’s music is littered with these intertextual references, it’s certainly not just Iolanthe that does this! Wagnerian leitmotifs – musical ideas that denote a particular character – are present throughout the score… Strephon, Iolanthe, and the Lord Chancellor all have really distinguishable themes. You can also see the Wagnerian influence in the writing for the Fairy Queen, which at times is rather reminiscent of a Wagnerian Valkyrie.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are just too many to choose from…I’d have to say one of the operas by Strauss, Wagner, or John Adams. Any of the Mahler symphonies as well!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I’m not sure…but I hope that music is still a hugely important part of my life!

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I wouldn’t say that anything I do outside of the pit inspires me as such, but having a strong understanding of the score, libretto, and their contexts always helps in providing strong musical leadership.

Iolanthe opens at The Dolphin Theatre, Crawley ~ 2 – 11 June 2022
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Photo: Nicholas Madeley