I was part of the Melbourne Youth Orchestras program for 5 or 6 years back in the day, from around the age of 15 and 16 up until the end of university in my early 20’s! Being involved in the program had an enormous impact on me both musically and personally and I had some of my most influential orchestral experiences with the organisation. The experience of being in an orchestra like that and having the opportunity to play the huge works that make up the orchestral canon was a really important time in my life, and those pieces are now a part of my everyday life as a professional violinist. Those initial experiences gave me an idea of how amazing and powerful music can be, particularly when playing with a community of enthusiastic and like-minded performers. That social element of the orchestra was also super important; I had the opportunity to meet lots of people my age and we have since stayed in touch. A lot of us made the jump from high school to university together and all those valuable connections with other musicians that I met in MYO set me off on the trajectory of a career in music.
Being back with the orchestra has been an amazing experience, and I’m lucky to be working with the conductor Paul Fitzsimons, who, coincidentally, was also in the same MYO ensemble as me in high school! It’s so special to have had that experience as young people and now be back working together as professionals. I said to him the other day, “they all look so young! Did we ever look this young?” It’s a fun experience seeing all these baby faces and remembering how we were once sitting in those very seats. The players we are working with are so enthusiastic and supportive and I feel very welcome. It’s also particularly special performing the Brahms, which I first encountered at university more than 10 years ago, but only ever with piano accompaniment. To perform the work again with an orchestra is a really exciting opportunity as it is a really special piece of music – perhaps one of my favourites. When I got the call about playing it I was so enthusiastic! Hearing and performing this piece with a great orchestra is really special – it’s often performed with just the piano accompaniment which is okay but it makes such a huge difference with the orchestral arrangement behind it. The writing is so rich and extensive – it’s a symphony with a violin solo, really.
When you’re young, the opportunity to play the broad range of repertoire that MYO offers is an important experience. It gives you a musical grounding that allows you to perform any kind of work, really. I learnt so much in those formative years in the orchestra about what it means to be a musician: it’s one thing going to lessons week after week and very occasionally giving a solo performance, but until you play with other people in a setting where professionalism is really expected of you, you won’t understand fully what it’s all about. I had played with other youth and student ensembles, but it wasn’t until I got into MYO, where Peter Bandy (the conductor at the time) expected you to perform like professionals, not only on stage, but off. That really gave us an idea of what a career would look like and what it meant to play together as an ensemble. When things weren’t tight, ensemble-wise, Peter would often set up a passage then stop conducting to see if we were able to fix things up ourselves. He would always be telling us to listen to one another, which is of course incredibly helpful in developing a sense for chamber music in an orchestral setting. Wherever you end up with your playing, communication is key.
I’ve been trying to bring that philosophy into our recent MYO rehearsals by facing the orchestra, which helps us get to know each other and makes the experience feel a little more like chamber music. The Brahms is incredibly symphonic, and while the spotlight is often on the violin solo, there are periods where I’m accompanying different solos across the orchestra and creating an open line of communication in these moments is important.
I’ve learnt a lot from my experiences as a performer in Europe, having played with several different chamber groups and orchestras alongside some amazing soloists and conductors. When you’re travelling, I think you’ve got to soak up all of the experiences being thrown at you! There is a lot of moving around, with musicians often playing with several different ensembles. The first time you go into a new orchestra you have to slot in and look around to see what everyone else is doing and see how best you can fit; it’s important to know a little bit about the group before you arrive. Then you start working regularly with the same groups. While I am travelling a lot, it’s often with people I’ve played with before, now.
As a young musician, having an idea of what you might like to do is really helpful. Having such positive experiences with MYO really led me down the track of studying and performing professionally, but it wasn’t really until after university when I arrived at ANAM to realise that I really wanted to throw everything I had behind playing the violin. It’s easy to meander a little bit through your studies and early professional like, but if you don’t put in the work and enthusiasm it doesn’t matter how much talent you have. There are so many opportunities around you as a young performer – you’ve sometimes got to crack out of the practice room and be find people to play with.
Melbourne Youth Orchestras present Homages on the 17th September. More information and tickets here.