I still vividly remember the moment I realised I wanted to be part of an orchestra. At the age of ten, I was watching my sister perform as a violinist in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra. I walked into the concert hall with no preconceived notions of what to expect, and perhaps with the sort of indifference young children often feel when they're taken along to their siblings' activities. As soon as the music began, however, I was captivated. The musicians were performing a compilation of music from celebrated Hollywood feature films, and I was awestruck by the sublimity and complexity of sound created by the symphony orchestra. At that pivotal moment, my great love of orchestral playing commenced.
Soon after, I began my ensemble training with Melbourne Youth Music (now Melbourne Youth Orchestras), starting in a string ensemble and steadily improving until I was technically and musically prepared for the mighty force that is the symphony orchestra. I loved every aspect of ensemble music making. Although fundamentally an introvert, I delighted in the fact that I was contributing and influencing such a depth of sound with so many like-minded young musicians. I was enthralled by the process of learning how to achieve a unity of sound, musical thought and a myriad of orchestral subtleties.
Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have been mentored by some of the most experienced and inspiring orchestral musicians. In 2008 I joined the same wonderful Melbourne Youth Orchestra that I had seen my sister perform in all those years ago. When I commenced it was the next generation of players, paired with the newly appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Director, Fabian Russell. Throughout my four years in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, I learned the greater refinement of orchestral playing while performing both a significant amount and a diverse range of orchestral repertoire. It was indescribably rewarding to perform monumental works such as Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Olivier Messaien's Turangalila Symphony.
As well as imparting his great depth of musical knowledge, Fabian engaged some of Australia's finest orchestral musicians as mentors and tutors. He firmly believed in the importance of bringing emerging musicians closer to those already established in the profession. This was an idea that had come to fruition before his commencement at the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, through his unique initiative The Orchestra Project. Through my association with Fabian during my time in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, I was lucky enough to be involved in The Orchestra Project. It was an orchestra made up of young musicians and the top professional orchestral musicians from around Australia. It gave me—and several other developing orchestral players—the rare opportunity to perform alongside an extraordinarily high calibre of professional musicians.
To learn about the most subtle aspects of orchestral playing from these seasoned professionals was incredibly important in my orchestral development. Purely from sitting next to and being surrounded by musicians of that calibre, I increased my awareness of the necessary skills of orchestral performance. Working with professionals quickly ensured that I began to ask myself the necessary questions such as: 'Am I achieving a sound quality and articulation that is homogenous with the rest of the section? What is the function of my part in relation to others at this point in the music? Which instruments and sections should I be communicating with and listening to here?'
Undoubtedly, the opportunity to be rehearsing and performing alongside professionals as an emerging musician is an invaluable experience, as what we build on in terms of orchestral skills is almost exclusively learned in the rehearsal situation. The only way to improve your orchestral playing is to do a lot of it, surrounded by those with a wealth of knowledge and vast experience. For this reason, programs such as The Orchestra Project are both educationally and culturally essential.
More than fifteen years since its inception, The Orchestra Project is returning for an Easter Sunday performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A Minor. It is a great joy for me to be coming back to this unique orchestral experience; albeit a few years older, there is always more one can learn from those who have years upon years of direct professional experience. Artistic Director Fabian Russell will once again take the helm, and the Orchestra will bring together those professionals who have mentored several of us now beginning our professional life as musicians and most importantly, those who are just beginning to discover the musical treasure that is the symphony orchestra.
The Orchestra Project performs Mahler 6 on Sunday 16th April at 2:30pm at the South Melbourne Town Hall. Tickets are $20 for students. Grab them in advance here. Can't make it, but dig what The Orchestra Project is doing for young performers? Send them some love via their ACF page.