Our Orchestra Project: Michelle Wood

Our Orchestra Project: Michelle Wood

Our Orchestra Project: Michelle Wood

You were part of The Orchestra Project when you were still a student, and now you’re coming back as a mentor. Can you tell me about the experience of sitting with professional artists when you were in the early stages of your career, and what that taught you about the job you have now in the MSO?

I remember these experiences so fondly - it was a huge rush! Although I'd had experiences in youth orchestras it's a little bit different when suddenly you find yourself surrounded by people who you've had lessons from, or seen performing... suddenly it's you there WITH them! You want to play well, and prove your worth to your colleagues and mentors, but it's all in such an encouraging and welcoming environment. This really gives you a real sense of the 'family' that an orchestra becomes - fantastic musicians all working together to create something amazing every week!

Why is the opportunity to play the large-scale symphonies important for your development as a young orchestral musician?

There is nothing worse than being on your trial for a job in an orchestra, and looking at the weekly rosters seeing symphony after symphony that you have never played before! Nothing really prepares you for what it's like to play Mahler or Strauss for the first time, and you could play all the orchestral excerpts in the world in your practice room and it still isn't quite the same as performing the work as a whole. But imagine the feeling when you know you've played something before - the familiarity and comfort that brings is pretty wonderful! This is why these experiences are so invaluable - one day you just might be on your trial, and you're suddenly playing Mahler 6 next week, but it's ok because you've already got it under your fingers!

Can you tell me about the skills aside from being a great player you need to develop to be part of a symphonic orchestra, that may not be initially obvious?

Being a good technician at your instrument is a given, but being a good human with a great set of ears and eyes is even more valuable. Rehearsals happen at a super quick pace, so being aware of what is going on in front of you, within your section, from the conductor, the concertmaster, and listening 'beyond' your own sound is particularly useful. There's also the more subtle art of learning how to 'fit' within your section. That doesn't mean necessarily subjugating your own musical intuition, but it does mean being able to know how to blend, how to interact with your colleagues, and knowing what is and isn't appropriate (both musically and otherwise!). Put simply - it's about being a champion team, not a team of champions! 

As a young orchestral player, perhaps still in high school or at an early tertiary level, what options are available to you if you’d like to improve your listening skills and instincts?

Well, I might be biased, but as much chamber music and orchestral performance opportunities to play with others as possible! Join your local youth orchestras, apply for music camps - you will never ever forget these experiences, and they will give you the best possible start for a potential career in orchestral performance.

Mentoring is hugely important to you – what do you get out of being part of this kind of project now, having performed professionally in both orchestral and chamber settings? 

This is by far the best part of my job. I get such a huge buzz out of working with young musicians (I like to think it wasn't THAT long ago since I was one), and projects like this are so wonderful for spending time with and meeting some really fabulous people who may become my future colleagues! I finish these sort of projects completely inspired - it's hard not to love playing Mahler when you're surrounded by infectious enthusiasm. 

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