AYO rehearsal in Berlin
AYO rehearse for the Young Euro Classic in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Ed Le Brocq

Australian Youth Orchestra’s 21st International Tour began in Sydney with a ten-day rehearsal period. Under the baton of associate conductor Fabian Russell, the orchestra was given time to familiarise themselves with the incredibly challenging orchestral works of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Sculthorpe, and Rimsky-Korsakov. With the bulk of the rehearsal period under their belt, the musicians were thrilled to welcome the arrivals of internationally renowned artists Christoph Eschenbach, Joshua Bell, and William Barton. Such exalted company lifted the orchestra to an impressive standard and under the direction of Maestro Eschenbach AYO played their first sold out concert at the Sydney Opera House on 5 August. Harriet Cunnigham, reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that the Sydney concert saw “Australia’s best musicians under 25, all fired up about their imminent departure, come to the stage with an energy which could power a small city”. Two days later, an eagerly awaited concert in Melbourne’s refurbished Hamer Hall left the orchestra elated and ready to take on Europe.

The very next day, AYO staff shepherded 105 musicians to Melbourne airport, where they boarded a flight to Berlin, Germany. A stopover en route to Berlin proved unfortunate for one third of the Tour party when a flight cancellation caused a seven hour layover in a ‘smelly and humid’ Frankfurt airport. All flight-related obstacles aside, AYO staff and musicians finally gathered in Berlin to enjoy their only ‘free day’ before playing their way through the European leg of the tour, accompanied by eleven days of miraculously perfect summer weather.

Playing to full houses in venues across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and The Netherlands, the AYO received numerous accolades and no fewer than seven standing ovations. Particularly note-worthy were the concerts in Berlin – where the audience continued to clap uproariously into the encore – and Kassel, where an 8pm concert started at 8:45pm with the delayed arrival of Maestro Eschenbach, whose plane had malfunctioned prior to his flight from Salzburg. AYO’s enthusiasm did not waver and ABC Classic FM’s Ed Le Brocq observed that, “in a wonderfully Australian final gesture, as the music swooped in the Tchaikovsky encore, the orchestra as one leapt from their chairs as they played”.