Every year at National Music Camp more than 200 young musicians from around Australia come together to form two symphony orchestras, and one chamber orchestra. The two large orchestras have for decades carried the titles Bishop Orchestra and Alexander Orchestra; named after the two founders of National Music Camp, John Bishop and Ruth Alexander.

The third orchestra is named each year after an individual who has made a significant impact upon music in Australia. What makes 2020 particularly special is that the orchestra was named not after one person alone, but an entire family.

Greyscale image of Curro Chamber Orchestra at AYO National Music Camp 2020.
Credit: Sam Jozeps

The Curro Chamber Orchestra was named in honour of the late John Curro, in celebration of his vast contribution to music in Australia. However, in its name the orchestra recognises not only the work of John, but also the continuation of his legacy through the work of his children. In his introduction to camp, AYO CEO Colin Cornish shared the story behind the orchestra’s name:

“In 2020 we pay tribute to the enormous contribution to Australian musical life of John Curro, who passed away in late 2019, and to the continuing inspirational leadership of violinists Monica and Sarah Curro. For those of you have been members of the Queensland Youth Orchestras you will appreciate the significance of the Curro family, and for others we hope this camp is an opportunity to learn more about their achievements. Together they have inspired many thousands of musicians and music lovers and their impact on Australia’s orchestral and music education sectors has been extraordinary.”

Curro Chamber Orchestra rehearse during AYO National Music Camp 2020.

One of this year’s Words About Music participants, Gabrielle Knight, experienced John Curro’s passion for music education first-hand during her time as an oboist in Queensland Youth Orchestra.

“I spent only a single year as a member of QYS, a relatively short tenure when compared to many of the musicians I shared a stage with, as well as the hundreds, even thousands who came before me. I was just one drop in an ocean, one of the many who have benefitted from the incredible institution that John created. You don’t have to look very far, particularly at National Music Camp, to see the great effect he had on classical music in Australia. Two tutors at camp this year, Shane Hooton (trumpet) and Sally Clarke (viola), are QYO alumni, as are all three orchestra Concertmasters: Julia Hill, Claire Weatherhead and Fiona Qiu. Current and former QYO members can be found throughout the various AYO programs; they have been for years, and will be for many more to come.”

Gabrielle spoke with Monica during camp to ask how she felt about the naming of the orchestra, and the ways in which John’s legacy would continue.

“Oh, honoured,” she said. “Sarah and I have both been thinking, well, now that he’s gone, it’s left a big hole. We can’t fill that particular gap, because we’re not conductors and we don’t live in Brisbane. But we’ve ended up doing lots of things outside our job descriptions because of Dad and his example, his kind of vocational lunacy.

We gladly accept our responsibility, and we’re proud to be his daughters.”

Monica Curro poses with her chamber group at AYO National Music Camp 2020.

Monica attended her first three camps when she was under seven years of age, accompanying her father as he was working; and then seven camps as a participant. Later in her career she was involved in numerous other ways; including several years as a tutor, and one year as the director of the chamber orchestra in 2016. Monica reflected on her personal connection with AYO in her speech at the end of National Music Camp:

“I’ve done so many camps now I’ve actually lost count! Camp is in our DNA – AYO is in our DNA – and I’m just here on behalf of Mum, Sarah, Dan… yes there’s more, Johnny – white sheep of the family, he doesn’t do music, and Dave; to thank the whole institution, and of course Dad, for the tremendous honour of naming the chamber orchestra who played so beautifully in his memory. We are so, so very grateful to all of you.”

John Curro’s dedication to youth music in Australia will never be forgotten, and the Australian Youth Orchestra is incredibly fortunate to work so closely with his family in the continuation of his legacy.