Reflecting on this extraordinary 75th birthday year, I am reminded of my first official moment with AYO, sitting in the Elder Hall at the final concert of the National Music Camp in January. Sitting amongst our diverse and talented family, I witnessed the energy and power of AYO’s music to unite and to inspire. The jubilant ovations for Maestro James Judd, Umberto Clerici and Elizabeth Layton were only exceeded by the cheers and applause for Maestro Colin Cornish: an emotional milestone as we bid farewell to our CEO of 17 years. Thank you, Colin, for your years of dedication and excellence.

Picture of AYO CEO Kimbali Harding, smiling while standing outdoors on a sunny day.

‘Music Sounds Better With You’ was the statement on t shirts worn proudly by over 230 National Music Campers. This concept carried through 2023 as our program was met with warm audiences, we reconnected with alumni and donors, and we continued to welcome the best young talent through our doors.

One of the standout moments of our incredible 75th year was the Flagship Winter Season concert, conducted by the iconic Nigel Westlake. The program was a celebration of diversity, weaving together stories that connect us. Arkie Moore performed ‘I am blind but now I see’, a trumpet solo depicting the heroic tale of Australian Nelson Ferguson. Later behind the scenes, Ferguson’s grandson, Don Farrands, touched our hearts by gifting a piece of the family’s stained glass in gratitude to our Principal trumpeter. Amidst the haunting songline of Dr. Bennett, ‘Ooooh nyuwanda dama yenbena-ruk danu, danu – We cry, cry for you Ancestor,’ we felt the power of music to transcend boundaries and unite in our shared humanity.

These moments have brought me immense joy in 2023. As I’ve delved into the rich history of AYO’s alumni, I’ve enjoyed learning of the legion of talented individuals found across the globe. I am excited to share that the complete list of Australian Youth Orchestra and National Music Camp alumni from 1948-2023 is now available on our website. Collecting and celebrating AYO’s living history as a rich tapestry of lived musical moments needs the help of our AYO family And I invite our community to reach out, share a yarn, help us understand the diversity of our identity and be a part of this collective narrative. Right now through our Christmas appeal we are inviting you to share your story of how AYO began for you. And, if you can, please consider giving back a dollar for each year.  

As we look ahead to the future, I am thrilled to unveil our strategic plan for 2024-2029, placing the young person and their voice at the heart of AYO. AYO aims to empower young artists and amplify their unique perspectives through their art. Our 2024 program is a testament to this commitment, drawing inspiration from the incredible diversity of our young talents, including four world premieres by esteemed composers Nicholas Vines, Molly Collier O’Boyle, Alice Chance, and Iain Grandage. Collaborating with these visionary composers, along with the exceptional leadership of French maestro Alexandre Bloch and Mahler luminary Nicholas Carter, will undoubtedly elevate our orchestra to new heights of excellence. You won’t want to miss a moment.

All of this is in preparation for our triumphant return to the global stage in 2025 with a European Tour! But before we embark on this exciting adventure, let’s begin the New Year with our return to the Elder Conservatorium in January. I invite each of you to join us at National Music Camp to experience firsthand the joy, energy and brilliance of the AYO.