AYO alumnus Alex King reflects on some of his memories with AYO and how those experiences have impacted on his life.
What are some of the memories you have of your time with AYO?
AK – I was a member of AYO for only a short while – but what an experience! The main event during my time in the orchestra was the 1988 European tour. I will never forget it, at least those parts which I still remember… (Amsterdam was a revelation). The 1988 AYO was a remarkable orchestra. It crackled with excitement, talent, and joie de vivre. It was a fascinating time in history: we played in East Berlin, at the Schauspielhaus, just before the Wall came down. As a result of that tour, I made some great friends, performed in some of the great concert halls of the world, and played some of the great repertoire, opportunities for which I will forever be grateful.
Tell us about your family and interests.
AK – My wife, Maya, and I are lawyers. However, we met in intervarsity choirs (mere fronts for sex, drugs and Late Romantic oratorios). My parents are not musicians, or even musical, but are great lovers of music, and encouraged and promoted my love of music, and that of my siblings. In addition, and to my benefit (though I did not realise it at the time), my mother was a quality slave driver when it came to instrumental practice. Had she not been, I would never have made AYO. Thanks, Mum!
Our daughters, Aurelia (13) and Zephyrine – or Zephyr (11), both play music: Aurelia the violin, and Zephyr the cello and French horn. Each is more musical than me. I hope they continue to play, as I know what wonderful opportunities lie ahead for them if they do. Outside of work and school we, as a family, enjoy out-doorsy stuff: horse riding, bike riding, running/walking Archie (our Kelpie), skiing, diving, etc. We have a cat called Pinot Noir. We also listen to a lot of music at home: I tend to stick to the dead composers, Maya and the girls to the living (and popular) ones.
What encouraged you to begin playing the viola and triggered your interest in music?
AK – I’m told that when I was seven years old I was transfixed by Strauss’ waltzes and demanded to play the violin. I switched to the viola when, in high school, to which I’d won a music scholarship, it was suggested to me that it might be a good idea. The teachers said it was because the school chamber orchestra had a need in that regard. I think they were being kind. There were some very fine violinists in my year, who weren’t budging from the firsts, so – ever the pragmatist – I took up the viola. It bore fruit: I would not have made AYO as a violinist, and I still smile at the memory of being the only male in a section of 14 violas on the ‘88 tour. I was also a singer from a young age. I was a boy treble with the Australian Opera in the early ‘80s and was fortunate enough to be a raggazo next to Pavarotti’s Rodolfo in a 1982 AO production of La Boheme. My dad, a Wagner tragic, would have loved me to become Australia’s first true heldentenor. Based on my fairly ordinary bass-baritone voice, it was a classic parental aspiration – a lovely idea but entirely fanciful.
How did you end up a lawyer and not a violist?
AK – I said I am a pragmatist. That’s why I am a lawyer, not a violist or singer. I realised in my late teens – in part because of the skills of the remarkable players in AYO – that I lacked the talent to be the sort of professional musician (Star! Name in lights!) that I wanted to be, and was not happy to aspire to something less than that. Youthful, idealistic, unrealistic – yes; but it drove me to something easier – the law.
I landed on my feet. I’m a partner at a Arnold Bloch Leibler, one of the Australia’s preeminent commercial law firms, practising in disputes and litigation. I love it. It’s a wonderful job, most of the time. Also, we’re very fortunate, because our jobs afford Maya and me the opportunity to support the arts, and AYO in particular.
What are your thoughts about Eschenbach returning to conduct the AYO 25 years on?
AK – I was very excited to hear that Christoph Eschenbach had agreed to conduct the AYO again, on a European tour, 25 years after his first.
Maestro Eschenbach was faaaaabulous. We loved him. He quickly warmed to us, too. I remember the “shock and awe” on his face as he walked into his first rehearsal moments after the orchestra had ripped into the opening bars of the overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, one of our party pieces, to show him what we could do. The AYO musicians who will tour with Eschenbach, and Joshua Bell, next year are in for a real treat. I envy them.
How do you use the AYO and the AYO National Music Camp experience in your working life?
AK – The lessons I learnt and experiences I had at AYO National Music Camp and in AYO still resonate for me. By playing music at camp and in AYO I learnt that persistence, focus, ambition, a little luck, a sense of fun, cooperation, working towards a goal, and a monster party after the main gig, kept me smiling and enjoying all that the orchestras in which I played had to offer.
I’m now more than twice the age I was during the ’88 tour, a sobering thought. Yet, whenever I hear certain passages of music – at home, in the car, at the Melbourne Recital Centre, wherever – which we played in AYO on the ’88 tour, I get an immediate visceral reaction and am transported back to the 8th chair (maybe it was the 10th chair) in the violas, as though it was this morning. That’s priceless.
Go, AYO! Long may it play and prosper!
Christoph Eschenbach is again directing the Australian Youth Orchestra in 2013.