AYO Blog

Australian Youth Orchestra July Season 2014: Blog 1
By Michael Last

The Australian Youth Orchestra rehearse ahead of the July 2014 season in Brisbane.

G’day from sunny Brisbane! We’ve just kicked off the second AYO season for the year. 88 of the best young musicians from around the country have joined forces to make music under the banner of the ‘Australian Youth Orchestra.’ In this, my first (and last) year playing with the AYO (fortunately I just scraped into the ‘youth’ category) I’m so thrilled to be performing Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony. It’s a special piece for me for a number of reasons.

Going back 10 years ago, this piece was the first symphony I ever listened to as a whole work. Being a bit of what you might call a musical anomaly in my family, I didn’t listen to any classical music growing up. But in high school, my flute teacher gave me a CD that had Tchaik 6 on it. I must have listened to that recording at least 20 times. My 15-year-old self was captivated by this new sound world of the symphony orchestra. In this music was richness and complexity that I didn’t find in a three-minute pop song by Good Charlotte or whatever is was that I used to listen to back in 2004. Being eager to explore more, I resorted to raiding the CD collection at my local library, discovering Shosta 5 and Beethoven 3 for the first time. Listening to this music was something more than mild entertainment – it was music that really touched me and allowed me to feel something.

The title of Tchaikovsky’s 6th is Pathetique (and no, it doesn’t mean ‘pathetic’). It derives from the word pathos, meaning emotion or feeling. When I heard this symphony, I felt anxiousness, sorrow, love, joy, peace, yearning, despair – no lyrics were needed. Tchaikovsky wrote of this symphony in a letter to his nephew, to whom he dedicated the work: I definitely consider it the best, and, especially, the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any one of my other musical offspring’. Tchaikovsky really poured out something of himself when he put pen to paper and immortalised what was in his head and heart, and boy, could this guy write a melody!! I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so gut-wrenching as the fourth movement of the Pathetique.

By a happy coincidence this symphony was also the first symphony I ever performed as second flute with the Sydney Youth Orchestra back in 2008. And now, in 2014, I have the chance to play it again with a whole lot more orchestral experience and life experience under my belt.

Performing this work with this particular orchestra is also pretty special – not only because the esteemed Simone Young will be at the helm, but because I’m able to bring this work to life with my friends, some whom I’ve known for years. And the intensive nature of an AYO program means we’re able to forge new friendships too.

When the musicians of the AYO come together, there’s an energy we generate that we each feed upon. I know when I hear that murmur in the double basses and Matty’s brooding bassoon solo in the first few bars of the Tchaik, the hair on the back of my neck will be standing up. When I hear Amy’s gorgeous soft clarinet solos, I’ll be inspired to push myself to play that next pianissimo with more delicacy and suppleness. And when Ennes shapes that delicious oboe phrase in the second movement with a sweeping gesture I’ll be dancing along next to him.

Bringing this work to life is a dynamic process. It’s a composition that exists in time, but when we perform it, it is reborn, and we as musicians pour out something of ourselves. We bring our own situations and circumstances, our pain and our joy. And we aim to put this emotion directly into our instruments and communicate with our audience. All those hours of practice, that dedication and drive – it’s all for this moment when the notes on the page are transformed into sound.

10 years ago, the passion for classical music was set alight in me. And I think in our world of smart phones, twitter and instant information, we could all do with letting ourselves be consumed by a symphony. I hope that if you’re tuning into our live webcast on Friday night you’ll hear Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Sibelius as if it was for the first time. We’re all looking forward to sharing this performance with you!