Late last month, Western Sydney Philharmonic was launched at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. The orchestra, affectionately known as West Phil, is the brainchild of AYO alumni and best friends Kristian Winther and Maximilian Holzner. Having grown as musicians together and participating in various AYO programs, the two of them sought to introduce an organisation with a focus on developing and fostering a pipeline for musical training and professional development in the Western Sydney region. We caught up with them to find out more about their journey!

Where did the two of you first meet?  

M: We both knew each other by virtue of having the same violin teacher in Canberra, Josette Esquedin-Morgan. I probably flatter myself by saying I was Kristian’s foil in her studio – the Watson to his more brilliant Holmes. Kristian certainly had little difficulty beating me in competitions as a child! However, our friendship was forged through AYO programs. There’s no doubt about that. Rehearsing, performing, and living together during National Music Camps and on AYO tours. This is one of the most important legacies of AYO as it relates to the wider profession too, and something I’ll return to.

Do you remember your first AYO program? How important were those experiences to your musical development?  

M: My first AYO program was either 1996 or 1997 National Music Camp at Geelong Grammar, Corio Bay (you’ve probably got the record somewhere). The impact on me, at that crucial and formative teenage time of life, was huge. If not for my love of music, then my resolve to pursue it as a career . This is the greatest legacy for me. I felt part of a family with music for the first time. I had a sense of belonging. Thank goodness it was with the best the country had to offer. What an incredible program. And even my dorm host. In fact, Kristian and I had the great pleasure of inviting Len Amadio AO to our launch. It was a pleasure to chat with him again after all these years. I certainly could never have guessed at his incredible background and huge legacy in the arts at that time. Pearl before swine. It serves to illustrate the enormous reserve of goodwill that AYO has earned and can draw upon for the benefit, ultimately, of its participants and the profession at large. This is something to aspire to for any arts organisation, especially a fledgling one like West Phil. 

I believe fostering this sense of belonging and connection is the Holy Grail for Kristian and me with regard to West Phil and its mission. So much of the capacity for learning, the effectiveness of any educational program, is attributable to this.

K: My first AYO program was in Perth playing Bruckner’s 9th symphony. It was a transformative experience, and my subsequent AYO experiences and the broad range of repertoire they covered, along with the excellent conductors and soloists, were one of the most important and crucial parts of my musical education.

Together, you have recently launched your own orchestra in Western Sydney. What made you want to launch such an ambitious project?  

K: I’ll let Max answer that one!

M: While we definitely sought to address the paucity of top-notch performance training opportunities in Western Sydney, we’ve got a keen eye on the pathway or pipeline. In Australia, at the very least, sport has had it all over music and provides an important model or playbook. So much accumulated, tested, and successful experience of transplanting and nurturing various codes in different places across the country. We are blessed to have not only board members (most notably, Bonita Mersiades, who was at one point even the general manager for the Socceroos), but a growing list of supporters and Friends of West Phil with backgrounds in sport governance and administration at absolutely the highest levels upon which to draw. West Phil is fortunate to be able to situate its work and planning within the sort of strategic context that is required, and we are excited to move ahead next year simultaneously with other aspects of this pipeline with the aim of fostering and sustaining a musical profession and pathway in the region. 

What are you hoping to offer young musicians in Western Sydney?

M: In the broader sense, something to aspire to and to which they can lay claim. A place to belong and in which to grow and learn. In concrete terms, though – programs, workshop details etc. – Kristian, as Artistic Director, can speak directly to this.

K: The same sort of experiences I had as a young player in AYO, and which I saw during my time working with Melbourne Youth Orchestra in various roles. To create exciting musical experiences and opportunities for young musicians to discover the vast breadth of orchestral repertoire.

You officially launched in February, how does it feel to have West Phil be a reality, not just a far-off idea?

M: Surreal. It’s slowly sinking in. Everyday is an adventure with more great news and opportunity — evidence of support galvanising in the region. We’re continually buoyed by this. And it’s wonderful to be able to share this not just with such a dear childhood friend and colleague as Kristian, but with my fellow board members and now our wonderful Patron, Kim Williams AM. Working alongside them these last few years has been an exciting albeit humbling experience. They pack a huge amount of experience and punch. It’s pretty awesome to watch them in swinging action.

K: Sometimes it still seems like the projects are far off! It’s an incredible amount of work, and very daunting, but it’s so exciting. 

The two of you are musicians first and foremost, how does it feel moving from playing music to now overseeing the curation of repertoire for others? 

M: It feels like a privilege! There hasn’t been a single day, either at the launch or since, where I have taken this opportunity for granted — every day is an adventure. Working alongside my fellow board members. It’s a great team. I am so grateful. It feels right too. Like a natural part of the cycle of a musician’s life perhaps. Although being approached by AYO like this certainly has its effect, I already had a lot of cause over the years of planning for West Phil to reflect upon my early experiences and my time with AYO. It’s normal, I think. Feels good.

K: While we will be doing our various administrative duties, the best part is we will still be playing too. Our tutors for each instrument also rehearse and perform in the section, and I’ll be conducting our first orchestra program.

As an alumnus of National Music Camp, do you have any pieces of advice for a musician who might be heading along for their first time?

M: I think, as a string player, particularly – one of many – my advice is: you’ve got to start somewhere. Go easy on yourself. Desking really doesn’t matter in the long-term scheme because this will be the first of many camps. In time, you’ll get to know conductors and tutors better. It’s like joining a family that’s been together for a while. Just try and focus on enjoying the moment and the process. Everything else will work out. Oh, and listen and be polite to your dorm hosts. Take the time to know their story too – you never know when you’ll see them again in the future!