AYO Blog

AYO International Tour 2016
By Sariah Xu

The viola section of the Australian Youth Orchestra International Tour 2016, with their tutor Toby Lea

This past week we took up residency at Akoesticum in the Netherlands for intensive rehearsals under the tutelage of some of the world’s best professional musicians. Many of these musicians themselves started their musical journey with AYO, so it’s a unique privilege to now be able to learn from them.

One such AYO alumnus is Toby Lea, now Principal Viola of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO). Together with his twin brother Ben, who plays violin, they make up the only two Australians in the VPO. Both have spent the past week guiding and shaping their respective AYO sections.

Sariah Xu, our Principal Viola, has blogged about her wonderful week inspired by viola-master Toby…

AYO violist Sariah Xu takes part in a masterclass with Toby Lea

The AYO tour violas were incredibly fortunate to have had Toby Lea as tutor this week. Toby imparted so much knowledge, wisdom and experience to us that at the end of each day, my mind and heart were filled with new and wonderful ideas, colours, and shapes inspired by his tutelage and playing.

When I read Toby was our tutor before tour started, I was so excited and eager about the prospect of working with him again. I had met Toby previously, five years ago during the Mount Buller Chamber Music Camp down in Victoria. Back then I thought he was incredible, and no surprises that I still do now. It was a privilege to observe him play – sound wise, his conceptual intent was always crystal clear –embedded in his sound, enabled by amazing technique. I learnt so much and he taught us so much. 

AYO violist Sariah Xu takes part in a masterclass with Toby Lea

Having Toby guide us in interpreting our part infinitely enriched my experience when it came to playing in tutti rehearsals with associate conductor Fabian Russell. The days rehearsing were intense and long, but incredibly exciting and inspiring once all the tutors had worked with each section and each of us became more unified with each other conceptually. In tutorials Toby helped us violas understand how our part fitted in to the orchestral context and really instilled courage in us to stick to the dynamic markings which Mahler wrote even when the other sections in the orchestra have different dynamics. He also read and translated the German in our parts for us, and demonstrated across the essence of the gestures implied by the music notation.

Apart from tutorials, we got to see Toby throughout the day, during mealtimes and before and after rehearsals which allowed us to pick his brain and ask for help in our personal endeavours as young musicians. He was very generous with his time and expertise, and I can safely say that every one of us twelve violists loved his company this week and are so grateful to have had him as tutor.