One of the unique and exciting prospects of an online program this year was having the opportunity to connect with AYO alumni overseas. Musicians of the AYO Orchestral Career Development program were each paired with a mentor to chat about orchestral life outside Australia, learn about the overseas audition process and workshop an audition concerto.

These musical pairings were invaluable for the AYO musicians, who were mentored by alumni who stood in their shoes over a decade earlier and went on to pursue their dreams in a professional orchestra abroad.

We chatted to two of these pairs about their experiences and the importance of connecting with fellow musicians during this time.

Four images in a collage, of AYO alumni Linda Stuckey and Ciro Vigilante, and 2020 AYO participants Laura Cliff and Sebastian Pini.
Top row, left to right: AYO alumnus and double bassist Ciro Vigilante, AYO flautist Laura Cliff pictured with a chamber ensemble. Bottom row, left to right: AYO double bassist Sebastian Pini, AYO alumnus and flautist Linda Stuckey.

What was it like being mentored by an overseas alumnus like Linda?

LAURA: I found the connection with Linda inspiring, experiencing first hand where the future of music could potentially take me and the life experiences I could gain from an orchestral career.

It was really motivating to see her journey from starting out in AYO, to seeing what path she had taken since. We discussed subjects related to the pandemic including how it has affected her and other musicians in orchestras and other areas of the music industry. Having this conversation with her throughout our time together was a real eye-opener for me. It gave me a fresh insight into how professional musicians such as Linda and various orchestras have adapted to the ever-changing circumstances.

Our Zoom lesson gave me new perspectives and ideas on the pieces I was learning. I really appreciated the opportunity to get advice from a professional piccolo player like Linda who is so generous in giving her time to encourage young, aspiring musicians.

What was it like coming back as AYO alumnus to mentor Laura, part of the next generation of musicians?

LINDA: It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Laura and to feel as if I could contribute and somehow play a role in helping her as an upcoming young Australian musician. I remember and appreciate the wonderful opportunities that I was given during my years involved in different AYO projects, particularly the impact and role that incredible teachers and tutors had on my musical development. Of course, connecting with Laura brings back many memories of when I was at that stage in my musical career so part of me feels quite sentimental and proud to be a part of this process for her now.

It is so rewarding to see and know how the success of AYO has continued and grown over the years to help so many young Australian musicians throughout the generations. It is an honour now to feel as if I can still play a role in such an amazing and iconic organisation. 

What are both of your highlights from participating in AYO programs? 

LAURA: I have found participating in AYO programs over the last few years to be exciting and very rewarding. Each program has provided wonderful opportunities to develop my musical skills in a supportive and unique learning environment filled with other passionate and energetic young musicians who love music as much as I do. My participation has uniquely allowed me to meet and form friendships with musicians from across Australia, which already have been a valuable support network for my future career.

Being mentored by professional musicians and having exposure to a wide variety of repertoire and world-class conductors has given me valuable experiences which have shaped my development as a musician.

LINDA: The AYO highlight for me was the 1994 European tour and in particular the time we spent in Amsterdam for our rehearsal period. We were billeted with amazing Dutch families and performed at the beautiful Concertgebouw. For many of us, this was our first taste of the European summer and was such an amazing start to this incredible tour.

The friendships, memories and experience gained from that tour have been a part of our lives ever since then and it’s always so great to reconnect with these friends and colleagues when the chances come up!

What would you like to do as a career? 

LAURA: My dream career would be to play either flute or piccolo in a professional orchestra. Working with a team of fellow musicians to draw the audience into feeling a deeper connection with music is something that I have really loved doing and have found very rewarding throughout my musical studies.

The experiences I have gained from participating in AYO programs, and talking to the tutors about their careers as orchestral musicians has inspired me and allowed me to better understand what I ultimately would love to do with my music.

What led you to your current position overseas? 

LINDA: After graduating from the Canberra School of Music, I travelled to Manchester for post-graduate study at the Royal Northern College of Music. Whilst studying there, I saw the audition advertised for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Since my studies were coming to an end and I was due to be heading home to Australia to start mapping out a career, I decided to take the audition for the experience and to see what might happen.

I almost didn’t make it to the audition because I couldn’t afford the morning time peak hour train fare needed to travel from Manchester to London. I turned up at the station to realise that during this peak travel time, student discounts weren’t available so I called the Hong Kong Philharmonic audition staff and explained my predicament and luckily, they rescheduled my audition with an afternoon time slot so that I could travel to London on the special student fare ticket after the peak hour ended! 

I was very fortunate to win the audition and started work a few months later. I do realise how very lucky I was to have a wonderful job to jump into. 

How has connecting with fellow musicians helped you throughout 2020?

LAURA: This year with COVID-19 we have all been left isolated from the music community at some point during lockdown, and it has been extremely important to reach out to one another and find new inventive ways to stay in touch and still play music together from a distance. This was particularly challenging for me, being from Sydney but studying at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Myself and many other musicians I studied with made quick escapes back home, leaving us without regular face-to-face contact with fellow musicians. This time was particularly disheartening, but the most important thing for all of us was to still keep in contact with one another.

We learnt to adapt in a variety of ways, including the Con’s flute players creating a Facebook page dedicated to progress videos, making up technical and musical challenges for each other and collaborating in duets and groups. Having a support group of musicians was very helpful in providing me with constant motivation, challenges to focus on, and goals to aspire to. During this period I participated in AYO Winter Season Online, taking part in virtual workshops with Alison Mitchell and Andrew Macleod.

What advice you would give to someone aspiring to be part of an orchestra abroad?

LINDA: Take every opportunity that comes your way and open yourself up to all experiences.

Even bad experiences and disappointments can help you learn valuable lessons of resilience and help you with future preparation or decisions. Try to be open minded about opportunities that come your way even if they don’t seem like your ultimate ‘dream job’ or what you had your heart set on, you can really make things a reality if you give it a chance. 

What have been the benefits of connecting with young musicians this year?

LINDA: For young musicians, this year may have brought tremendous difficulties with restrictions, shutdowns, cancellations and the disappointment of missed opportunities.

On the other hand, some musicians may have had the chance to flourish and develop their craft whilst in isolation with the gift of practice time. New avenues and ways of reconnecting needed to be created to make up for these lost experiences and I feel it is so important to reach out to young musicians at this time. Zoom has been a great tool that has kept connections open and made many international opportunities for lessons and master classes an option. Of course with our profession, the online experience will never be the perfect substitute for in-person live experiences but at least it provides an outlet and window for continuing and forming connections. 

No one could have predicted what the world would go through in 2020 and even though so many doors had to be closed this year, so many other ‘out of the box’ options have opened up. The classical music world has learnt to adapt and find new ways to connect and perform this year and as a result of that, there has been such a wealth of creativity worldwide.

What was it like being mentored by an overseas alumnus like Ciro?  

SEBASTIAN: Being mentored by an overseas mentor is fantastic. Having such an extremely valuable input on the musical scene where they are, and in Ciro’s case having input on much of the musical world all over Europe, is really priceless.

I am currently overseas myself, and, with this in mind, find it particularly encouraging to talk to and receive such mentorship from people such as Ciro, as well as the opportunity to talk to Tim Dunin earlier in the year through AYO. They were really wonderful experiences!

What was it like coming back as an AYO alumnus to mentor Sebastian, part of the next generation of musicians?

CIRO: I was very honoured to do this, even if it was almost frightening at times because these guys are so good! This was an extension of the eye opener I got when I tutored the AYO section in Sydney back in 2015. The standard is really high and that’s so nice to see. I felt privileged to work with these younger colleagues!

What are both of your highlights from participating in AYO programs?

SEBASTIANI would have to choose my first ever AYO program, not to say they have been going downhill, if anything the experiences have only become better, more helpful as a player, and more enjoyable. But the first one was the first time I played with an orchestra in which you could tell everyone was so passionate about music. Connecting with people who share the same passion as me really gave me a better insight into a musical career and what it might look like to play in a more stable orchestral setting.

CIROBeing part of the Adelaide Festival 1986 and playing Mahler’s Symphony No.6 in collaboration with the ACO (I know these are two highlights, but they were both unforgettable)!

What would be your dream career?

SEBASTIANHonestly, anywhere that allows me to enjoy the music that I play, and the company of the people I play it with.

What led you to your current position overseas?

CIROI was living in Vienna at the time and freelancing around Europe when the audition came up.

How has connecting with fellow musicians helped you throughout 2020?

SEBASTIANConnection has always been important in music, if we are not connected in an orchestral setting, we cannot make music. On another level, music has the ability to connect peoples, cultures, and time periods.

In my opinion, everything we do as musicians is about connecting with other people to some extent, and that’s especially important in this trying time, where jobs have been cut back, funding depleted, and opportunities have fallen through. It is important to be there for the other musicians that are going through equally as rough a time.

What of advice you would give to someone aspiring to be part of an orchestra abroad?

CIROHead down, study and practise well!

How would you describe your experience mentoring a young AYO musician?

CIROIt was really refreshing. On a personal note, it takes me back to when and why I studied music. I don’t always think about this when I’m teaching as my focus is elsewhere, and during these lessons and interviews it was good to be reminded.

It’s nice to see how good they are and how the standard has shifted for the better.