The Australian Youth Orchestra is AYO’s flagship ensemble, bringing together the most advanced young musicians under the age of 25 from across the country. This ensemble performs two seasons a year with world-renowned conductors and embarks on an international tour every three years.
The orchestra’s age range means it is made up of young musicians at various stages of their learning journey: from high school-aged students, university undergraduates, to those embarking on the first few years of their professional career. With that said, these instrumentalists all have something in common: they have been selected as part of a rigorous audition process and are committed to rising to the challenge of being a part of the Australian Youth Orchestra!
While applications are open for AYO’s 2024 programs, we sat down to speak to three participants playing in the orchestra’s upcoming season in Canberra and Sydney. Violinist Lily Song and trumpeter Jade Park are two of the youngest musicians taking part at 15 and 16. On the other end of the spectrum, flautist Jessica Scott, 25, is performing in the orchestra after returning to Australia, having concluded a Masters and Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The AYO’s upcoming concert features an all-Australian program with two orchestral premieres. Ngapa William Cooper is the result of a rich collaboration between Nigel Westlake, Lior and Dr Lou Bennet AM, and is inspired by the life of Yorta Yorta activist William Cooper. Beneath the Waves is a concert suite distilled from Westlake’s score for 2022 motion picture Blueback. The Glass Soldier is a concert suite is another composition by Westlake, inspired by the life of WW1 veteran and artist Nelson Ferguson.
Jess is particularly excited to be a part of Ngapa William Cooper’s orchestral premiere: ‘I remember listening to Nigel Westlake and Lior’s collaboration Compassion several years ago – [it] holds such a strong message that’s all the more relevant to our world today.
‘As an aside, my family and I are big fans of Lior and the band Tiddas [Lou Bennett was a founding member of Tiddas for 10 years]! My cousins who first introduced me to Lior’s music will be in the audience for the first concert, which feels pretty special.’
According to the musicians, AYO programs have a distinctive energy. Lily describes it as a ‘buzz and excitement in the atmosphere. Everyone motivates each other to be the best musician they can be and everyone is willing to give anything their best go. It is amazing to make friends from all over the country and see each other to make beautiful music!’
Jade adds that when she thinks of AYO programs, ‘an eclectic mix of observations’ comes to mind. ‘It is almost like there is something contagious in the air – you hear the friendly chatter amongst friends, floating dreamy melodious phrases in the background, a general welcoming warmth that seems to hug you, and this undercurrent of energy and excitement at what we are about to create.’
The audition process for the Australian Youth Orchestra involves the preparation of a second set of excerpts on top of the regular requirements, which are filmed and submitted. It can be a time-consuming task, especially when young musicians are balancing other study commitments.
Jess, Jade and Lily reflect on how they approach the challenge of video auditions. Lily makes a point of showing the excerpts to her instrumental teacher, and ‘[listening] to the piece the excerpt is from and [playing] along with the orchestral recording’.
Jade’s tip is to remember where the excerpts sit in their original environment. They are ‘an excerpt of something larger, something greater. Understanding that context, the piece, the composer, the mood, and what happens musically before and after the excerpts helps you to understand the way it should be played. Listening to the entire piece throughout your preparation is very beneficial and of course is always fun too!’
‘Taking your excerpts to a professional with years of musical experience (such as your teacher!) is a great way to get some tailored feedback and advice on how to practice the excerpts.’ Jess notes. ‘Just make sure you’ve listened to a few recordings, learned the dots, and know your historical/contextual background on the repertoire in advance of the lesson. I’ve found in my own lessons on excerpts that maximum preparation= maximum learning!’
The orchestra gets the opportunity to perform in some of the most beautiful concert halls in the country. ‘Performing in venues such as Perth Concert Hall and Sydney Opera House add another layer to the experience. It adds a moment of awe, [and makes you think of the] gravity and significance of music within society. It feels like a privilege to be a part of that!’ Jade reflects.
Working with other musicians towards an end goal is another aspect of the experience which stood out to Jade when she performed in the orchestra’s season in Perth last April. ‘We started as three individual trumpet players, but towards the end, I could hear that we were playing as one unit, with each phrase being played in the same style to the extent that the sounds of three trumpets merged into one melodious voice contributing to the harmonious sound of the orchestra.’
The Australian Youth Orchestra brings together musicians at different phases of their musical training: some are studying music as part of their broader education in high school, while others are at tertiary institutions or freshly graduated. We asked Jess if she had any insights or advice for the younger members of the orchestra, as someone who has completed postgraduate studies overseas and is embarking on her musical career.
‘A musical career path is different for everyone- so there’s no universal method on how to pace things, how to land your dream job/s, or how many things you can specialise in!
‘The beginning of my career has been less like a series of logical steps and more like a tree. I like to commit to an overall plan, but also like variety in my career. So I keep open and interested in any new musical experiences that I enjoy, and am constantly incorporating these new ‘shoots’ into my career tree! My main piece of advice would thus be to keep open to new directions, and pay attention to the experiences that stand out to you.’
Applications for the Australian Youth Orchestra and the full suite of AYO’s 2024 programs are now open. Find out more here