AYO: 1996

Artistic collaborations can start in the most unexpected places – even a bank queue! 15 years ago, a conversation with a bank teller in Coogee led AYO alumnus Sally Walker to a fortuitous friendship with celebrated composer Elena Kats-Chernin. Elena happened to be the bank teller’s mum. The latest chapter in their relationship is the premiere with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra of Night and Now, a flute concerto Elena has written specifically for Sally, which took place in Melbourne in 2015.

During this period Sally has performed in twenty countries with numerous chamber musicians and international orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, won several awards and had numerous composers dedicate works to her, including Knut Müller (Germany) and Andrew Ford.


Question: Tell us how this wonderful collaboration with Elena came about.

Answer Coincidentally, I visited bank branches in Bondi and Coogee over two days, and in each branch I was served by the same teller. When the bank teller discovered I was a musician he told me his mum was a composer. I was familiar with Elena’s captivating, imaginative musical language and was keen to know if she’d written any music for flute. I left a note with her son; we met up and have been friends ever since. Elena’s work is often fast and dazzling but she describes this composition as ‘dark and brooding, then becoming brighter and brighter’. Playing the concerto is exhilarating.

Question: Who’s inspired you during your career journey?

Answer So many people. At AYO everyone was ready to take flight and I learnt so much by simply observing my peers – how they practised, prepared for auditions, their individual rituals for dealing with nerves, etc. An amazing teacher in Germany, Professor Andrea Lieberknect, put me through a 6-month ‘Technique Bootcamp’ which took my playing to a whole new level. I’ve been privileged to work with world-leading musicians, conductors and composers. I’ll always remember Simon Rattle’s advice when I played with the Berlin Philharmonic: ‘When you rush, rush slowly.’

Question: Tips for young musicians developing a career?

Answer These days musicians need to be multi-faceted and often have to create their own opportunities. It’s invaluable to develop skills such as how to write grants, program, apply for sponsorship, etc.