AYO Blog

AYO National Music Camp 2017
By Liam Whitbourn

Sepia-toned photograph of composer Edward Elgar in front of his piano.

Week 2, Orchestral Concert: Saturday 21 January, 4pm

ELGAR Serenade for Strings
STEVENSON Captain Brown Suite

Porter Chamber Orchestra – Belinda McFarlane, Director

‘Elgar’s work is so emotional,’ says cello tutor Sharon Draper. ‘It’s very satisfying for string players because there are lots of wonderful, juicy tunes for all of the instruments in the chamber orchestra to play. At the same time, there’s that “English reserve” – it’s incredibly elegant. It then bursts out into a torrent of emotion before coming back to the pastoral side of things again. I think it’s a little gem of a piece.

‘It’s a perfect piece to work on the concepts of sound, leading each other in, articulation and finesse. You need to play it with utter class to pull it off.’

Elgar completed the Serenade for Strings in March 1892 and it was premiered in a private setting later that year. It remains one of the composers most-performed works.

‘It’s very beautiful, one of the great pieces of English string writing. The slow movement foreshadows what Elgar would come to write later in life,’ comments violin tutor Lachlan Bramble.

‘I think it’s very important that students have the opportunity to work in a small ensemble. It’s the ideal training ground, with essential skills for many types of playing.’

Sharon agrees that the Porter Chamber Orchestra is an invaluable experience for students in small ensemble playing, particularly under the direction of Belinda McFarlane.

‘I always love the concept of a chamber orchestra at National Music Camp being lead by an incredible guest artist. Belinda has a real energy to her playing and immense drive. She’s the sort of person to take them out of their comfort zone and really go for it.’

‘I think Belinda brings a very creative and involving spirit to how she directs the ensemble,’ adds Lachlan. ‘Although she’s the director she empowers the participants to take responsibility for the artistic quality.

‘One of the great things about guest conductors coming from overseas is that they bring some of the music they are experiencing. Stevenson is an Aussie living in London – having Belinda bring his music back to Australia is great.

‘If you play something like the Elgar, it can be a burden as well as a blessing to have a legacy of recordings. It’s sometimes very liberating to play a piece that you don’t know; you don’t have that pressure of tradition on you.’

Rohan Stevenson’s Captain Brown Suite is comprised of movements that were individually written for the Spitfire Audio string libraries. The music explores hypothetical scenarios in which the real-life Captain Brown might have found himself.

Described as the Scotsman whose adventures made James Bond’s fictional life seem dull, Captain Eric Melrose Brown held the world record for flying the greatest number of different aircraft – 487. However, the true number may have been quite higher, with the WWII Spitfire only listed once, although Brown had piloted fourteen variants. He landed on aircraft carrier decks more times than any pilot in history and was renowned for his hardiness and bravery. He lived through eleven plane crashes and in 1941 was one of only two men to survive the sinking of HMS Audacity.

Stevenson is best-known for his theatrical music for the BBC Drama series Merlin.

‘The piece echoes the composer’s dramatic style of film and television score-writing; great piece full of really funky rhythms and grooves – it’s fun!’

Liam Whitbourn was a participant of the Words About Music program at AYO National Music Camp 2017