2019 marks 40 years since AYO’s 1979 tour, when it became the first Australian orchestra ever to visit China.

A black and white photo of the musicians of the Australian Youth Orchestra in China during in the 1979 tour.

On the ’79 tour the orchestra visited Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Beijing, Nanking, and Shanghai, with a special highlight performing alongside the Shanghai Symphony and the Central Philharmonic Orchestra, Beijing.

The orchestra performed under the baton of celebrated conductor, John Hopkins, and alongside renowned solo pianist, Victor Sangiorgio.

The 2019 AYO International Tour returned to China, with the orchestra performing in Beijing and Guangzhou this time.

Violist from the 1979 tour, Helen Tuckey, reminisces on performing in China for the first time.

“Some audience members were weeping, as there hadn’t been any classical music performed in China for so long. They particularly loved the little bird calls in the slow movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony, you could almost feel them sighing or smiling.

This first concert was broadcast on national TV. At the time, there was only one TV channel, so we were known everywhere by everyone, and people would point at us as we got off the bus. We felt a bit like rock stars!”

AYO Shanghai, 1979

Black and white photo of a joint workshop with Australian Youth Orchestra and Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, 1979.

“This was of a joint concert put on with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra where we sat next to young Chinese players in mixed desks. We were conducted by John Hopkins and the Chinese conductor.”

A reunion event was held in Sydney upon the 2019 orchestra’s return to Australia, presenting the perfect opportunity to reflect on both tours while celebrating the 40-year anniversary.

The reunion event was a special night for all who attended, the musicians and alumni were able to share their experiences and hear speeches from musicians from both international tours, Brett Kelly and Annabelle Traves.

A side by side comparison of the young musicians of the Australian Youth Orchestra in China, in 1979 and 2019.

After hearing Brett Kelly deliver a heart-warming speech about his time on the tour 40 years previously, violinist Annabelle Traves from the 2019 tour spoke of her experiences with the same gratitude and excitement as Brett.

“This tour was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and probably one of the most formative months of my musical career.

From week one, we were mentored by tutors from some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, who would go out of their way to make time for us individually, and also give advice regarding career paths in general as a musician.

Being concertmaster of the AYO tour was honestly one of the greatest privileges I have ever had.

As the next generation of Australia’s classical musicians, being able to be part of something like the AYO international tour really breathed fire and energy into our playing, reminding us why we love what we do and making us eager to excel.”

The reunion event was a reminder that, even 40 years down the track, musicians were still feeling the positive effects of being a part of the 1979 tour; and that such an experience can have the same impact on young musicians all these years later.

In this short clip of the 1979 orchestra’s performance in China, there is an overlay track from their last piece, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1 from a concert recording at the Hong Kong Baptist College. The clips have been taken from various points of their entire performance with photography supplied from the musicians of the 1979 tour.