AYO Blog

AYO National Music Camp 2017
By Elsabeth Parkinson

A black and white photo of composer Béla Bartók

Week 2, Orchestral Concert: Saturday 21 January, 7.30pm
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Bishop Orchestra – Elim Chan, conductor

As a veteran violinist who has performed with many Australian and international orchestras, Monica Curro brings a wealth of expertise to share with the students under her guidance at National Music Camp. In fact, she went through the Australian Youth Orchestra’s programs herself at one stage, and these days she tutors for them regularly. Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, she says, is a very special piece for her.

‘When I was fourteen,’ she recalls, ‘I got completely obsessed with the piece, and I listened to it on vinyl with the score, every single day, for about a year. The reason it’s so attractive, when you get the hang of it, is that it’s superbly constructed. The architecture of it is flawless – there are structural arch forms in it that are perfect mirror images of themselves. And Bartók’s got his own tonality as well. Great composers really develop their own language that’s immediately attributable to them.’

Yet Monica is enthusiastic about tutoring this work for more than one reason. She also believes that it’s a fantastic work for young musicians – not just because it’s an important piece in the orchestral repertoire, but because it gives them opportunities for both enjoyment and education.

‘It’s one of the best pieces for youth orchestras to play,’ she says, ‘because everybody gets to play a tune or a duet with someone else. It just showcases the whole orchestra the best that any piece ever written, I think, has ever done.

‘Bartók wrote it when he was living in America,’ she continues, ‘just before he died.’ It was 1943, and the composer was hospitalized, fighting undiagnosed leukemia, and almost bankrupt. But when a pair of fellow Hungarian expats offered him a commission – and a substantial deposit – he was able to retreat to a lakeside resort to compose what would become one of his most beloved orchestral works.

‘For the musicians,’ Monica says, ‘one of the challenges of this piece is to understand with whom they’re playing at every moment, because the whole thing is a conversation. The biggest challenge with all music is to get everybody on stage understanding who’s got which voice. As soon as you have that, you’ve got the solution to everything – the solution to balance, ensemble, texture, colour, mood, emotions… it’s amazing. All you’ve got to do is sort out the voice leading.

‘Listening,’ Monica finishes. ‘Getting out of your part. That’s the main thing.’

Elsabeth Parkinson was a participant of the Words About Music program at AYO National Music Camp 2017