For more than 70 years, the Australian Youth Orchestra has inspired generations of young musicians from across the country. AYO’s core purpose is to empower emerging musicians, composers and arts administrators to develop their love for music and work towards the highest level of performance. 

Applications are now open for all nine of AYO’s 2023 programs. These offerings are tailored to instrumentalists at varying stages of musical and professional development, and we encourage applicants to put themselves forward for as many programs as they are eligible for (covered in the one application fee).

But what exactly sets these programs apart?

To answer that question, we consulted three performers who have been involved in AYO programs over past few years: Melbourne-based flautist Anna Rabinowicz, Sydney-based violinist Nanda Hong, and Brisbane-based violinist James Tudball.

Woodwind section of an orchestra. They are wearing concert blacks and are standing in front of a tan backdrop.
Anna Rabinowicz (centre) performing in Bishop Orchestra during 2021 Autumn Music Camp.

The collaborative and social aspects of AYO programs is one of the main drawcards for flautist Anna Rabinowicz, currently studying at Australian National Academy of Music: “You get to meet so many wonderful new people- musicians, people interested in writing about the arts, composers… you get to make a lot of friends through music. The tutors and conductors you get to work with is what makes [the programs] unique!”

Sydney-based violinist Nanda Hong singles out the detail and discipline involved: “I think AYO is so worth experiencing because you’re really challenged both musically and technically, to put forth the best version of playing that you can. It challenges you to think about how you contribute to your section and to the orchestra, so you become a more conscious and aware player.

Getting to play with passionate, like-minded musicians is a really rewarding experience. I always feel very motivated after every AYO program.

A recent highlight for me would be working with Sir Mark Elder during the 2022 Winter Season program. To learn from him was a privilege. I personally enjoyed how strict and detailed he was during rehearsals, yet he was still encouraging and humorous!”

A female violinist sits in front of a music stand whilst practicing. She has long black hair and is wearing a dark tshirt.
Nanda Hong rehearsing in Alexander Orchestra during 2021 Autumn Music Camp.
Credit: Fabrizio Evans

James Tudball, a violinist based in Brisbane, seconds this encouraging effect: “You finish every single AYO program feeling intrinsically motivated to practice and to keep working towards being a classical musician. If that’s not what your end goal is, then to continue fostering that love of classical music. You always come away so excited and motivated. If that’s not worth applying for, I don’t know what is!”

In addition to large-scale orchestral playing, a number of AYO programs incorporate opportunities to perform chamber music repertoire. At National Music Camp, a chamber orchestra runs alongside two full-size orchestras, creating an opportunity for musicians to sink their teeth into a different kind of repertoire.

This unique challenge was one which left an impact on James: “I was in the chamber orchestra this year at National Music Camp, and we performed Josef Suk’s Serenade for Strings and Felix Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No.10 in B minor. It was really fantastic… We got to work with Kirsten Williams who is a massive inspiration, to the point where my end goal personally is to try and get into a chamber orchestra in Europe one day.

A group of young musicians posing together whilst holding their violins. They are all smiling at the camera and wearing concert blacks.
James Tudball (third from right, top row), pictured with the Alexander Orchestra Second Violin section, during 2022 National Music Camp. Photo credit: Sam Jozeps

I loved playing in the chamber orchestra because it was like quartet playing on steroids- you feel that you’re one twenty-fourth of an orchestra, rather than a one one-hundredth. It’s a special feeling and so much fun! You can hear yourself and you really feel like you’re contributing.”

The flagship ensemble of AYO, the Australian Youth Orchestra, signals the pinnacle of musical achievement within the organisation. James notes this year was the first time he had been accepted into the program. The level of musicality and discipline within the orchestra and complexity of the repertoire was something he noticed from the very beginning of rehearsals.

“Even after two weeks of playing Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, for about six hours a day, you could still unpack more from the piece! The Berlioz overture we played [Les Francs-Juges] was so difficult in a completely different way, but it highlighted all the strengths of the orchestra.

I was playing in the first violins, and I seriously have never played in a first violin section that good before in my entire life. When you have these big dramatic moments, and there’s plenty of them in An Alpine Symphony, there was so much power in the sound. The energy was palpable! It’s an absolute joy to play a part in something like that- you can’t help but smile.

Close up of a first violin section of an orchestra. The musicians are dressed in concert blacks and are wearing black face masks as they play.
James Tudball (centre, second row), pictured in the First Violin section of the Australian Youth Orchestra during the 2022 July Season. Credit: Robert Catto.

Sir Mark Elder is probably the most inspirational conductor I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, aside from Richard Gill. I really enjoyed his dry British approach to everything. And most importantly, everything he talked about was to serve the music.

Within two days it was clear he had everyone enamoured with him. Every musician wanted to play their absolute best for him, so that made the whole experience a pleasure. Working with him made it feel like a semi-professional experience, because he’s one of the world’s top conductors.”