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The Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra (ARCO) was born in 2012, during Victorian Opera’s performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Richard Gill was conducting Ludovico’s Band, led by violinist and friend Rachael Beesley, in which I was playing. Richard was blown away by the calibre of the musicianship, and recognised that the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) knowledge and expertise assembled in the orchestra pit was something special. So, he invited us to create a new orchestra, which we originally called orchestra seventeen88.
Since then, with Richard as our Artistic Director and Berlin-based conductor Benjamin Bayl as Principal Guest Conductor, we’ve gone from strength to strength, thanks to the amazing generosity and dedication of our musicians.
The Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra. Photo © Nick Gilbert
Both Richard and Benjamin bring a wealth of experience to ARCO. Richard is an icon in the Australian music world. As well as being a formidable conductor, his knowledge on all topics related to music is unfathomable, and he has always been passionate about HIP. Benjamin has his finger on the contemporary HIP pulse. He has a very busy conducting career in Europe and has worked with many of the world’s leading period ensembles and opera companies.
This year’s name change is purely about clarifying our identity. We are Australian, we are an orchestra, and we perform Romantic and Classical music. With an eye to international touring in the future, the new name not only makes us readily identifiable to Australian audiences but also abroad. Our 2017 Concert Season, which opens in March, presents the period of music that forms the core of our artistic programming, with works from composers such as Mozart and Beethoven through to Wolf.
What was previously referred to as ‘Early Music’ has evolved in Europe to include music from the late 19th and well into the 20th century. In Australia, we are still catching up and ARCO plays a significant part in bringing audiences a style of music they would otherwise need to travel to Europe to enjoy. And many Australian musicians who specialise in this genre in Europe are keen to return home to work in the field.
The practice of performing on original instruments began in Northern Europe and the U.S. in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Period instruments present more technical challenges than their modern counterparts. They are more flexible and react more to changes in temperature. I was once playing Don Giovanni in a Danish opera theatre when the extreme wintery weather conditions outside, combined with the heat of the theatre, caused my hand-crafted wooden clarinet to split open right down the top while I was playing! Luckily I had some superglue in my kit to hold it together until the end. The fumes had me quite giggly by the finale!
That said, there is no better way to access the music of the past than through the appropriate instruments. They quite literally speak to us, and it is testament to their
value both musically and aesthetically that we have made the effort to master them.
Recent grants awarded from the Federal Government’s Catalyst fund and Creative Victoria have given the Orchestra further financial stability for the next two years. This vote of confidence underlines ARCO’s significance in the Australian music landscape. We are also very fortunate to have many generous private philanthropists who have enabled the Orchestra to accomplish an astonishing amount in its first three years.
It is ARCO’s goal to become a national orchestra, presenting concerts and educational projects throughout the country. Alongside our orchestra and chamber music concert series, ARCO is committed to music education. One of our main goals is to inspire and enlighten not only our audiences, but also young people and aspiring young musicians in Australia. International touring – representing our country with a world-class orchestra of Aussie musicians – is also on the long-term bucket list.