This July sees the Australian Youth Orchestra embark on a month-long tour of Europe and China. An invaluable experience for early-career artists, it’s hoped such opportunities will give them insight into the intensity of a professional music career, not to mention the chance to further hone their artistry and build greater ties with their fellow orchestra members.

Australian Youth Orchestra. Photo © Oliver Brighton 

“It’s a combination of musical and artistic discovery,” says AYO CEO Colin Cornish. “As a former member of the AYO, and having talked to the many alumni who’ve been on tour, I know firsthand that the musicians go away at the end of it with a motivation and inspiration to achieve even greater things than they have before – ‘I want to be the champion of my instrument and I want to aim really high’.

“The other part is the social and personal development of travelling with your peers whether you’re 16 or 21 or 24, to play onstage and celebrate your success with a hundred of your peers from around the country that you’re getting to know, it not only builds great camaraderie but great confidence. I hear many times from musicians on the tour or parents after a tour that their children have become not only more motivated but more resilient and confident. We see the tour and in fact all of our activities as a combination of that personal development as well as the pursuit of excellence artistically,” he adds.

The tour begins in the Netherlands, where orchestra members will undertake a residency at Akoesticum in Ede. An international training centre for the performing arts, complete with rehearsal venues, state of the art equipment and catering facilities, the AYO will enter intense rehearsal for the tour, working on pieces like Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto and Tenth Symphony, Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, and Australian Holly Harrison’s Frumious. They’ll be joined by their mentors and tutors, many of whom are former AYO members, who will not only provide coaching but speak to them about their unique career paths.

After their stay in Ede, the AYO will play in various celebrated venues and as part of important festivals throughout Germany, France, the Netherlands and China, before returning for a celebration concert at the Sydney Opera House in August. They’ll be led by conductor Krzysztof Urbański, and joined by guest artists, pianist Jan Lisiecki and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

“We’re looking for guest artists who can connect with these young people,” explains Cornish. “A conductor in tune with the needs and pressures of young people, someone who is going to be encouraging rather than damaging, someone who’s going to demand but also support. I’ve known of Krzysztof Urbański for quite a long time and he has done a lot of work with young people, and he is what I like to think is the right generation for this particular tour.

“We thought we’d like to convene a group of guest artists that were still within a stone’s throw of youthful. Krzysztof is still in his 30s but he’s doing amazing things, and if you look at Jan Lisiecki, he’s in his 20s but he’s had a recording career and performed with some of the best orchestras and venues, and so has Daniel Müller-Schott. All of these people are very much on the way up and all role models for members of the AYO, so it’s a young team onstage.”

Annabelle Traves and the AYO. Photo supplied

This tour will be concertmaster Annabelle Traves’ first, and she’s aware that such opportunities are rare. “I was thinking if I hadn’t been doing this tour, how else would I have been able to get on these stages and perform in these venues, especially the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam? We have an incredible conductor and our soloists are just world-class, and where else would you get the opportunity at the age of 22 to work with them?

“The AYO really provides a next level training program for musicians in that kind of awkward gap between when you’ve just finished your studies, or you are studying, and looking to become professional. It’s almost like a bridging program, and I think this tour is going to be amazing for everybody.”

As concertmaster, Traves admits to feeling an increased sense of responsibility on tour. “You have to be 100 percent on top of all the repertoire, out of respect for your peers and the conductors and soloists, as well as for all the organisation that’s gone in to this tour. As concertmaster it’s also kind of your job to try and assist the conductor in some way, and you really can’t do that if you don’t know everything backwards, so I’m definitely feeling that pressure a little. But I’m sure it will be great once we’re all there.”

Annabelle Traves. Photo © Keith Saunders

Like Cornish, Traves is looking forward to the sense of camaraderie that will arise from such an intensive music making experience, mentioning the hectic schedule and long hours. “I think that tests everybody but that’s when you have to be most conscious of working together to get through that and still be really considerate of everybody else. I know that everybody in the orchestra is already quite good friends so I think it will be great to strengthen those bonds because it really helps onstage when you have that connection with everyone around you. It creates such a special atmosphere onstage.”

Looking forward to the AYO’s concluding concert at the Opera House, Traves laughs and says, “I think we’ll all be happy crying to be honest. It will have been such a journey already and to arrive home, I know my grandma’s rounded up about 30 of her friends and family so they’ll all be there and it will be much the same for everybody else in the orchestra. Just that feeling of ‘we’ve done it, guys.’ It’s a celebration concert really and how amazing to be able to do it in the Opera House.”

The AYO Homecoming Concert is at the Sydney Opera House, August 5


Limelight is giving away a double pass to this concert. Click here to enter online before July 30.