With a line-up of renowned guest conductors, a concert at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and innovative use of social media, MYO and its young performers are doing things differently next year.

“Working with great conductors and music educators such as Richard Gill has always been a dream of mine so I couldn’t turn down that opportunity within this year’s program,” says Matt Bell, leader of the viola section in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra (MYO), the winning ensemble of Limelight’s ‘Tag Your Youth Orchestra’ competition.

The 21-year-old says that getting the chance to play the music from the film Chicken Run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in the MYO’s first 2013 concert is probably the only chance he is going to get to perform in the comedy festival – until people start to appreciate the art of telling viola jokes!

The comedy festival concert in April 2013 will see the MYO and its very own Kazoo Choir take flight as they perform selections from Chicken Run. Members of the audience will be invited to join the performance in a daring attempt to form one of the world’s largest kazoo choirs that will accompany the orchestra.

Comedy aside, the MYO was the first ensemble of Melbourne Youth Music (MYM), founded in 1967 when the Victorian Government introduced free instrumental tuition in several government schools throughout the state, a scheme that was eventually extended across many schools.

The MYO is the flagship of MYM’s Ensemble Program where some of Victoria’s best young musicians further their instrumental training. The MYO program assists students pursuing a career in music to develop the instrumental and ensemble skills they need to become successful orchestral musicians. Students are guided by leading Australian conductors and soloists and inspired by some of Melbourne’s finest orchestral tutors drawn from professional ensembles such as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

The MYO seeks to engage conductors who are not only excellent musicians, but who are also passionate and gifted music educators. The ensemble works with a combination of high-profile regular and guest conductors, which reflects the conditions of working in a professional orchestra, exposing students to a range of conducting styles, artistic interpretations and specialists in the varying repertoire performed.

The concerts attract large audiences and in recent years have included the complete ballet score to Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11 and Berlioz’s Requiem at Melbourne Town Hall as part of the Australian Intervarsity Choral Festival. The MYO also participates in Melbourne’s annual Carols by Candlelight and has a fast-growing online fan base.

Students in the MYO are aged between 15 and 25 and the standard is AMEB grade 8 (or equivalent) and above. While many of the participants study music at a tertiary level, a number take part in the MYO as an outlet for their musical talents even if they are studying other subjects, or are no longer studying but working in fields other than music.

Bell started playing the viola in 2000 when he was in Year 3. He joined the MYM in 2005 and has been playing in the MYO since 2010. He says that during his time in the orchestra, the most important thing he has learnt is how to work together with other performers to achieve the best quality performance. “My skills have been developed in this area across a number of levels, from working within the viola section to produce a unified interpretation of the work to co-ordinating my section with the other string sections to support a soloist.”

“One of the most challenging things I have done in MYO was play Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis where I was in an octet about 25 metres away from the rest of the orchestra,” he says. “Learning to play with the rest of the orchestra despite the delay in sound that was created due to our separation from the orchestra certainly taught me a lot.”

As leader of the viola section, Bell has been given the opportunity to play some wonderful solos such as the viola solo in Kodály’s Háry János. “This was only made more terrifying by the fact that our conductor at the time was Kodály’s godson, Imre Palló,” he says.

Bell, whose goal is to play in pit orchestras for professional musicals and hopefully end up on Broadway in New York, says the main reason he is coming back to the MYO in 2013 is to continue making great music with the orchestra’s talented musicians.

In 2013, the MYO welcomes conductors Richard Gill, Daniel Carter and Brett Kelly, in repertoire ranging from Chicken Run to Tchaikovsky.

The year begins at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and then continues with a program of Musical Fairytales, a family-friendly concert that includes traditional and lesser-known interpretations of classic fairytales such as Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

In some innovative use of social media, the MYM community has been voting on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MelbYouthMusic for the program they’d most like to see the orchestra perform in the third concert for 2013 – Member’s Choice.

The MYO year ends with Richard Gill conducting the Fantastique Four concert which presents Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld overture (the famous Can-Can!) and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. The orchestra will be joined by alumnus Eugene Ughetti performing Elena Kats-Chernin’s Golden Kitsch percussion concerto, which amongst other instruments, features four toy pianos.

A highlight for the MYO in 2013 will be collaborating with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the Share the Chair project, where MYO members rehearse and perform side-by-side with Melbourne Symphony musicians. The week-long project culminates in a free public performance at the Melbourne Town Hall. In the 2013 Share the Chair program in May, the MYO will work with father and son duo Yan Pascal and Maxime Tortelier.

Bell said he joined the MYM as he was looking for a way to develop his ensemble playing while making new friends and having fun. “MYM was suggested by one of the teachers at my school and I gave it a go and haven’t looked back since!” Neither has the MYO in its 45 years.