Sydney Symphony Orchestra Chief picks up Fender Stratocaster for a minimalist jam.

In a first for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor David Robertson picked up his fender Stratocaster last night and joined 12 of his musicians in a 20-minute version of Terry Riley’s minimalist classic In C.

The event, co-presented by Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Vanguard program and Carriageworks Friends, saw a packed house enjoy a range of accessible contemporary music from Adès to Cage.

Robertson, who has been learning guitar only relatively recently, was rumoured to be playing horn (his music college instrument of study) but surprised everyone with his brave musical choice.

As it was, it was the first time their Chief Conductor had played any instrument with musicians from the SSO in a public performance. “In C is a piece where everybody is making the interlocking parts fit in a very free pattern,” Robertson said. “At first I was very nervous but then the way the musicians were playing was so enjoyable that I relaxed in to it and that was really fun.”

The SSO’s Vanguard is a networking collective for Gen X & Y professionals who want to be part of Sydney’s artistic community and help create a vibrant future for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It’s the first time that one of their events has been held at Carriageworks, whose unique architecture really enhanced the performances, both visually and acoustically. For instance, Associate Principal Flute Emma Sholl began proceedings playing The Great Train Race by Ian Clarke lit atop a metal staircase.

As well as the Riley, the audience got to hear the brilliantly named Sydney Trainspotters Quartet (Assistant Concertmaster Lerida Delbridge, Principal Second Violin Kirsty Hilton, Assistant Principal Viola Justin Williams and Cellist Timothy Nankervis) playing the second movement of Ravel’s String Quartet (billed as featuring in The Royal Tannenbaums) and the wistful O Albion movement from Thomas Adés’ gorgeous Arcadiana. They kicked off their set with John Cage’s entertaining Quodlibet, the fourth movement from his early String Quartet. They had apparently found the work perplexing when first rehearsed, until they found the front page and read the instructions telling them to tune the cello down a couple of tones!

A one-year Vanguard membership – which costs $42 a month – includes invitations to three one-off events, two backstage passes to attend SSO rehearsals at the Sydney Opera House and a VIP ticket concierge service.