An independent report has found that the Orchestra’s training programme addresses an unmet need in Australia.

An independent report has heaped praise on the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Fellowship programme. The report claims that the Fellowship programme is addressing an unmet need in the Australian orchestral sector and that 86% of alumni since the programme started in 2001 are working in symphony orchestras in Australia and around the world.

“The high employment rate of SSO Fellows in Australian orchestras indicates that the programme is contributing significantly to the orchestral music sector’s succession pool,” stated the report by BYP Group, the Sydney-based specialist impact evaluation consultants who were commissioned by the SSO. “Without the SSO Fellowship programme, it is questionable whether there would be the same number of high quality musicians available to work in Australia’s symphony orchestras. This is because there are no other programmes in Australia that so specifically and comprehensively meet the needs of orchestral playing.”

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra 2016 Fellows, photo © Robert Catto

“I was really pleased to hear the results,” Fellowship Artistic Director and SSO Principal Viola Roger Benedict told Limelight. “It validates what we think we’re doing with the programme, which is showing our commitment to young musicians. We take that seriously and we’re really pleased that that’s paid off.”

The SSO Fellowship programme is an intensive year-long apprenticeship style programme in which aspiring orchestral musicians work alongside professionals in the SSO. “It’s basically a very intensive one-year full-time programme,” explained Benedict. “There are lots of other programmes that orchestras run that are just project-based. The Fellows are with us for the whole year. They come and play with us in our main-stage concerts with the Sydney Symphony players where they’re mentored by those more experienced musicians. They do a lot of chamber music and outreach work and workshops and masterclasses – anything that we can think of that will help make them well-rounded and job-ready musicians.

According to the report, the programme is unique in Australia. “Other programmes in Australia include the ACO Emerging Artists Program and ACO Collective,” it states. “However, these programmes are for string players only, do not run for a full year and do not offer symphony orchestra experience.”

The level of professional experience is also unmatched. “Hypothetically, to obtain a similar level of experience to an SSO Fellow, a non-SSO Fellow would need to participate in a constellation of other Australian fellowship programmes and gain casual symphony orchestral work of at least 40 calls in one year.”

The programme seeks to create a bridge between tertiary study and professional work for musicians. “It’s very different kind of work than what they’ve been doing as students at the Conservatorium,” said Benedict. “Most of them have been playing their instruments from a very young age. They’ve had lots of one-on-one tuition but then they come to the Orchestra and they get a lot of ensemble experience. They learn from the experience of sitting next to a really experienced player in the orchestra. They get all those things that they can’t really get in one-on-one lessons at the Conservatorium – all that training in ensemble work, in being a really good team player and a really good orchestral player.”

The report recommends that the programme continue and that the SSO consider expanding it, particularly in the areas of audition preparation and teaching or working in community outreach and other musical contexts.

“We’d love to get bigger and bigger,” said Benedict. “We’re between 16 and 18 musicians at the moment and I think that’s a good size for now. But we’d like to do more outreach work. For example, we’ve had a project every year working in a maximum security jail and we’d love to expand that if we could. It was a very fulfilling programme, not just for the inmates but for the musicians as well – to go into a completely different environment and make music, and also talk about how and why they make music. That was the point of that exercise for the Fellows. They already do a lot of schools concerts, but I think playing to as wide an audience as possible is great for developing Fellows into really well-rounded musicians.”

 “We’re very proud to receive all this validation from this report,” said Benedict. “We’ve got Fellows in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, in the Leipzig Gewandhaus, in the Finnish Opera as well as every orchestra in Australia. We are very proud of what we’ve achieved with the Orchestra.”

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra 2016 Fellows will perform their final concert at Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, November 27


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