James Armstrong, the 19-year old principal second violin of Sydney Youth Orchestras’ Flagship Orchestra, has won the SYO’s inaugural Austria Scholarship, thanks to which he will spend three weeks in Vienna and Salzburg in January, courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

The scholarship was announced at the Chair’s Gala Dinner on Friday August 16, hosted by SYO Chair Jan Bowen.

Astrid Mulholland-Licht, James Armstrong and Jan Bowen. Photograph © Ruari Campbell

Now 19, Armstrong has been playing with SYO since he was 14. A former student of St Aloysius’ College, Sydney, where he was the Captain of Music and Concertmaster of the orchestra and chamber orchestra, he is currently in his first year studying a Bachelor of Music Performance under Ms Janet Davies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He began learning the violin at age 11. He first joined the SYO family in 2014, playing flute in the Symphonic Wind Orchestra. The following year he became the associate concertmaster of the Sydney Youth Orchestra Philharmonic, before joining the ranks of the SYO Flagship Orchestra in 2016. He has performed as a soloist with the Symphonic Wind Orchestra and the Western Sydney Youth Orchestra, and is currently a member of the newly formed Sydney Youth Chamber Ensemble directed by Umberto Clerici. He has also taken part in the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camps from 2016 to 2018, and performed in the AYO February and July seasons in 2018.

In 2018, Armstrong began his involvement with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s new mentorship program, which saw him perform in its first concert series for the year, the Thomas Tallis’ England concert. The program has developed his skills as a baroque performer, providing baroque violin lessons in 2019 with Matthew Greco, and baroque mentoring with Artistic Director Paul Dyer and principal players from the orchestra, and offers him an opportunity to continue performing with the orchestra into the future.

The idea for the SYO Austria Scholarship began a year ago when Bowen asked Astrid Mulholland-Licht, Director Australia/New Zealand of the Austrian National Tourist Office, if her organisation might find a way of supporting the SYO. Mulholland-Licht devised the idea and concept for the scholarship, and then developed it with the assistance of the Vienna Tourist Board and Salzburg Tourism.

The three-week program, designed by Elke Manner-Prochart, will see Armstrong attend rehearsals with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the NÖ-Tonkünster Orchestra among others. He will take part in an instrumental masterclass at the Musikverein, and attend concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim as part of Mozartweek Festival, The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra at Theater an der Wien, and Camerata Salzburg Orchestra.

Other highlights include attending the famous Vienna Philharmonic Ball on January 23, and going on guided tours of the two cities and their musical institutions including the Musikverein and the Vienna University of Music.

Armstrong was chosen from six SYO finalists. Presented with the award by Mulholland-Licht, and then interviewed briefly by SYO’s Chief Artistic Advisor Christopher Lawrence, Armstrong said he was “beyond thrilled” at winning the Scholarship.

“I was just thinking before, when Astrid was giving her speech, I’ve been with SYO since I was 14, so it’s been five years… I went on the 2017 European tour to Vienna and Salzburg [as well as Budapest, Prague and Berlin] and it was incredible, it was so inspiring to be there [working with people] at the height of classical music so I’m beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to actually go and participate in all these classes [rehearsals and concerts]. It’s just really exciting!”

Asked by Lawrence if going to Austria felt a bit like “going home” for a classical musician, the excited young violinist said: “So many composers and musicians [have] been inspired by Austria, they still are inspired by Austria, and to be able to go back and really experience that firsthand and take part in all these wonderful opportunities, it’s amazing. I just can’t get over it!”