Sydney Symphony Orchestra has just announced the fifteen young musicians who make up this year’s Fellowship. Over the next twelve months violinists Gemma Lee and Bridget O’Donnell, violists Martin Alexander and Joseph Cohen, cellists Nils Hobiger and Ruben Palma, bassist Alanna Jones, flutist Kim Falconer, oboist Joshua Oates, clarinettist David McGregor, bassoonist Christopher Haycroft, French horn player Alice Yang, trumpeter
Jenna Smith, trombonist Amanda Tillett, and percussionist Samuel Butler will take part in concerts, regional tours, masterclasses, lessons, workshops and pretty much anything else the orchestral life chooses to throw at them.
On Tuesday night they gave their first official performance, a concert on the stage of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in front of an intimate audience of supporters and special friends. The musicians, who are all in their twenties, were put on the spot. Just a week into the program, they presented a program of solos and chamber music, culminating in a tutti rendition of three Hungarian Dances by Brahms.
As you’d expect, they were pretty bloody good. But not as good as they will be, says Head of Philanthropy Rosemary Swift, in twelve months time.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is rightly proud of their Fellowship program. Most orchestras run various variations on talent development schemes, but the SSO’s is the most comprehensive in Australia and, according to an independent report by BYP group, it gets great results, in terms of training players for an orchestral career.
What interests me, though, is the SSO’s interpretation of what an orchestral career can be. Lots of Beethoven and a good dose of Brahms? Perhaps. But also performing in country halls, playing alongside school-age kids in the Playerlink program, and even presenting workshops in a high security prison. Not as lower-price-point stand-ins, making up the numbers for the main players, but as an integral part of a community.
Alex Ross describes a similar model in Listen to This, where he writes about the L.A. Phil., and their legendary manager, Ernest Fleischmann. It was Fleischmann who really grappled with how orchestras could stay relevant in the modern world – how they could become more than just replicators of museum pieces, protectors of the flame of tradition. He conceived of the orchestra as a ‘community of musicians’. In the same way that universities become communities for knowledge, the orchestra becomes a community for music, which engages with many different kinds of audiences, with many different interests, from movie soundtracks to Beethoven to Boulez and beyond.
The SSO Fellowship certainly offers wonderful opportunities to its chosen few: lessons, mentors, experience on stage. But one of the most exciting things, for me, is how the breadth of experience the program offers is preparing musicians for a future.
Many thanks to the Sydney Symphony for letting me tag along at the Fellows first concert. And if you like reading about music, please support my book, Sanctuary, crowd-funding now with Unbound.