On Sunday the 19th of July I had the pleasure of hearing the Australian Youth Orchestra play Mahler’s 6th Symphony and Debussy’s symphonic sketches La Mer.
Under the expert baton of conductor Sir Mark Elder, this orchestra is one of the most exciting groups of musicians that you can see.
What makes AYO so very special is that is is made up of young performers aged 12 – 25 who come from all around Australia. This group is gathered for the National Music camp during January to learn symphonic repertoire from renowned conductors, hone their skills, learn from expert tutors and prepare for future concerts. The AYO’s mission is to train up the next generation of professional musicians, and instil with them a love of music and dedication to the highest standards of performance.
La Mer was an incredible listening experience, particularly when you’re sitting in the Sydney Opera House, with the lapping waves of the harbour just outside. The orchestra created an amazing acoustic image of the moods of the sea; the sun rising over the water, the waves playing, and a sometimes stormy dialogue between the sea and the wind. They brought great energy to this work, and it was an absolute pleasure to hear. I would hazard a guess to say that this piece may be one of Sir Mark’s favorites, as he conducted the work from memory. His conducting drew out the best from these wonderful players, yet he barely drew my gaze as he directed them. I was sad when it ended, I wanted to remain at sea. Every section of the orchestra brought wonderful sounds and textures to this fantastic Debussy work, but the stand out stars of the evening where the percussionists, particularly the timpani and celeste players.
In Mahler 6 the percussionists also shined; there was a feast of percussion instruments on offer, timpani, drums, cymbals and xylophones… Cow bells were another folk inspired feature and were played both on and off stage. But the most fun of all, I discovered a new instrument, the Hammer Box, which is as earth shattering as it sounds. Listen to one here:
The music of this symphony was inspiring, tender, terrifying and sad. It was good have the opportunity to hear it live, as it is only in a concert hall that you can appreciate the bombastic waves of sound contrasted with a sweet or sad pianissimo. In this work, every section of the orchestra had some exciting moments in the spotlight. Without wasting space and listing them all, (which I would love to do), I’d have to say that the trombones, french horns, oboes and flutes were a joy to hear.
If the AYO are performing in your area, I would heartily recommend that you go along and hear them, even if you are not a regular orchestral music listener. The energy that each instrument brought to the audience was thoroughly exciting. This was the second time that I have taken my husband to hear an orchestra, and I was somewhat worried if he would enjoy it… but he loved it! He said “I liked the unusual instruments, I liked the energy and the loudness of the brass, the hammer drum…” But better still he said: “I’d like to go again“.
Australian Youth Orchestra with Sir Mark Elder | Sunday 19 July | Sydney Opera House