Icons 01: Tchaikovsky.
The Canberra Youth Orchestra: Llewellyn Hall. Sunday, April 3, 7.30pm. musicforcanberra.org.au.
There have been some changes made and events planned that will make 2016 an exciting year for the Canberra Youth Orchestra.
Kathleen Grant is the chief executive and artistic director of Music for Canberra, the not-for-profit umbrella organisation that includes the CYO. She says the orchestra has doubled in size – from 32 members to 64 – under its new conductor, Leonard Weiss, who was appointed last year.
"Leonard is very, very proactive in securing new talent," she says.
Grant says the orchestra has forged a relationship with the Australian National University and been endorsed by the vice-chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, who first came to Canberra as an 18-year-old French horn player with the Anchorage Youth Symphony. This year, the CYO has been named a flagship ensemble by the ANU. Students studying at the university – whether at the School of Music or in another degree – who play in the CYO can apply to have their performance contribution to the orchestra assessed as part of their degree. Eight ANU students are taking advantage of that assessment opportunity this year.
Weiss says up to 10 more ANU students may join the orchestra.
In August, the CYO will host a visit from the Mannheim Youth Orchestra on their Australian tour, supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Canberra composer and music educator Larry Sitsky is the inaugural patron of the Canberra Youth Orchestra. He was formerly patron of Canberra Youth Music, one of the organisations subsumed into Music for Canberra.
"He's one of the foremost composers and musical figures in Australia and had had a lengthy association with music in Canberra and Canberra Youth Music," Weiss says.
"I'm hoping we can program more Australian music."
But for the moment, he's focusing on the 2016 program and the orchestra's first four-concert Subscription Series, which will take place in Llewellyn Hall with the support of ArtsACT. The theme for this year's series is Icons, focusing on some of the major composers of the past 150 years including George Gershwin and Jean Sibelius.
In the first concert the central work is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, Pathetique, programmed as one of the key works of the Romantic repertoire.
Weiss says Pathetique is the most technically challenging symphony of those programmed this year for the orchestra "but nothing we can't overcome". That it's so well known is a challenge in itself: "It means we really have to nail it."
The Russian composer died of cholera at the age of 53 nine days after conducting the premiere of the symphony in 1893. Tchaikovsky's death and the meaning of his final work have been subject to much speculation and rumour since, particularly the symphony's slow, sorrowful finale, ebbing away into silence.
Weiss says the nickname "Pathetique" here refers to "pathos" and says the composer intended the work as a programmatic symphony and while the exact nature of that program has been debated, he thinks it's about life and death.
"You have these delightful melodies that pervade the entire symphony of sheer joy and on the flipside you have the inevitability of death – they're two sides of the same coin."
Also on the program is the overture to Zampa by Ferdinand Herold and a selection of opera highlights and popular songs sung by Canberra soprano Louise Page. Page will sing arias from operas including Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly and songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"She goes from Mozart operas to Puccini arias and she doesn't even flinch," Weiss says.
Weiss, at, 23, is young himself, leading an orchestra whose members are mostly aged between 17 and 23. Even younger is Helena Popovic, a 21-year-old music and law student who joined the orchestra as concertmaster this year.
Popovic, from Sydney, brings long experience to the position. She was a member of the Sydney Youth Orchestra for more than a decade and played with the SBS Radio and Television Orchestra for three years, ending her time in the latter as its concertmaster.
She came to Canberra in 2014 to study at the ANU and began playing in local shows and concerts. It was probably through this work, she says, that Weiss heard of her or heard her and recruited her for the CYO.
"It's quite an experience," she says of working with the orchestra, with the range of experience already including working with Page on the accompanist role – not what a youth orchestra usually does – and rehearsing the Tchaikovsky symphony.
As concertmaster, she assumes a leadership role for the orchestra, not just the string section, mentoring players and acting as a liaison between them and the orchestral organisation.
Popovic began studying the violin when she was 3½ after a slightly older neighbour received one – "I was very jealous; I had nothing like it" – and stuck with it. She says the Sydney music scene is somewhat more "insular" than in Canberra, where she's done everything from play in the pit for Jesus Christ Superstar at the AIS Arena to play in Voices in the Forest and in the Canberra International Music Festival.
"It's been great, a great experience."
And now, she's part of the Canberra Youth Orchestra and intends to be for the foreseeable future.
"As long as I'm in Canberra I'll do what I can."