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Free Regional Youth Orchestra to close Artlands

Conductor Patrick Brennan with players from Regional Youth Orchestra NSW at Sydney Opera House in July for the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra project. Conductor Patrick Brennan with players from Regional Youth Orchestra NSW at Sydney Opera House in July for the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra project.

This October, Macquarie Conservatorium hosts the first residential orchestra camp of the newly formed Regional Youth Orchestra NSW. 

This dynamic new youth orchestra recently performed at the Sydney Opera House with the Australian World Orchestra, and comes to Dubbo to perform in “Sunday in the Park”, a free concert of classical favourites and hits from the movies, presented in Victoria Park as the closing event of the Artlands Festival.

More than fifty talented young musicians from regional conservatoriums across NSW will rehearse intensively for three days and then perform in this full-length orchestral concert, joined onstage by the youth singers of Moorambilla Voices in a guest appearance.  

Also on the bill is local success story, soprano Billie Palin, just back from London where she took part in music theatre workshops, learning first hand from some of the best in the business, her travels and tuition assisted by a Young Regional Artist Scholarship from the NSW Government.

Bringing all this enthusiastic young talent together musically for Sunday in the Park is a team of three conductors: Patrick Brennan from Central Coast Conservatorium, Graham Sattler from Mitchell Conservatorium, and Michelle Leonard of Moorambilla Voices.

Patrick Brennan has been closely involved with the development of the Regional Youth Orchestra NSW concept, which has grown out of the successful projects the regional conservatoriums have done for a number of years with visiting international and Australian orchestras at the Sydney Opera House.  

By 2016, it was time to form the students who took part in these projects into a real youth orchestra, and auditions were held earlier this year to select the best orchestral players studying at regional conservatoriums across the state.

I spoke with Patrick Brennan about his own background as a professional orchestral musician playing bassoon, and the development of RYO NSW.

What were your first experiences in an orchestra as a young player?

I didn’t play in an orchestra until I was at university studying music, there wasn’t the opportunity to play in an orchestra where I was in high school. I had played in bands and in wind ensembles, so I had experience playing with others, but not in the full symphony orchestra. Then while I was studying at Sydney Conservatorium, I joined the SBS Youth Orchestra, and had my first overseas tour to Taiwan. I was also selected for the Camerata chamber orchestra of the Australian Youth Orchestra, and we did an east coast tour playing for the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, which was pretty amazing.

What was the impact of playing in these youth orchestras?

It was an incredible experience.  It’s the difference in sound; you may be used to playing with other musicians, and maybe in a bigger group with wind and brass, but when all the different families of instruments are brought together, it’s something quite different.  It is a real melting-pot of sound, I found it quite mind-blowing.

What about the next step - playing in a professional orchestra?

My first paid gig in an orchestra was while I was still a uni student. I played with the Hunter Symphony Orchestra, it was great to get paid and put up in a hotel doing something that was fun. After I did my audition for the Australian Youth Orchestra, I got a totally unexpected call to play with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, so that was a pretty big step up and a wonderful experience.  

From then, I freelanced with most of the professional orchestras in Sydney for about 15 years, including playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a truly world class orchestra.

Now you are focused more on conducting – what’s that like in comparison to playing in an orchestra?

For me, it gives me a greater capacity for expression through the music. It's very different, as a conductor you are leading and pulling everything together. The conductor feeds the orchestra energy and ideas, and then the orchestra feeds that energy back to the conductor, and out to the audience, in a cycle. Listening as a conductor is very different to listening as a player. 

You are in this different position, out the front where you get the total sound, but you are still part of the orchestra as well, it’s a really special place to be. It inspires me to create really exciting and engaging performances for the audience.

What is important about this opportunity to play together in an orchestra for these young musicians in RYO NSW?

For some of our students who come from towns where there is no youth orchestra or community orchestra, that big symphonic sound of all the different type of instruments playing together is an education in itself, and to play right in the middle of that gives you a lot of new things to think about as a musician; sound colour, playing at different speeds, blending with each other, how all that works together to create one coherent whole. 

Being in an orchestra is all about teamwork; of the whole orchestra, and then of your section, say all the wind players, and then down a level again an to just the flutes, or if you are a string player your desk partner, the person you sit next to. Each player learns to work with others on all these different levels, and how to respond to the directions of a conductor. 

They get an understanding of how their part fits with the greater picture musically. It’s also a chance to experience first hand orchestral repertoire, some of the great pieces of music.

It’s been a big first year for RYO NSW – what have been some of the highlights so far?

Having two projects this year at the Sydney Opera House, working side by side with professional musicians and conductors is something music students in Sydney youth orchestras would love to have! The first highlight with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was performing the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, with a professional singer turning up to sing with them. Many of the kids had not heard an opera singer like that up close, let alone played for one.

Last month, the experience with the Australian World Orchestra was just incredible. This orchestra is made up of the very best Australian musicians from some of the greatest international orchestras and our own orchestras, who come together for a short series of concerts. 

It’s rare for any student musicians to get to work side by side with that calibre of professional, and then to take it a step further and actually play onstage in their public concert at the Opera House, that was almost unbelievably thrilling. It was an experience our students will never forget, and definitely inspires them to go further with their music. We are seeing these projects become the catalyst for students deciding to pursue a career in music.

What can audiences expect from RYO NSW and the Sunday in the Park concert?

Youth orchestras are renowned for being really exciting to watch:  they have so much energy and passion, whatever you ask from them they deliver one hundred percent and with such enthusiasm. It’s going to be a great concert, for them and for the audience.

What’s On

  • October 27: Opening Event of Artlands, free, with youth and adult drummers led by Kai Tipping, 7.30pm on the oval behind Western Plains Cultural Centre
  • October 30: Sunday in the Park, the closing event of Artlands, free concert by Regional Youth Orchestra NSW with Moorambilla Voices, 2.00pm Victoria Park
  • www.macqcon.org.au
  • www.artlands.com.au