Posted by Angus McPherson
Monday 12th January, 2015

On Saturday evening, against a backdrop of blaring rock music and boisterous celebration, I corralled Douglas ‘Dougie’ Boyd, to get his thoughts:

‘It’s just totally inspiring. If I’m going to come to the other side of the planet, I can’t think of anything better than making music with the Australian Youth Orchestra.’

Half an hour earlier, he had been on the stage of the Elder Hall, conducting the Bishop Orchestra in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

The first week of National Music Camp 2015 reached its climax with two breathtaking orchestral concerts. The first concert opened with the Bishop Orchestra, conducted by Dougie, performing the ballet music from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. The Arts Administration (AA) participants executed a swift stage change before the Sculthorpe Chamber Orchestra, led by Wilma Smith, played Suk’s lyrical Serenade for Strings. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony followed the interval, Music Director James Judd conducting the Alexander Orchestra. The haunting wind solos, thundering timpani and devastating finale left the audience reeling.

I staggered to dinner weak-kneed and exhausted. I wondered how the musicians were going to sustain the level of intensity required for another concert – I was out of breath from just sitting in the audience. They seemed upbeat, though, eating quickly and purposefully, refuelling for the next show.

My own energy was immediately rekindled by the opening of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture. Broadcast live on ABC Classic FM, the second concert was hosted by the inimitable Julian Day, who chatted with James Judd while the AA participants worked their magic resetting the stage for Sculthorpe’s evocative Port Essington. Listeners at home were treated to a fascinating interval feature produced by three of my WAMster colleagues, discussing the experience of young composers in Australia. The concert culminated in the mad frenzy of Symphonie fantastique, to equally frenzied applause.

After the show, Dougie wasn’t the only one celebrating. The pressure that had been building over the last week of feverish rehearsals had finally been released, and the musicians marked this occasion in the manner customary to our noble profession. When I finally returned to our accommodation at St Mark’s College, musicians were dancing to swing music in the car park.

Sunday was quiet, apart from the bells that rang out – a little jarring, for some of us – over the City of Churches. The college felt uncharacteristically empty: the only people I saw moved slowly and spoke quietly. The torsos of two mannequins sat incongruously on a park bench, where musicians had been reclining a few hours earlier. Designated as a ‘free day’, Sunday offered a chance for everyone to breathe, take stock and regroup. Some spent the day exploring Adelaide, visiting Rundle Mall or the zoo, while others used the time to catch up on laundry and other domestic or personal hygiene-related tasks that may have been neglected in the hectic lead up to the concerts. This reprieve was short-lived. Rehearsals began again on Sunday night; the musicians trading Suk for Dvořák, Shostakovich for Sibelius and Berlioz for Prokofiev, getting ready to do it all again next Saturday.

Dougie summed it up:

‘The journey we had over this week, it’s absolutely astonishing. This is what music’s about…to be with like-minded musicians who feel that every time you do a concert it’s like it could be your last. It’s the most important moment in your life. And I felt that’s what tonight was like for AYO. I’m not just talking about the Berlioz, the whole day’s experience. That Shostakovich was extraordinary and the Strauss, the Fledermaus, I mean, that could have been the Vienna Philharmonic!’ 

– Angus McPherson

Words About Music participants will be blogging daily.

Missed the direct broadcast? The first concert from last Saturday will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM, this Wednesday at 8pm.