2 October 2019

New ANU Orchestra will change the tune in Canberra

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Young woman playing a violin

Students and teachers collaborate during lessons at the ANU School of Music. Photo: Supplied.

This week’s announcement that the ANU will form a new orchestra will bridge gaps and heal wounds, say the heads of three major Canberra musical organisations, Dr Kim Cunio from the ANU School of Music, Dr Stephanie Neeman from Music for Canberra and Rachel Thomas from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

For many years, high-quality orchestral music was a feature of the cultural landscape in Canberra.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the ANU School of Music have, for many years, attracted and retained exemplary musicians from around Australia whose presence is felt beyond the mainstage and across the community.

This gave rise to the development of the Canberra Youth Orchestra (CYO), Music for Canberra and other institutions, forming a network of emerging and established players performing, teaching and collaborating across disciplines.

In recent times, this rich history has been disrupted by a number of changes. Priorities shifted at the School of Music, with the winding up of its orchestra in 2012. The School of Music has continued to deliver fine musical education to the young musicians of Canberra but, as in any ecosystem, disruption to one part was felt by the whole.

This year, our organisations have been meeting together to find a way to sustain orchestral music again in Canberra, to bridge the gap between the CYO and the CSO.

The ANU School of Music, the CSO and Music for Canberra are invested in a collaborative solution, centred on the establishment of a new ANU Orchestra in 2020.

This orchestra will attract outstanding musicians from both the School of Music and across the ANU, as well as alumni and the most gifted secondary players. It will create performance opportunities for these players alongside CSO musicians, School of Music staff and other leading local musicians.

The merit of this integrated approach has been demonstrated by the Side by Side Chamber Orchestra, a joint initiative that has brought School of Music staff and students together with CSO musicians for a number of successful performances over 2018-19.

Where this initiative facilitated a highly successful periodic collaboration, the ANU Orchestra will facilitate an ongoing training environment for future musicians of the CSO and other professional orchestras.

Importantly, it creates clear pathways for young musicians to progress from community and youth orchestras to professional music opportunities.

We see a possibility for musicians to work in three orchestras during their career – the CYO, the ANU Orchestra and the CSO – with a clear pathway from one to the next.

Further, by broadening the intake beyond the School of Music itself, the ANU Orchestra will attract a cohort of skilled players with diverse knowledge and insight into the role of music in the wider community.

This mirrors the diversity of the CSO, which unites professional musicians who are also thought leaders, influencers and experts in a range of other fields. This diversity has made possible initiatives like the CSO’s lauded Rediscovering Music program for people living with hearing loss – pioneered by CSO bassoonist and practising audiologist Kristen Sutcliffe.

The ANU Orchestra comes at a point of significant rebuilding and public support for the School of Music and is made possible by the financial support of the university. This will have a profound benefit for established musicians already based in Canberra or looking to relocate.

The integration of leading arts organisations will create a positive feedback loop by making Canberra a more viable, sustainable city in which to practise music professionally. It’s our collective vision that this would produce, over time, a larger body of permanent professional performers based in Canberra.

As we share knowledge and resources, as we foster a collaborative approach to making music in this city, we will open doors for deeper and more profound collaborations in artistic practice and music education.

The School of Music, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Music for Canberra look forward to a revitalised, reinvented, sustained orchestral presence in Canberra.

Dr Kim Cunio, Head of School, ANU School of Music
Dr Stephanie Neeman, Chief Executive Officer / Artistic Director, Music for Canberra.
Rachel Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Canberra Symphony Orchestra

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