New conductor sees Canberra Youth Orchestra as major player

Ian Bushnell 19 July 2021
Canberra Youth Orchestra conductor Louis Sharpe

New Canberra Youth Orchestra conductor Louis Sharpe has big plans for ACT’s young musicians. Photo: Music for Canberra.

New Canberra Youth Orchestra (CYO) conductor Louis Sharpe has a message for the ACT’s young musicians: there’s a spot ready for you in his ambitious program to restore CYO to its rightful place as their peak musical experience.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) percussionist is out banging the drum for CYO, which he admits has fallen on hard times in recent years in the wake of upheaval at the ANU School of Music nearly a decade ago.

Before then, CYO, the senior musical group in the Music for Canberra organisation, had many ANU students as members and was able to embark on tours, including to Europe. A return to this position is in Louis’s long-term plans for when the COVID-19 crisis finally lifts.

A veteran of the Melbourne and Australian Youth Orchestras, Louis is passionate about orchestral education and introducing young musicians to the big repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms and the other masters that they can’t get at high school or in the ANU chamber settings.

But to do that he will have to rebuild the orchestra to a full complement of 60 to 70 players.

“The players are out there, I just don’t necessarily think families and teachers know there is a really great opportunity for their child to have orchestral experience in the capital,” says Louis.

He believes CYO should be a pathway for young musicians to CSO and other major orchestras, and he wants to light the fire of ambition in them.

“I’m giving back from what I had,” says Louis. “It was such great education that I cherish.

“This is an opportunity for young musicians who may be passionate about this but just don’t know it yet to come and play orchestral music.”

Louis acknowledges there is a lot of competition for those kids’ time and attention – especially Saturday morning sport when CYO rehearses – but he is keen to explore ways to accommodate that by adjusting or exploring other times.

Also, Louis says playing in an orchestra is a team sport and the grand final is the end-of-term performance.

“It’s getting that message across that it’s all about teamwork, and they’re gaining different skills,” he says.

Louis also wants to work alongside the ANU Orchestra, which fortunately rehearses midweek.

The point of difference for them would be CYO’s strong education focus and its four concerts a year compared to the ANU’s one concert per semester.

“If they want more experience, CYO is here,” says Louis.

He says he is already talking to the CSO, ANU and music teachers about where the youth orchestra sits in the ACT’s musical landscape, and identifying talent.

While Louis is itching at the chance to compile a challenging program, he stresses the musicians have a say in the repertoire, and can nominate their favourite pieces, including popular film scores.

“It’s a players’ orchestra,” he says. “They need to know it is their orchestra as much as it is mine.”

Canberra Youth Orchestra conductor Louis Sharpe

New Canberra Youth Orchestra conductor Louis Sharpe loves being in front of the orchestra. Photo: Music for Canberra.

Louis knows rebuilding CYO to be the flagship youth orchestra in the ACT won’t happen overnight, but his goal is for CSO audiences to also want to hear its future stars perform.

For Louis, the appointment is also an exciting opportunity to further his conducting ambitions.

He has 10 years’ experience as a conductor, including Guest Conductor of the National Capital Orchestra (ACT); Assistant Conductor of the National Opera (ACT); Assistant Conductor of the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra (NSW); and Assistant Conductor of the Australian World Orchestra (National).

He also conducts Music for Canberra’s junior James McCusker Orchestra.

“I feel almost more comfortable being out the front of the orchestra than being in the back of the orchestra,” says Louis.

“I prefer to make music with people’s faces instead of the back of their heads.

“I like to be that person who allows musicians to have their say in this almost non-verbal communication that we have in orchestras while making the composers’ music come to life.”

Music for Canberra CEO Helen Roben says the organisation is thrilled that Louis has taken the baton at CYO.

“We have no doubt his breadth of experience and strong commitment to classical music and the development of young musicians will continue to shape Music for Canberra’s reputation as the leading provider of music education in Canberra,” she says.

Helen adds the appointment is a significant one for Music for Canberra.

“There’s a need for CYO to expand its footprint and bring more people into the CYO and the Music for Canberra community,” she says.

Louis will deliver his first major concert with CYO at the end of this year in Llewellyn Hall.

CYO rehearsals and other Music for Canberra activities take place at Ainslie Arts Centre.


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