Symphonic apprenticeship hits the right notes

26 March 2023

The partnership with WASO is a learning experience to treasure for the young musicians of WAYO, writes Stewart Smith.

Pictures at an Exhibition, WASO and WAYO
Perth Concert Hall, 24 March 2023

The tried and tested master-apprentice model is still the cornerstone of learning to play a musical instrument and happily this is very much in evidence at the side-by-side concert featuring the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) and the Western Australian Youth Orchestra (WAYO). 

The program, cleverly curated around musical responses to the visual arts, features Roger Smalley’s Diptych (homage to artist Brian Blanchflower), Debussy’s La Mer and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  

Among many memorable moments, Eve Silver leads the cellos to wonderful effect in La Mer; Nikki Demandolx has the audience spellbound with her saxophone solo in the Mussorgsky; the winds sparkle in the Market Place at Limoges and Brian Maloney’s virtuoso playing is surely an inspiration to the four WAYO percussion players under his charge.

The program, rightly, makes no concession to the fact that only half the orchestra are professionals, and even if there are a few misses from time to time it really doesn’t matter. 

In general, the Debussy and the Mussorgsky impress and are lifted from the page through cohesive and collaborative acts of music making. 

Pictures at an exhibition
WAYO musicians team with WASO professionals in a cohesive performance. Photo: Rebecca Mansell

It is also good to see Diptych being programmed again (it was last performed by WASO in 1991). However, conductor Umberto Clerici’s cool and cerebral approach seems at odds with the visceral and emotive nature of Smalley’s music, giving the lasting impression of an orchestra going through the motions, without understanding and embodying the gestures behind the notes.

In talking to some of the young musicians in the foyer after the concert, it becomes clear to me how much they value this mentorship experience. Some of them worked with Clerici, who is chief conductor with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, at National Music Camp this year and they appreciated his warm and infectious approach to the week’s music making. 

Clerici had offered opportunities for some of the young players to try the solos during rehearsals and is happy to take selfies with groups of young musicians after the show. Bravo maestro

Another bravo goes to Ben Burgess, the indefatigable executive director of WAYO, who for almost two decades has provided thousands of young musicians a range of rewarding, high-quality orchestral experiences. 

The WAYO/WASO side-by-side mentorship program offers a learning experience like no other and for some it can be life changing. I’d like to think that this past week may have given some undecided young players something of a Damascus moment, realising that if they are choosing between a career as a doctor/lawyer/engineer or a musician, the only sensible path is to follow the heart. 

WASO’s next performance is Mozart’s Great Mass on 5 April 2023

WAYO’s next production is Legends on 28 May 2023

Pictured top: Conductor Umberto Clerici and strings players from WASO and WAYO. Photo: Rebecca Mansell

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Author —
Stewart Smith

Stewart Smith is a specialist in historical performance practice at the WA Academy of Performing Arts and he has performed, recorded and published widely in the field. At the park he enjoys the seesaw though, sadly, does not always find it easy to find a suitable counterbalance.

Past Articles

  • Keene delivers double delight

    Virtuoso John Keene leads the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra through an exhilarating concert with more than a touch of theatre, writes Stewart Smith.

  • Forgotten figure gets the royal treatment

    Tenth Muse Initiative gives voice to a once infamous literary figure in a captivating series of opiate-like vignettes. Stewart Smith believes this production outdoes the original opera in every way.

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