Australian Tour 2003
Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney - Australia
In April 2000 the English Schools' Orchestra represented England at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Canada. It was a great experience for all who were involved. That tour was a comparatively small affair with an orchestra not much larger than a well-padded chamber ensemble but following a visit to London last year by the Australian Youth Choir it was suggested the full orchestra should reciprocate and tour Australia this summer.
It was a bold plan and months of preparation ensued. Many details were considered and discussed at length and gradually things began to take shape, but transporting an orchestra of 63 players, 8 staff and all the instruments, was no easy task. Much of all this pre-tour work was undertaken by the orchestral manager Diane Davies, and eventually on Monday 28th July, the tour party met at Heathrow to leave for Australia.
Three flights and 26 hours later we arrived in Melbourne, the warmth of our welcome more than compensated for our travel weariness, and the excitement for many of being in Australia for the first time revived any flagging spirits.
After a morning at leisure the rehearsals began in earnest with staff sometimes having to prop up (or wake-up) jet-lagged players but with the first concert a mere two days away, rehearsals were intensive. There was still time however to enjoy an orientation tour of Melbourne. The views of Melbourne from the Observation Deck on level 55 of the Rialto Tower were indeed stunning and much photography took place, but the concert in the Dallas Brooks Hall loomed, and final touches to the music were vitally important, as the orchestra was also to accompany the Australian Youth Choir (all 350 of them spectacularly clothed in full-length blue gowns with gold collars). In the event the hard work and attention to detail under the expert guidance of Robert Pepper, paid off handsomely and the concert was a great success. The packed audience greatly appreciated the orchestra's performance, especially Christopher White's splendid playing of the first movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto.
After five days in Melbourne, with the Australian winter turning out to be more like a warm English spring, it was on to Sydney with its wonderful Opera House and scenic harbour. A guided tour of the Opera House was a highlight as well as a full day's outing to the Blue Mountains. At times we were in danger of forgetting why we were in Australia, especially when half the orchestra (and its conductor) intrepidly undertook the Sydney Bridge Climb, but a long journey to Canberra and a concert by the wind quintet at the Australian High Commission, refocused our minds for the Sydney concert, again given before a full and very appreciate audience in the Sydney Recital Hall.
The last leg of the tour was to Brisbane where the weather was summery and shorts and shirtsleeves became the accepted mode of apparel for most. By now the orchestra was musically very confident and rehearsals were few and far between. Sightseeing became the main focus with visits to the Sunshine Coast and a typically Australian sheep-shearing show. Another barbecue lunch saw everyone in fine fettle for the concert in the spectacular Queensland Arts Centre. Here the orchestra played quite superbly and thoroughly deserved the prolonged ovation which another full house accorded it.
A final concert was given the following morning at a local secondary school to an admiring group of children and afterwards certain players answered many perceptive questions about their instruments and explained what was involved in learning to such a high standard. After that there was only one thing to do and that was a trip to the Gold Coast where most of the orchestra were thrown into the sea at Surfers' Paradise.
Those who were fortunate to take part in the tour will have many treasured personal memories of an unforgettable musical adventure. Staying with three different Australian host families will have forged friendships that in all probability will last a lifetime and many will have returned home with the fervent intention to revisit sometime in the future. The greatest thanks are due to those who organised and oversaw the smooth running of this tour.
Where to next?
Course Director, English Schools Orchestra and Choir