So many great journeys begin with no sense of where they will end! So it was in 2007 when members of our community managed to persuade Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra to step off the main road and include Bellingen as a stop on their regional tour. The sellout concert on that quiet Friday evening will still sit fondly in the memory of many around our town, but it was the hastily organised concert at the Bellingen High School Hall that truly inspired a movement.
The afternoon concert was strictly limited to an audience of 100 high school students and so, true to the spirit of Bellingen, 500 excited youngsters from six to sixteen were packed into the hall to watch. Stepping through the youngsters sitting on the floor, the ACO were welcomed to the stage through a guard of honour formed by all of the aspiring string players of our town. With true grace, Richard Tognetti took time to play back the entrance theme in reply to the children and so began a journey that continues to this day.
Inspired by the wealth of interest on that afternoon in 2007, and with enormous support from our community and a push for funding from all quarters, Annie Phelan and Elizabeth Scott established the Bellingen Youth Orchestra.
They began with 16 players, but they held up a vision of a full orchestra which was accessible to all. They recognised the hunger of these young players to be part of something bigger than themselves and, undaunted, they began gathering support and forging partnerships to allow that vision to grow.
The BYO now proudly supports almost 100 registered players across three ensembles; in 2007 there were 71 violin players in the Shire, today more than 500 young people are learning orchestral instruments, supported by 28 inspirational music teachers! With their patrons David and Gillian Helfgott, the BYO regularly welcome incredible musicians from across the country to join them in concert and, of course they always look forward to playing alongside returning alumni.
The BYO Artistic Director, Annie Phelan remarked, “It is without doubt, our greatest achievement that so many of our players move on carrying a lifelong love of music that they can develop with their new friends and in their new communities; we love it when they bring what they have learned back to share with us!”
And so here we are in 2021, and Bellingen and the Bellingen Youth Orchestra is very pleased to be warmly welcoming back the Australian Chamber Orchestra to play a Sunday afternoon concert on the 18thApril. This time around the Bellingen Youth Orchestra feels a little more “grown up” and the ACO will be joined in opening the concert by the Bellingen Youth Orchestra Sinfonia led by Amber Davis.
The relationship between the two orchestras has remained strong over the last fourteen years with many visits from ACO players helping to run workshops and mentor the local players. In preparations for this year’s Bellingen concert, the ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti did not need to be persuaded to add Bellingen to the tour, he commented:
“We’re honoured to be bringing the ACO back to Bellingen in 2021, a place near and dear to our hearts. Since that very first performance of Musica Surfica in Bellingen way back in 2007 and the extraordinary response we received from the audience, through to the continued growth of the Bellingen Youth Orchestra and the tireless efforts of all of those music teachers, players and workers and advocates behind the scenes, I am continually in awe of and inspired by the Bellingen community. On behalf of the ACO we thank you for making us feel as much a part of your community, as you will always be a part of ours.”
With a special “pop up” screening of Musica Surfica to be introduced by Richard on the 17thApril, this visit provides us all with an opportunity to not only enjoy the finest music in Australia but a chance to reflect on what is possible when a community puts its trust in the ambition, talent and sheer enthusiasm of its young people!
Tickets to the April 18th concert can be purchased HERE
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Contributors: Linda Dalton, Annie Phelan, Elizabeth Scott and David Neville