Arts / Chayla takes her oboe dreams to new heights

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Oboist Chayla Ueckert-Smith and violinist Shirani Mudaliar… playing at the Canberra Youth Orchestra’s next concert at Llewellyn Hall on Saturday, August 26. Photo by William Hall

AS Canberra Youth Orchestra celebrates its 50th birthday, excitement is mounting for young oboist Chayla Ueckert-Smith, the 2017 CYO Concerto Competition Winner.

Ueckert-Smith will soon be performing the entire “Concerto for Oboe and Strings” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a piece she chose after hearing it performed at a music camp in NZ and thinking it was “the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, I just had to play it.”

“I was so thrilled to be chosen,” she tells “CityNews”.

“It’s a challenging piece for me in terms of things like stamina and technique and it has all these different moods and characters… it’s passing a personal boundary to be able to learn this.

Judged by ANU School of Music head Kenneth Lampl, string player Tor Frømyhr and early music expert Paul McMahon, the competition saw shortlisted musicians perform a movement from a concerto of their choice with pianist Anthony Smith.

Ueckert-Smith came in first, while violinist Shirani Mudaliar was a highly commended artist and will perform a movement from Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 at Llewellyn Hall.

Born and bred in Canberra, Ueckert-Smith trained in the Kodaly method from age four or five then studied guitar. Encouraged by her mother, once an oboe player, to sign up for the Majura Primary School band, she found there was only one oboe spot left and in a move, she says, defines her character, announced: “Yes, I want to do that”.

After taking pre-tertiary courses at the ANU, the 22-year-old joined the CYO in 2013, also playing in the James McCusker Orchestra. She’s now completing a double degree in music and visual arts, majoring in the more “meditative” art of ceramics, but eventually hopes to study with oboist Eve Newsome at Griffith University in Brisbane.

Along with the concerto, the CYO is also planning a spectacular performance of Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber”, Shostakovich’s brassy Festive Overture and Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite”.

Young musicians are certainly excited by these testing performances, but the CYO’s past is worth talking about, too, and conductor Leonard Weiss is proud that Canberra Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Barbara Jane Gilby was in her very first year, while composer Stephen Leek and music professor Malcolm Gillies are also alumni.

Weiss, aged 24 and planning on turning 25 (“half the age of the CYO”) by the time the orchestra plays with James Morrison late in the year, can scarcely contain his enthusiasm, pointing out that recent statistics show Canberra having the highest rate of youth participation in music for the whole country.

As one of the youngest conductors on the block, he juggles a breathtaking schedule, conducting the National Capital Orchestra, the Canberra Qwire, Shades of Monday, Echo Voices Community Choir and sometimes the Musica da Camera String Orchestra and the Maruki Community Orchestra, all the while holding down a day job at Canberra Grammar.

He performs on the carillon and the French horn and played the harp for a “Versailles” concert at the NGA

Weiss wants to “engage in and challenge the musicians” with a variety of musical experiences and Canberra is the ideal place to do this, with generous musicians such as Gilby, Louise Page, Tobias Cole, and David Pereira prepared to invest time into young artists.

During the Canberra International Music Festival he conducted the CYO in orchestral video-game music. Some said “how exciting”, but others told him: “That’s not really orchestral music and we don’t want to play it”.

But Weiss was vindicated. “It’s amazing how all that changed after the performance – it’s such a big, popular medium,” he says, suggesting that the mixture is good and that, anyway, “after two or three weeks they’re hungry for a big symphony or concerto”.

They’re about to get that in spades.

Canberra Youth Orchestra, Concert 3, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm, Saturday, August 26, bookings to

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