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Canberra Today 16°/18° | Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Young virtuosos debut in Canberra concert coup

The Young Soloists… “They’re of all religions and many age groups, and there’s no age limit,” says artistic director Alexander Gilman. Photo Marion Schönenberger

WHEN The Young Soloists step on stage at the Snow Concert Hall in its first Australian performance, it will be unlike any other youth orchestra, as I found when talking to artistic director Alexander Gilman.

Gilman, himself a famous German-born violinist, is not the centre of the show – that will fall to his “top-of-the-tree” team of 13 virtuosos from age 13 to 23 from more than 20 nations, who will perform string works by Holst, Sollima, Skoryk, Paganini, Bottesini and Beethoven.

It’s a considerable coup for Snow’s artistic director, Anna de la Vega.

“I know there is musical gold in every city in the world and youth orchestras attract young people, but I wanted to do it professionally and these musicians already know what they want to be, from age 10 to 11,” Gilman says by phone from London. 

“My goal has been to find the one per cent of highly talented string players from around the world, to get them recording for major companies and to get them audiences.”

Although he enjoys his job teaching at the Royal College of Music, Gilman says “no school can give you that kind of experience, because you won’t fill the hall”.

As it is, Young Soloists was the first youth orchestra in the world to release an album on Sony Music/RCA Red Seal, and composer Phillip Glass has written a string symphony for it.

As for filling halls, they’ve done that recently at the Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie’s Great Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

“We are offering a platform to grow to build their careers,” Gilman says.

“All some of them know is sitting in their room and practising, so take them out of isolation…music is not an isolated practice. You must share it.”

His players are all full scholarship students at places such as the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute and Cambridge University, but even more importantly, they are diverse.

“They’re of all religions and many age groups, and there’s no age limit – I say, just stay until you move somewhere else.”

Before covid, they did 50 to 60 concerts a year, he says, and they’re pretty well back to that. 

They meet regularly to rehearse – the day after we talk that will be in Hamburg, then they’ll follow with 12 concerts in Germany and Switzerland.

Sure, some of them are jetlagged, but, as Gilman notes, “anybody who wishes to be a soloist and travel the world, needs to see what it’s like to fly for 24 hours and then rehearse; it’s not so easy, they want a touring life and it sounds fancy… but this gives them a real-life experience.”

And, yes, it is expensive. He’s just paid an invoice for flights to and from Australia of €50,000 (more than $A83,000).

Happily, he reports, from the outset he has been supported by the princely family of Liechtenstein in Europe, which owns one of the largest private banks in the world and has a global trust that has supported the soloists.

The 13 young musicians will be coming straight to Canberra before moving on to Sydney and Melbourne.

“We are very excited about coming to Canberra, because the day after the concert, we will be meeting local children and playing together – when we go on tour, we try to do outreach,” Gilman says.

And after they return from Australia via performances in Singapore and Hong Kong? A quick concert in Luxembourg and off on a major tour of South America.

The Young Soloists, Snow Concert Hall, November 25.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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