Melbourne conductor Andrew Wailes has always been passionate about music. But he is particularly passionate when it comes to enabling choral and orchestral musicians from Australia to have overseas experience. He will no sooner have returned from a Christmas tour of China with the Australian Children’s Choir and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra when he heads to Europe for a tour called “A Classical Pilgrimage,” leading the Chamber Strings of Melbourne and members of the Melbourne University Choral Society on a ‘musical odyssey’ through France, Austria, Germany and Italy. They will perform a variety of concerts and liturgical masses over the course of two and a half weeks in January and February 2014 featuring music of Vivaldi, Elgar, Sibelius, Haydn and, for a taste of Australian flavour, pieces by local Jesuit composer Chris Willcock.
After the success of previous tours in Europe Andrew will be building on past experience to provide the singers and instrumentalists with what he hopes will be not just a musically enriching time, but also a culturally enhancing one. “This is not just about the music,” he says. “People who travel expand their horizons. They are more tolerant and patient, more understanding of different cultures, more sophisticated and informed human beings. They are what I call ‘big picture people.’ All these qualities inform the rehearsal process as well as all aspects of performance when we return home. It makes us all better at what we do.” He goes on to explain why it is important for his musicians to experience the grandeur of performing in some of the world’s largest cathedrals as well as some of the more intimate spaces that choral music is so often heard. “How can one really understand the works of composers such as Monteverdi and Gabrielli if one doesn’t understand or has never seen the architecture of the performing space?” He wants the musicians to see what a valued part of the everyday liturgy music plays in towns and cities all over Europe; how rich and strong the tradition is compared with Australia. Most of all, he is keen for them to see the respect and admiration with which musicians in Europe are treated. “Choral music in Australia tends to be considered mostly an amateur pastime. There’s often an attitude that something local isn’t any good. I want to show this talented group of amateurs that that isn’t necessarily the way it has to be. “
I ask Andrew about the opportunities available locally for Melbourne musicians and he laments the recent folding of the SBS Orchestra. “It’s one less valuable place to gain experience. Many of the orchestral players in professional groups like the Melbourne Symphony and Orchestra Victoria gained valuable experience at the SBS and Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestras and some Opera Australia chorus and extra chorus members started with the Australian Children’s Choir. One cannot underestimate the value of groups like this offering valuable performance opportunities.”
Over 100 of Melbourne’s local musicians will be paying their own way for the European experience. There is no local funding and no government grants or assistance. Andrew says they have raised the money “the good old fashioned way.” Choir members sang at various hotels and functions at Christmas time to amass some of the funds and the rest will come out of their own pockets. “I am filled with admiration at the hard work and passion they have all put in to making this happen.”
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