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  • Writer's pictureAmy Viola

Why The Orchestra Will Never Die

Here in Australia we lack the cultural tradition of the symphony orchestra that is present in Europe. Those of us who grew up in Australia learning an orchestral instrument bemoan the lack of work available to us as we graduate from our performance degrees, and many of us move to Europe in search of greener pastures. I knew something was out of balance when I flew to Hobart for a tutti viola audition with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, along with 90 of my fellow Australian violists. Our Head of Strings, Goetz Richter, unceremoniously informed us of this fact in our first week as undergraduates: 'Most of you will never get work in an orchestra', he said. He was trying to coax us to work harder, I think. It made me realise that orchestral work was not my pathway, which I talk about here.

Nevertheless, there has been an interesting crossover in the orchestral idiom over the decades. Those playing Beatles and Beach Boys albums in the 1960s heard the symphonic beginnings of ork-pop (no, not a LOTR reference), which became fully-blown in the 90s when indie-rock reacted against the low-fi fuzz of alt music. Metallica and Deep Purple brought a full orchestra on stage with them and set the scene for a clashing aesthetic that somehow uplifted both. Contemporary artists started to tour with ready-made arrangements for the local symphony orchestra to play as part of their 'outreach' bill, in between Ring Cycles and Mozart Symphonies. Here in Australia, my colleagues started to tour with The Hilltop Hoods and the Cat Empire during the 2000s, and all around the world artists enhanced the live experience with an orchestral offering.

Deep Purple playing live with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, conducted by Malcolm Arnold

As I launch into a full-fledged crossover career, I've observed some interesting polarities at play when I attend an indie gig and get invited up to improvise along on viola. There is a power in the classical sound: heads turn almost immediately, regardless of what I play. In fact I'm certain that I could be playing twinkle twinkle over a pop song and their interest would be piqued. I believe it's the timbre, texture and lyrical nature of string and wind instruments that enhance popular music, when used in correct proportion. I started by playing too much - all the time, even - competing with the voice. I've had to find a delicate balance in learning Bob Dylan's Desire album, which features Scarlett Rivera's violin throughout, even over the harmonica. And I am testing the edges of the crossover conversation with my viola and loop in my own solo project.

There is something timeless in the classical sound that has yet to be fully unleashed across genres to create new, beautiful and exciting sounds. One of my favourite artists to experiment with this, Peter Gabriel, brought some beautiful sounds to rework his material in 'Live Blood', of which I pay hommage to in this #recomposed video:

We may not be playing Bruch Symphonies every week, but we will be playing. The crossover possibilities are endless, exciting and here to stay.


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