Sydney Youth Orchestras

Ahead of our Australia edition we speak to Sydney Youth Orchestras (SYO) CEO Yarmila Alfonzetti and find out how bringing a business approach to an education institution has yielded impressive results 

IAM: How are you connecting students with top talent in the music industry?
Yarmila Alfonzetti: SYO has an amazing track record of employing and working with professional musicians from both Australia and abroad. At the most basic level, our programme allows for two weeks of sectional tutorials per term, so that is eight sessions per year for over 500 of our orchestral music students to work directly with professional musicians we engage from the Sydney Symphony, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and many others.

In addition, our orchestral training framework allows for masterclasses with international musicians – in the last year our students have worked with Christian Tetzlaff, Michael Barenboim, the Calder Quartet and Midori. We also have an extensive network of alumni who frequently join us for performances, workshops, leadership discussions, musical Q&As and whatever else we can squeeze into our packed programme of engagement.

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How does SYO support children and their families – what is a typical relationship like?
SYO is explicit in naming our young aspiring musicians and their families as our key stakeholders. A gifted student can have a 16-year connection with SYO; a number of our musicians start in our programme at the age of six and finish when they are 24.

As you can imagine, the parents and families of our young musicians are wonderful, dedicated people who care about art, culture, music and education. They give up a lot of their time to support the aspirations of their children, and the results speak for themselves.

What are your ambitions for SYO?
I have huge ambitions for SYO, and some of them are totally unrealistic and unachievable. But that is the way I like to work – I set the bar incredibly high and strive every day to change the face of orchestral training. I want orchestral training to be everywhere. For me, this is the biggest and best team a young person can ever be part of and the intellectual, physical and social benefits are significant.

There are a number of key pillars to my ambitions for SYO:

  1. To ensure sound and robust systems, processes and procedures are in place for the next 10-20 years.
  2. To increase opportunities for excellent musical outcomes, especially in masterclasses, performances and tours.
  3. To engage properly with students and audiences so that many more people can benefit from classical music.
  4. To be unbelievably entrepreneurial, take risks, build an exciting business and shake up the way that people think a charity should operate. I make no apology for being ambitious because what we do here is so valuable.

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With staff changes and funding issues it seems like SYO had a tough few years prior to your appointment – has this turned around?
SYO is a totally different organisation in 2017. We are running a very successful business that will post a surplus for 2016 and a much larger surplus is forecast for 2017. One key thing has made this change – saying yes. In order to be agile, nimble, flexible, adaptable, and provide a great service and product in this day and age, we cannot be locked into an old-fashioned idea of what classical music should be. We partner, we network, we travel, we gig, and we work our musicians very hard so that they become the best people to employ in this industry. Just say yes.

Are there any barriers that are preventing students from joining SYO, and how can you remove these?
There are two key barriers that we are addressing: distance and access. We have big plans to expand across New South Wales, and in this way we hope to make SYO more accessible to many more young people. Music education in public schools is declining in Australia, and this is where a programme like SYO can step in and provide what we all know is an immense benefit to overall education: music.

A full feature on Sydney Youth Orchestras will be featured in the April 2017 edition of IAM. To subscribe to the magazine click here

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