Aiko Goto, head of the ACO Academy, takes a moment to discuss the Academy program, her fondest memories, and why it means so much to her.
What is the ACO Academy?
It’s a very high standard string ensemble for students. The players are mostly from secondary school, but some years we have students as young as 10 or 11.
They come together from around the country to rehearse intensely for a week and play two concerts; one private chamber music performance in small groups (we have 9 this year), and one public concert as a full orchestra at City Recital Hall.
Why does ACO run the Academy?
Supporting young talent is very important to us. Academy lets us provide opportunities to exceptional school age players they wouldn’t otherwise have. They’re mentored by professional ACO musicians, and gain experience playing with the focus of a professional ensemble. It’s been running for 6 years, and multiple students have progressed from Academy into our Emerging Artists program, which is the next step for developing young talent.
How does the ACO select participants?
We put a repertoire of 2 pieces together that applicants need to record and submit to us via YouTube. This can be trickier than it sounds. At a standard audition, we’d shortlist from recordings and hold just a few auditions in our studio to see technique first hand. When all submissions are video, there are a lot more performances to review technically, so it takes a lot of time.
What does the week look like for the students?
It builds very quickly! At the beginning the students are all very shy, and I’m sure they’re really scared. We try and encourage them to open their minds to a new way of playing, and they practice really hard from the first day.
On the second day, the shyness remains and the students still aren’t used to playing in an ensemble. But on the third day, we suddenly start seeing an obvious improvement, and the kids are starting to smile more.
By the time we get to the concert days the change is unbelievable. The rate of growth has continued, and suddenly the group on stage have an astounding energy and openness in their playing together. There’s still a nervousness, but it’s supported by the focus they’ve learned, which completely transforms their playing. That focus and transformation stays with them forever.
Why is the Academy program important to you?
I love sharing the music with young people, and being able to teach them how to inspire themselves. When I was a music student, I learned many things from the seriousness of teachers and older players. Picking up this focus and energy from Orchestras in Japan, New York and here at the ACO are what inspired me to become the violinist I am today, so the opportunity to give young players the first opportunity to play in a serious, focused, energetic orchestra is amazing. I hope that if they’ve felt something like that once, they’ll know they can make it again in the future.
What will the Academy be playing this year?
They’ll start with a Vivaldi (L’Olimpiade Overture RV 725), which is a Baroque overture. The second piece is a Haydn (Divertimento for Cello and string orchestra), which will be led by Vincent Lo, the young Cellist who won the Sydney Eisteddfod last year. Then the main piece is Serenade for string orchestra by Josef Suk. It’s a really challenging piece, and it gives the students the opportunity to play something complex at a high level.
What quality of performance can audiences expect?
Well I haven’t ever seen this group before… but the last 5 Academies have given professional-level performances with a beautiful youthful colour and enthusiasm, so I expect this year’s performance will be equally amazing, I hope!
What's your fondest memory from the Academy?
There’s always one moment that happens exactly the same way each year. When I walk onto the stage at the public concert the students try to smile at me, but the smile is only small, like they’re really trying to force it. When we begin performing, their feeling progresses just like the week. In the middle, I see their faces getting red as they focus intensely, and their smile becomes more relaxed as they achieve each piece together. Then when they’ve finished, their smiles just blow up and become huge, just full of joy and pride. Seeing the full arch from fear to bliss in a matter of minutes is amazing to watch. It happens every year, and it always excites me to see it again.
ACO Academy’s free public concert will happen at the City Recital Hall on Friday July 14th, following a week of rehearsals beginning Sunday July 9th. RSVP to secure your seats.