Orchestral Manoeuvres

As the Geelong Symphony Orchestra establishes itself on the city’s cultural landscape, Kristie Hayden meets the people behind the music. Photography Fern Millen.

Geelong & Surf Coast Living magazine Summer 2017

Seventy musicians gather at Deakin’s Koori Centre at the end of a rainy Monday. Many are professional musicians, many with Masters degrees. Some are moonlighting; they’re doctors, engineers and teachers. Two high-school students join the group. It’s a collaboration of the region’s most highly trained classical musicians and, as the Geelong Symphony Orchestra, they’re the jewel in the crown of what is fast becoming one of Australia’s great artistic cities.

“When they start playing they transform into this magical group,” General Manager, Jon Mamonski says. The brainchild of a “small and ambitious  group of Geelong people”, the GSO is headed by well-known local musician Wendy Galloway OAM as president with clarinet player and freelance musician Vicki Hallett the orchestra manager. The project is made possible, Jon adds, with a local government grant and generous partnership with Deakin University. And of course, the musicians.

Cello teacher and freelance musician, Timmothy Oborne, says the GSO allows him to share the musical skills he gained, first as a student in Geelong, then around Australia and abroad. “I feel like the GSO will become an important part of Geelong’s cultural scene,” he says, with many locals now able to experience a musical genre they may not have previously considered. For those already converted, the inaugural concert in February 2016 marked the beginning of a new era for music lovers in Geelong.

The inaugural concert in March was a night where Geelong’s social and arts scene faced-off. There was the much anticipated Arthur Streeton exhibition opening at Geelong Gallery in addition to the final evening of night markets and a NAB Cup match at Kardinia Park to boot. “We would have been happy if 500 people came along,” Jon says. “Well 1,100 people turned up to Costa Hall and of course everyone was holding their breath; is this orchestra any good? Fortunately, the orchestra was tremendous.”

Harnessing local talent in an orchestra of this standard is ongoing, building from the initial groundswell as more musicians enlist. “Firstly there are some really fine orchestra players that live in Geelong that don’t often get the opportunity to play in an orchestra of this size and standard so it’s a great opportunity for first class players,” Jon says. “It’s also an opportunity for emerging artists. These are musicians who are fully qualified and have started to work in ensembles around the place and they audition … and if they’re up to the task, then they’re in.”

Clarinet player, music teacher David Gardner who has on occasion played for the Melbourne Symphony, says joining a high quality orchestral venture in Geelong makes his lifestyle choice to remain living here even more rewarding. “There are so many musicians of high standard who live in Geelong or have been brought up in the area that do not get the opportunity to play the repertoire that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs regularly,” he says. “Then of course, there is the benefit to the general public, an orchestra they can call their own that allows them to hear more performances throughout the year of orchestral music, other than just the Melbourne Symphony.”

Viola player, Australian Army Reserves Officer and president of  Geelong’s other orchestra “Orchestra Geelong”,  Marcus Allport  is thrilled at how the Geelong community has embraced the GSO. “It is great news for the music and arts scene in Geelong,” he says. “It has grown and evolved to an extent where it now sustains a pool of gifted developing and professional performers. I reckon it’s only all up from here.”

If the inaugural concert was tremendous, the second concert in spring 2016 was even better. The program celebrated Tchaikovsky and featured world class violinist Rebecca Chang who galvanised the GSO to perform as an inspiring world-class ensemble. Under the direction of globally-renowned conductor, Inverleigh’s Joanne’s Roose, the orchestra propelled the city’s musical artistry and creativity to new heights. “It was the Russian spectacular and it was truly spectacular,” Jon says.

A subscription series for 2017 will provide local music lovers with the opportunity to enjoy three exhilarating concerts at Costa Hall under the powerfully charged batons of conductors Brett Kelly, Fabian Russell and Kevin Cameron respectively. The first in March, Northern Lights, features a Sibelius symphony and the Dvorak Cello Concerto . In August it will be “ A Night in Vienna” with Beethoven and Mozart .

To round out the 2017 season, two performances of The Last Night of the Proms will showcase a jubilant extended orchestra and choir. “Anyone who’s been to The Last Night of the Proms knows that in the second half of the concert, there’s a lot of singing, a lot of cheering, a lot of flag-waving and generally a whole lot of fun,” Jon says.

Tickets for the season of three concerts will be available from November. Subscribers will lock in the best seats and will secure them at a discount to single ticket prices.  The GSO needs your support in order to continue to offer fine orchestral music to the people of Geelong in out own Costa Hall.