Sam Weller

Performing Arts Scholar – Music, In Honour of Clive Sisley

Conductor

2021

I am proud to call Australia home and I hope to make a career here. My BBM Global Industry Scholarship will have an unparalleled influence on my development as a musician and furthermore a conductor.

Due to its cultural climate, there are far fewer opportunities for young musicians to make their ‘big break’ in Australia compared to Europe. Berlin alone with a population of 3 million has over 9 full-time orchestras and opera companies, whilst Australia with a population of 25 million has only 7 orchestras nationwide with music director/chief conductor positions. It’s evident that orchestral music is ingrained as a way of life in Germany, albeit there is also infrastructure in place to secure the next generation of orchestral music lovers, something I think is lacking in Australia.

I am proud to have founded Ensemble Apex, a Sydney based orchestra which is dedicated to diversifying Australia’s cultural landscape, and providing high-quality concerts of orchestral music that are accessible to all. We have achieved unprecedented youth engagement and are proud to be fostering the next generation of classical music lovers. In order to make sure Australia’s orchestral landscape has a future, we need to focus on creating innovative projects to engage the wider public with a specific focus on youth.

The success of orchestral music in Europe is not limited to Berlin. Across Europe there are exciting initiatives upheld by major symphony orchestras thus cementing their place as cultural icons in the city. Most major orchestras in Europe have innovative education concerts designed for primary school students. The important thing here is that these concerts are not watered down and don’t present the ‘B-team’ of the orchestra. These concerts present the music director alongside principal players of the orchestra, performing real and substantial repertoire in fun and engaging ways. Kids can tell the difference! Unfortunately, Australia’s symphony orchestras don’t have these education programs at the core of their governance or the infrastructure has not been put in place to see strong community engagement. I would like to investigate first hand how these events are run and executed and evaluate the level of engagement within the orchestra’s musicians.

Further down the line, many European orchestras have targeted youth/young adults through a variety of initiatives. Such initiatives include the introduction of ‘lounge’ or ‘cocktail hour’ concerts. These concerts are presented in less of a formal manner and often invite interaction between audience members and musicians, often with a beer in hand. Again, it’s important to note that just because these concerts are presented less formally, there is no sacrifice of artistic integrity or standard.

I would like to base my scholarship travels throughout Europe, examining similarities and differences between cultural organisations and teaching methods. I am lucky to have connections with both cultural institutions and conductors across Europe thus I will be able to make the most out of my travels.

My study trip will begin in Berlin, where a variety of subscription series and family concerts are programmed for June at the Berlin Philharmonic. This will allow me to find the commonalities between the ‘masters/subscription’ programs and the ‘education’ concerts allowing me to bring these ideas back to Australia. I also intend to organise meetings with the BPO players (some of whom are Australian) to investigate how the musicians engage with youth/education programs. Following Berlin, I will travel to Amsterdam to attend some of the Royal Concertgebouw’s Club Night series. This is a multimedia, informal concert series that is designed to attract youth and younger members of the public- complete with an afterparty! Of course, this research will be conducted professionally! Complementing this will be visits to the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague to attend classes and private lessons with the teachers of the National Masters in Orchestral Conducting. I’m lucky to know these teachers well. The final stop in this section of the journey will be a trip to Paris to watch the Orchestra de Paris’ Week-End and Participation series concerts. These series’ have harnessed unprecedented audience growth and are truly an example of an orchestra that listens closely to the wants of its community.

Next, I will base myself in London, where a connection with the Royal College of Music can be utilised to attend both conducting workshops and rehearsals at the 2021 BBC Proms. The BBC Proms is a world-renowned fixture in the annual cultural calendar and presents concerts each night of the worlds most renowned orchestras. Observing these rehearsals in the Royal Albert Hall will be nothing short of extraordinary, allowing me to evaluate my practise as a musician and enrich my musical knowledge. In addition to attending the rehearsals, the BBC Proms also present industry talks and lectures that will provide invaluable insights and ideas into the world of orchestral music. Further to taking informal studies at RCM I will also be able to attend classes and lectures at the Royal Academy of Music and rehearsals with the London Symphony Orchestra.

The trip will finish with participation in a conducting summer school in Europe or the USA. These conducting summer schools include Gstaadt Academy, Lucerne Festival Academy, Aspen Music Festival (USA) or Jarvi Academy (in which I have already been a participant). During these schools, I will be able to apply the practical skills I have learnt in my private studies in front of world-class musicians and conductors.

Whilst plans for this trip were already in the works, I could simply not make the most out of these opportunities without the BBM Global Industry Scholarship. I look forward to bringing back my new findings and skills to Australia.

Throughout my career thus far, I have been incredibly fortunate to foster Ensemble Apex and watch it grow into an orchestra that represents the community it is situated in. As outlined before there are many social stigmas associated with classical and/or orchestral music. It is our goal to eliminate these prejudices to allow people of all demographics to associate and engage with this wonderful art form. My orchestra holds this philosophy close to its heart and aims to tackle this in a variety of ways. We keep our concerts affordable but don’t sacrifice quality because of this. Additionally, we have particular infrastructure in place to market to youth ticket buyers and have seen an unprecedented level engagement with our local young people. We actively engage with our audiences both through socials, during the concert and at post-concert events making the community feel integrated throughout the performance experience.

Finally, we perform music that reflects the diversity of our communities. Whilst we perform known orchestral masterpieces, we also love and cherish more underground repertoire that we believe speaks and engages with our audiences more accurately. We also believe in equal representation in our program and pay specific attention to new Australian music by women and up and coming talent. In realising these goals, we believe we (and have proven to) directly enhance engagement with our orchestra; furthermore, we enhance peoples day to day lives and more broadly the diversity of our community.

At risk of repeating myself, again I must bring the focus back to young people. I feel it is my duty to inspire the next generation of orchestral music lovers through my work in education- just as my teachers did for me. I am lucky to work at two state schools, Sydney Girls High School (Director of Bands) and Burwood Girls High School (Senior Band). At both these schools, my main job is to spark an interest in instrumental music in my pupils with the hope that their families will cherish this art form for generations to come. I am also an employee of the specialist NSW schools arts branch, The Arts Unit in which I have been both a conductor and instrumental tutor.

One of my most memorable roles at The Arts Unit was conducting and coaching the NSW State Wind Ensemble in performances at the Sydney Opera House. This ensemble was made up of talented students from regional NSW who would not generally get to play in both an ensemble of this size or calibre. We spent a long weekend preparing music by some of the worlds best composers, culminating in two performances at Sydney Opera House. To see the wonder and excitement in the students’ eyes before our performance was nothing short of amazing. It definitely has been one of my most fulfilling and memorable performances. In 2018 I was employed as the director of the Grainger Wind Ensemble at the NSW State Senior Music Camp. This camp brought students from across NSW (both regional and inner-city) for a week long intensive of music-making. To work with an ensemble of such diversity was such a privilege and it was truly inspiring to watch each students musical growth over the week. Again, I hope each student passes on an interest in instrumental music to their children.

“Sam is an exceptional candidate. He already has an incredible track record of leadership and giving back to the community as well as unequalled achievement at the peak of his field. This applicant is a long way ahead of all others.” – BBM Industry Panel

 

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