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May 17, 2021

Interview with Helena Rathbone, Principal Violin and founding Director of ACO Collective

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ACO Collective

Meet the ACO

Lismore City Hall | Friday  |  7.30pm  |  $25-59

The ACO is renowned for embracing celebrated classics alongside new commissions, and Serenades for Strings is no exception. A romantic program of the finest classical music from Beethoven to Mendelssohn mixed with an exciting new Australian work – Australian composer Paul Stanhope’s Dancing on Clouds from the Hush 18, Collective Wisdom Album. Helena Rathbone, Principal Violin and founding Director of ACO Collective spoke with The Echo.

Can you tell us a little more about The ACO Collective, who it is and what it’s all about?

The ACO Collective is the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s regional touring and education ensemble, that combines some of Australia’s most extraordinary young professional string musicians with the core members of the ACO.

We absolutely love touring and performing in regional communities – for me, it’s a highlight of my year with the ACO. The audiences are always very warm and welcoming, and it’s a great opportunity for some of these younger musicians in the ensemble to see more of Australia. We also make it a priority to hold workshops and school concerts for the local students in these regional areas, and we often get just as much, if not more, out of the experience as they do!

You are a currently a mentor for the ACO Emerging Artists program, can you tell us a little more about the program and what it does?

Our Emerging Artist program is one of my favourite ACO initiatives. Each year, five to eight talented young musicians, at the outset of their careers, are selected from auditions held across Australia to participate in the program. Throughout the year they’ll receive invaluable professional opportunities, including one-on-one mentorship, audition preparation, participation in intensive chamber music weeks where they rehearse and perform side-by-side with the core musicians of the ACO, and rehearsals and performances with the ACO Collective. Many of the Emerging Artists will also have the opportunity to perform in our mainstage subscription concerts.

This year has been our biggest intake ever, with eight participants, including the young violinist I’m mentoring throughout 2019, Harry Ward.

We’re thrilled that we’ve had Emerging Artist alumni go on to become members of professional orchestras around the world, including six being appointed members of the ACO.

The ACO Collective has been described as a ‘high-energy 17-piece string orchestra.’ In an orchestra, where does the ‘high energy’ come from? Is it from the particular pieces you play? Or is it in the personalities of the orchestra’s members, or the orchestra’s leader, or the conductor who gives the group its energy?

Playing with the ACO Collective is always tremendously exciting. The standard of each player is incredibly high, and everyone plays a critical role in bringing the performance to life – in a group of this size, there just isn’t room for passengers! You can feel the energy of each and every musician both on and off the stage; everyone gives their entire self to the performance. It makes these concerts an exhilarating experience to be a part of.

During the concert in Lismore you will be playing a 260-year-old violin, made in 1759 by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, one of the finest craftsmen of stringed instruments ever. What is it like playing an instrument like that?

I was handed this beautiful violin in 2006. It used to be played by the ACO’s Artistic Director, Richard Tognetti, but when he was loaned the extraordinary Guarneri Del Gesu, that he still plays, the instrument was passed on to me. It was an absolute dream come true, and I’m still completely in love with it. I call it ‘the Chocolate Monster’ because it does have that kind of sound, and it looks a bit like that, it’s very dark and rich. I love it – it’s my other child – my third one, along with my two equally beautiful boys.

What can orchestra fans here in and around Lismore expect from the orchestra’s performance on Friday?

This concert features a beautiful collection of music, with everything from Beethoven and Mendelssohn to a new piece of music, Dancing on Clouds, by the wonderful Australian composer Paul Stanhope.

We’ll be performing some sublime romantic music, including Elgar’s Serenade for Strings (where the concert takes it title), as well as two works by Beethoven,  The Romance No.1 for violin and orchestra and the tempestuous String Quartet in F minor,  in a gripping arrangement for string orchestra.

City Hall on Friday, 7.30pm. Tix $25-59. norpa.org.au

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