In February, ANAM Musicians Stephanie Dixon (QLD) oboe, Alexandra Partridge (NZ) cello, Natalia Harvey (ACT) violin alumna and Ben Lovell Greene (NSW) trombone, had the honour of attending the MCO Academy in Dortmund, Germany after their successful auditions.

They performed Mahler’s Symphony No.2, under the baton of Daniel Harding at three sold-out concerts with standing ovations at Philharmonie Essen, Konzerthaus Dortmund and Kölner Philharmonie, combining with musicians from Germany, Spain, UK, South Africa and Colombia.

Natalia, Steph and Alexandra took the time to write about their experience, and this is what they had to say….Sounds like the ultimate experience!

Natalia“Taking on the challenge of Mahler 2 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, undoubtedly one of the most dynamic orchestras in the world, was no less riveting than one could imagine! Generally, I felt an atmosphere of comradery and a desire for honest music-making in the orchestra. Perhaps I experienced this from the specific perspective of the first violin section, but I found that Matthew Truscott’s kind-hearted, accommodating and collegial approach to concertmastership helped to perpetuate a healthy professional environment.

Rehearsals began as sectionals for the Academists, the first violins directed by Timothy Summers. It was at first shaky, unblended and lacked finesse, but as the week went on there were significant improvements. After many tutorials, we were joined by the MCO members for one final sectional before the first full rehearsal, which at this stage, we were keen to start! My desk partner, Isabelle Briner, was wonderfully supportive, kind, not at all patronising and I greatly appreciated the way she seemed to see me as an equal.

Included in the week’s activities was a plan for chamber music. The string Academists played Mozart’s Divertimento in F. I had hoped there would be some more challenging repertoire, or perhaps the opportunity to sight read some quartets. Nonetheless, it helped to return to Mahler 2 feeling refreshed!

The mentorship program was a useful way of making valuable contacts. My mentor, Henja Semmler, a very experienced orchestral player and one of the founding members of the MCO, generously shouted me lunch, chatted to me about the music scene in Germany and gave me a lesson on Bach.

The concerts were full of energy and emotion, and each performance received a standing ovation from a full house. The experience was incomparable, and despite dreary Dortmund, everyone left feeling inspired, with a greater understanding of what it means to be a professional musician.” – Natalia Harvey  (ACT) violin alumna


“The MCO Academy was a fantastic experience for me as it opened my mind up to a new approach to orchestral playing. The MCO wind players rehearsed and performed with an extremely high level of individual playing, section cohesion; in both interpretation and tone colour, dynamic range, as well as an overall sense of integrity in every note they played.

My MCO mentor, Emma Scheid; a founding member of the Orchestra and permanent oboe & cor anglais, was a source of knowledge and kindness throughout the week. Emma not only helped with practical oboe advice but also was a great sounding board for discussing career paths.

During the week I had the privilege of playing second oboe next to Ivan Podyomov; newly appointed co-principal oboe of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Sitting in between Ivan and Emma was the most invaluable learning opportunity that the Academy could have offered me. I learnt an incredible amount just by listening to the way they played and how they both interpreted their parts. As second oboe it was my job to try and assimilate my own playing to match that of what was around me. At times this was slightly overwhelming as I had never been required to play things so softly or with such finesse, however this in itself was an important experience in extending my own skills as an oboist.

I came back from the Academy fresh with new concepts and personal goals for my own orchestral playing.” – Steph Dixon (QLD) oboe

AlyG.jpg“The 10-day-long program with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was one of the most inspiring collaborations that I have been involved with to date. Of course, playing Mahler’s Second Symphony was pretty amazing in itself, but to play side by side with musicians of such calibre was a real thrill. The week started off with three full days of sectionals; the celli tutored by founding member, Stefan Faludi. Stefan also happened to be my mentor during the program and he was more than happy to give advice on a range of topics that I had questions about, namely musicians’ health and the orchestral audition process. He was very generous with his time and I had the opportunity to have a lesson on excerpts with him, which I found very helpful.

As the week progressed, the atmosphere became more relaxed and friendly as ‘Academists’ and MCO players alike started to mingle. My desk partner was Christophe Morin – an absolute gun on his instrument. Although he didn’t speak much English, the power of music made the language barrier quickly disappear. This is one of the great things I experienced during my time in the orchestra. Many players were fluent in three or four languages, and some, like myself, only one. Despite this, we all could unanimously work together to create something truly extraordinary. Being surrounded by all the different cultures and personalities was infectious.

I felt very privileged to be able to perform in three beautiful concert halls to a full house with standing ovations each night. I learnt a lot about my own playing, both in regards to ensemble and solo whilst sitting amongst the MCO musicians. I have acquired more awareness of where I want to go, and what it will take to achieve my goals. “- Alexandra Partridge (NZ) cello

Photo credits: Petra Coddington (feature image) and Sonja Werner

One thought on “MCO Academy: An insider’s guide

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