Catherine Peake speaks with Artistic Director Kristian Winther and Chair Max Holzner from the newly formed Western Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra, or the West Phil.   

It has been exciting news to hear that Western Sydney will now have its own orchestra, with the new Western Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra launched on 21 February. How did it all come about and what will be its significance for the people of Western Sydney? 

K: I might let Max answer this one.

M: Kristian and I obviously have somewhat different points of abstraction or entry on this. Speaking for myself, I began teaching in Parramatta in 2011. It wasn’t long before I started looking for opportunities for my students outside the studio. The combination of prohibitive fees and the tyranny of distance from Western Sydney meant that there weren’t many high-quality options comparable to those enjoyed by students outside Western Sydney and to the sorts of opportunities Kristian and I had benefited from growing up. This greatly dismayed me! 

So for me, the genesis of West Phil lies in early attempts to create for quality my own students, accessible opportunities through collaboration with stakeholders and teachers in and around Parramatta. From the outset the view was to the community and broader engagement.  

Kristian’s involvement elevated everything. He’s one of the finest performers Australia’s ever produced, and he has an innate talent for teaching and engaging with students. Our work together served to show us both the stakes – the potential to help create and foster something sustainable and world-class, that truly belongs to the region, and of which the community can lay claim to and be proud. 

As co-founders of the West Phil, can you tell us something about yourselves? 

K: I’m a violinist and conductor with eclectic experience as soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician and leader. I’ve worked a lot with various youth music programs and orchestras. 

M: Looking back over the years of my engagement with music, I am struck by how restless I was. There is probably something quintessentially middle-European (which I would attribute to my late father) about my innate distrust or suspicion towards specialisation. Oftentimes, and for better or worse, this has set me at odds with the demands of music as profession, and it’s certainly been a force in propelling me from one facet of music to the next – whether performing, musicology, conducting, teaching, business, and now increasingly governance. 

However, I’m more at peace with this tendency of mine these days and I see how a venture and organisation like West Phil can only ever be the product of not only such a personal journey, but also of the critical involvement of people with a huge array of different strengths and skill sets. Our Board is a fine exemplar of this. In fact, our patron, Kim Williams AM, embodies this in some senses: a remarkable background and journey, with music as the central thread. I am incredibly grateful for this.

You plan to focus on student musicians performing alongside professional musicians in the orchestra. Can you let us know how the music and education programs will work? 

K: This year the orchestra will consist of young players performing and rehearsing alongside one or two professional musicians per section (ie viola, horn, clarinet etc). We’ll be holding intensive three-to-five-day projects of full day rehearsals culminating in a public performance on the final day. 

What can we expect in the first year of the West Phil, and what are the long-term plans? 

M: Kristian?

K: The music we perform this year will be from composers including Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Shostakovich and Mahler. Alongside the youth-focussed group, long term we’re aiming to establish a professional orchestra which will act as a potential employment base for ‘graduates’ of the orchestra, which will also feature some younger musicians who are simultaneously in the youth philharmonic.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

K: We’re really excited to be a part of the constellation of great youth music groups in Australia. When one considers the sheer number of highly talented young players in Sydney and Western Sydney, there is unquestionably the need for more capable youth orchestra initiatives in the region, and we’re proud to be filling the breach! The overwhelming response we’ve had from parents and students and teachers in the region certainly would suggest that this is something to be very excited about. 

M: As fortunate as Kristian and I are to have the support of such a capable and passionate Board and Patron, it is worth mentioning that West Phil’s mission is made inestimably easier by the enormous groundswell of support we are receiving. As much as the pandemic threw a two-year spanner into planning, coming out the other end we have been bowled over by the huge amount of goodwill and enthusiasm of prospective students, parents, teachers, leaders, and businesses in the region. We are deeply grateful and it is a continual source of inspiration to the both of us in our work going forward.