Popular concert series Mini Maestros is back at The Concourse in January, promising to delight youngsters with an amusing introduction to classical music. Presented by Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, the aim of the Mini Maestro series is to nurture a love of music from an early age.
Past concerts have included “Mozart vs Beethoven” and “The Conductor and Clown” and this year’s offering of “The Maestro and the Magician” will be full of audience interaction, colourful characters and, most importantly, fun. The Concourse offers an intimate setting where children can dance, clap and cheer along with the antics on stage and learn that classical music is both stimulating and entertaining.
Willoughby Living was lucky enough to talk to celebrated conductor, George Ellis (pictured below), who will be at the helm of the concert again this year.
You have said that you grew up in a household that was not interested in classical music. How did you find a path to becoming a conductor?
In school, I learnt to play music and a variety of instruments. When I left school, I went to university to study arts/sciences, but that wasn’t for me. My parents wanted me to study – I wanted to play music. So, the perfect medium was to study music. At the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, we had to take a Conducting class. My lecturer encouraged me to go overseas to pursue that field. So I went to the USA and returned to Australia with a Masters degree in Conducting. I then auditioned for jobs and entered competitions in order to get work in the field.
What makes a great conductor?
A great conductor has excellent technique which is clear and easy to read by the orchestral musicians. S/he must also know the written score inside out. Most importantly, a conductor inspires the musicians to play energetically and to give their best performance at all times.
You have many amazing events on your resume – the Sydney Olympics, the Athens Olympics, NRL Grand Finals and many more. Is there one highlight that particularly stands out?
I remember standing in front of 120,000 people in the Sydney Olympic Stadium about to conduct the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for the opening ceremony in 2000 – I said to myself, “Everything you have learnt and done so far in music in your life has led to this. Work hard on stage but enjoy, breathe in the atmosphere and take it all in. Remember this moment forever.”
You’ve conducted at Olympic Games, the Opera House and now The Concourse! How does the Chatswood venue feel as a performance space?
The Concourse is a superb venue. Its acoustics are first-rate and I love performing and attending concerts there. The whole complex is beautifully designed. Parking is easy and the amount of activities and shops around the place is vast and thoroughly enjoyable.
How did you get involved in the Baby Proms series and then the Mini Maestros?
I first met Dr Nicholas Milton, Chief Conductor of the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra (WSO), when I was studying in the ABC Young Conductors course and he was Concertmaster for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. I also know Annette Brown, Operations Officer, through working with her daughter Isabella (an excellent double bass player) at the Conservatorium and Sydney Youth Orchestra – Annette had attended my education concerts. The people at WSO are excellent at what they do – they program amazing concerts and are very interested in investing in music education for young audiences. I was delighted to be invited to present the Baby Proms and Mini Maestro series. It is a program in which I strongly believe.
Does having your own children help to inform the Mini Maestros series?
Your own children show you the world of wonder. The way they play make-believe can find wonder in everything. Tapping into this world is paramount in coming up with ideas for the concerts. It helps you understand what will appeal to them and what will enter into their world more readily.
Tell us about the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and what working with them is like.
The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra is made up of outstanding musicians. For example, the principal bassoonist is John Cran! John Cran! A legend of the orchestral world, he played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for decades. Many of the musicians I know through our work together in the past in youth orchestras, the Sydney Conservatorium and professional circles. So there is already an excellent rapport and synergy there. I adore working with the WSO.
Tell us more about your work for the Australian Children’s Music Foundation (ACMF)
The ACMF is an organisation, founded and led by Don Spencer of Playschool fame, which provides music education to children from disadvantaged and troubled backgrounds. It helps these children, through a variety of programs in schools and communities, to find a way to live happily through learning instruments, singing and performing music. I am delighted to be an ambassador for such a foundation.
Are there any exciting projects on the horizon for you in 2018?
I am currently finishing the music for a new Bruce Beresford film called Ladies in Black for which I have composed and conducted the music. I am then touring nationally with the Australian Symphony Orchestra providing orchestrations of popular music including The Beatles and Roy Orbison and then performing with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in combination with the music of Queen.