BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Have you ever wondered what life is really like in the orchestra? Welcome to EXPOSED!
Throughout 2017, we’re teaming up with musicians and arts administrators from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to take you behind the scenes, and show you what it means to pursue a career in a challenging and fulfilling industry.
This time in EXPOSED! we chat with Anna Larsen Roach, who turned down an overseas scholarship to accept a position with the TSO after graduation. Anna hasn’t looked back – and she tells us what’s involved in orchestral life.
How did you make your way into a position with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra?
My first experience with the TSO was though a fellowship with the Australian Youth Orchestra. After completing my education at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, I was offered scholarships overseas and at the same time a tutti audition was advertised at the TSO. I decided to accept the role at the TSO because I enjoyed performing repertoire for an orchestra of this size.
The TSO – being a relatively small orchestra – gave me the opportunity to perform varied repertoire from small chamber works to large works such as Mahler, Strauss, and Stravinsky. I love living here; it’s a small island big on culture and wilderness.
What did you imagine life would be like with the orchestra – and how have you found the experience in reality?
I have performed with several other orchestras and there are similarities – players are working towards the same goal. What I didn’t expect was the extraordinary way fellow TSO members look after each other. The majority of our members are from other areas of Australia and we look after our new members very well. I have formed lifelong friendships along the way.
How would you describe your typical day backstage and in the rehearsal room?
What I love about my job is how varied it is from week to week. A typical day after running small children to school (put your shoes on – press repeat) starts with a warm-up before our morning rehearsal. The program dictates how many rehearsals we have. For instance, a challenging Masters series concert requires a small sectional for each instrumental group as well as extra rehearsals before our performance.
What do you feel are the strongest expectations placed on you in the orchestra?
The most obvious expectation is to play the right notes at the right time and practice the scores, but it is deeper than this. We have to be intuitive and listen to players around us, making sure our section is heard during a main melody, or balancing the sound as we accompany another area of the orchestra.
Was there ever a time you thought the challenge of your role inside the orchestra would be too great?
In a nutshell, yes. I had a year of maternity leave for my two children and while I was physically ready to return, I wasn’t mentally ready to deal with the lack of sleep. We perform at night, and I found it extremely draining trying to perform on a diet of four hours sleep per night. My colleagues were very supportive, and thankfully the performances went well.
How do you cope with live performance pressure?
Preparation and concentration are key to a good performance. If I have an important performance scheduled, I find preparation helps to calm my nerves. My motto is to always do my absolute best. Concentration is a skill which is very hard to teach. This is where a few years of experience is handy so I can remember to relax and not panic about tricky musical passages. Dark chocolate or a banana (I grew up in Queensland!) are handy before a concert and this can also help my concentration.
How would you describe the chemistry in your instrumental section, and how do you work to support each other in your team?
There are five members of the viola section, which is a relatively small number. So it is important to work towards the same musical ideas. As for chemistry, we are all different in our personalities and I love the banter we have about composers, musical style, and life in general.
What do you wish audiences could understand about what it means to play in the orchestra?
The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has a very personal relationship with our audience. Being a small capital city means that most of the population know who we are. I suppose not everyone realises this is a full-time orchestra, which – when not performing publicly – also performs children’s concerts, records many albums, and travels extensively around the state.
What is the thing you love about life in the orchestra?
Every week is a different program, which I find challenging, exciting and never boring. I always appreciate the audience attending our concerts. There are so many distractions and other entertainment with the internet age (iEverything) and I love the fact that an audience will come watch us perform even when outside it is bitterly cold or pouring with rain.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young musicians looking to commence their orchestral career?
Don’t give up. Auditioning for an orchestra is not easy – talk to members of the orchestra about the audition process and how to prepare the given music and excerpts.
See Anna perform in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra as they present Beethoven’s Eroica at 7.30pm May 5, Federation Concert Hall. Tickets available online.
Do you have a burning question about what life is really like in the orchestra?