A classical music spectacle for Malta, delivered by youth | Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra

At the end of July, a group of 75 young musicians known as Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra land in Malta to perform a series of classical music concerts in Malta and Gozo. We caught up with music director Robert Hodge to get an insight into the extraordinary history of one of the UK’s finest youth orchestras

Music director Robert Hodge
Music director Robert Hodge

Maestro Hodge tell us about Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra

SYO was formed in 1944 and has been performing ever since. The orchestra is based in Wimbledon and has over 120 members, drawn from more than 60 schools in London and Surrey. SYO gives three concerts a year in some of London’s finest concert halls, working with leading professional musicians.

Alongside my colleagues I strive to provide an environment which stimulates and challenges the young musicians, whilst also being friendly and supportive. Over the last 70 years SYO has developed a high reputation for musical excellence. Our alumni can be found playing with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony and BBC Symphony Orchestras, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Philharmonia Orchestra, and countless others.

The orchestra travels on tour regularly. Why did you choose Malta this year?

One of the orchestra’s co-leaders and our principal viola player, Victoria and Peter Fenech, are Maltese. When their mother Suzanne Cacciottolo offered to organise the tour for us, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse! I visited Malta a couple of months ago and was hugely impressed by the sheer volume of cultural activities and the high esteem in which music is held. I am delighted to be bringing SYO to perform to what I know will be a wonderfully appreciative audience.

What repertoire is the orchestra performing?

Our concerts all have a slightly different repertoire featuring either Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, or Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. The other works include Liszt’s Les Préludes, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain and Bizet’s Carmen Suite. There is definitely something for everyone and it’s repertoire that the orchestra really love to play. 

You mention two of the most loved concertos in the romantic repertoire. Who are the soloists performing with the orchestra?

Andrew Zolinsky will perform the Rachmaninov. He is a parent of one of our violinists and a fabulous pianist. Andrew is a Professor at the Royal College of Music and he has been described by the Sunday Times of London as having “virtuosity (that) was at times incredible”

The Dvorak cello concerto will be played by rising star Daniel Benn. Daniel is an ex-member of SYO and is now studying for a post-grad at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is rapidly gaining a reputation as an extremely fine cellist and we are delighted to invite him back to play with us. 

Malta has quite recently established its very own Malta Youth Orchestra. Do you have any advice for local young classical musicians who aspire to a career in music?

Work at it! Mastering your own instrument in a practice room is hard and time consuming.  Put together 70 musicians and ask them to play as one, is immeasurably difficult. A good orchestral musician takes real pleasure from working as a team to achieve perfection. Use your ears, use your eyes, and remember – there is always room for improvement! 

Above all, have fun! Playing in an orchestra is one of the most thrilling and worthwhile things that a musician can do and the friendships you form in youth orchestras stay with you for a lifetime.

Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra will be performing on July 23 at St. Elmo as part of the Malta Arts Festival, on July 25th in Victoria as part of the Victoria International Arts Festival, and at Mellieha Parish Square on July 27th in support of the Lisa Maria Foundation

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