Classical Music

To Jessica Scott, playing in an orchestra “feels like you’ve stepped inside an artwork”


This April, the Australian Youth Orchestra will perform works from Shostakovich and Mahler — an experience one musician likens to stepping into an artwork, “completely immersed in a world of colour and emotion”.

Jessica Scott is a Sydney flautist who will be part of Australian Youth Orchestra in Concert — an event taking place upon her return from London, where she has spent recent years living and studying at the Royal Academy of Music.

In this interview, we sit down with Jessica to talk about the upcoming event, and how the AYO is providing memorable professional experiences to early career musicians.

AYO captured by Kai Biernert.

This is your first time playing with the AYO flagship orchestra! What are you most excited about?

I’m just excited to be back in Australia, playing with AYO! My first program in 2021 was interrupted due to Covid-19, so it’s really wonderful that performances are getting back to normal.

This season, I’m looking forward to working with such inspiring mentors as Andrew Nicholson on flute, our conductor Eivind Aadland, and our whole faculty of tutors. There really are too many people to name in one sentence! And of course, we’re playing some brilliant repertoire. 

You’ve been completing your Masters and a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music. How would you say participating in different youth orchestras has helped you get there?

In Australia, before travelling to the United Kingdom, I trained with the Sydney Youth Orchestra’s flagship orchestra and Sydney Conservatorium of Music orchestras. During rehearsals and sectionals, we received coaching on not just the musical challenges, but the principles of ensemble playing, and the mental preparation required to play to such a high level. The fast-paced environment at the Royal Academy meant that having a great foundation in these areas was incredibly helpful.

Orchestral training has helped in other areas of my musical life, too; learning lots of repertoire quickly with an attention to detail, and mental preparation when playing at such a high level, is applicable in so many musical situations outside of orchestral playing.

As for warm-up techniques,sometimes you can’t practice at certain times where you live, or there might not be enough space backstage to warm up. I’ve had to adapt to so many situations in orchestras where I’ve had little to no opportunity to warm up ‘properly’, so by the time I got to the academy, I already had a simple and condensed warm-up routine anywhere between five and 30 minutes of playing before a concert or rehearsal.

How do you feel your upcoming AYO concert will prepare you for what’s expected of a musician in a professional orchestra?

It’s great to have repertoire like Shostakovich 10 under our belt as young professionals, and we’ll also be playing with an entirely new ensemble, made up from people from all over Australia. So it’ll be exciting to learn how to establish a unique sound and settle in as a collective ensemble over such a short amount of time — a skill that is definitely required as a freelance orchestral musician!

As you’re now forging your early career and identity as an orchestral musician, where do you see yourself going? How does AYO fit into your grand scheme of things?

Always keeping the doors open to new and varied musical experiences has led to some exciting opportunities in the past year, such as a current Fellowship in Community Engagement at RAM’s Open Academy, writing SYO’s program notes, the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, recording for an Amazon Prime series, playing with Brighton Philharmonic, watching my students find joy in music, sitting in wind sections with conductors such as Marin Alsop or Semyon Bychkov at the helm, AYO, and more! Orchestral playing is still a big part of my career aspirations. But even with a full-time job in an orchestra, it would be impossible for me not to still be involved in these additional interests.

The fellowship at Open Academy in London has been a huge part of my year; I’d love to continue facilitating inclusive music-making in local communities when I return home to Sydney. I’m not sure what new and exciting opportunities will come up in the future, but so long as I’m learning, or creating, or travelling, or meeting new people, I’m content!

In the upcoming AYO concert, you’re performing music by Shostakovich, while Mahler is also on the program. What has been your experience so far with the music of these composers?

Playing two Mahler symphonies last year was a big musical highlight — both times on piccolo! The first concert was Mahler 3 with Semyon Bychkov and the Academy Symphony Orchestra, and the second concert was Mahler 4 with Barry Wordsworth and the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. My experience both listening to and performing his symphonies has been very similar.

I remember the second time I listened to a Mahler symphony in full, on a road trip along the east coast of Australia, and thinking of how similar the music is to a long physical journey. When you listen to a Mahler symphony, you’re in it for the long haul! Musical events unfold very gradually, until you turn a corner and this incredibly sublime musical moment appears out of the texture. Mahler really makes the listener wait for these conclusive moments, but it’s well worth the journey to hear them.

Whilst Mahler feels like some epic journey or narrative, the storyline is much less clear to me in the symphonies of Shostakovich. There’s a sense of introspection that draws the listener right in, and it’s hard to pull myself away from listening — the music is irresistible! I’ve played Shostakovich’s fifth symphony with the Sydney Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra on principal flute and loved it, but I’ve wanted to be on piccolo for Shostakovich for a long time.

How would you describe the way Shostakovich wrote for your instrument?

Shostakovich has written some of my all-time favourite melodies for the piccolo. The incredibly fast-paced and adrenaline-charged passages he writes for the instrument, and much of the orchestra, are contrasted by these moments of absolute stillness in his symphonies. Out of these moments, the most simple but exquisite melody will unfold from the piccolo; an emotion that might be too difficult to put to words is suddenly explainable through music. Often, a beautiful flute solo will morph into a piccolo solo, and he also writes a piccolo duet in Symphony 10! 

What do you most love about being part of an orchestra in an epic concert like this?

So many colour combinations are possible in a symphony orchestra. If the music was a painting, playing in the midst of an orchestra feels like you’ve stepped inside an artwork, completely immersed in a world of colour and emotion — it’s pretty exciting!

I remember my first notes in an orchestra at The Arts Unit’s State Music Camp in high school, sitting in the flute section for Tchaikovsky 5, and getting that feeling. I immediately thought; more of this, please!

Shostakovich has not been easy to prepare, but it’ll be lots of fun to play in rehearsals! I think it’s a good mix — the music’s very challenging, but we’ve got an incredibly dedicated and committed team to tackle it with. We’re from all over Australia, and that’s such a nice aspect of the program, too — that confluence of being drawn together from many places for this colossal program, and shared experience of learning and performing.

Parting words before the big event — and before you make the big move back to Australia?

It’s been hard to make the decision to return to Sydney from London. Whilst I’m sad to be leaving this incredible and magical metropolis, and being far away from all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, I still can’t wait to return home to Sydney, Australia.

I’m so lucky to be playing with AYO for this brilliant program. It’s going to be huge, exhilarating, and fun!

Hear Jessica Scott in the Australian Youth Orchestra in Concert, 7.30pm April 14 in Perth Concert Hall. 

We teamed up with AYO to bring you this interview with Jessica Scott! Stay tuned for more stories from our vibrant arts community!

Featured image by Sam Jozeps. Images above by Fabrizio Evans.

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