Every July, the excitement builds in Vienna as nearly 2000 young musicians from all over the world swarm to the Summa Cum Laude Festival, Austria’s premier global youth music event. If you looked hard at the congregation packed into Vienna’s beautiful St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the most recent Festival’s opening ceremony, you would have seen nearly 30 violin, cello, bass and viola players (plus one double bass) from Huntingtower School, Mt. Waverley, amongst the happy throng.
The Summa Cum Laude Festival was a key event in Huntingtower String Orchestra’s European tour. String players from both the middle and senior schools loved being given the chance to meet young people from over 30 countries and enthusiastically took up the challenge to compete in front of a jury of internationally recognised musical experts.
Apart from meeting hundreds of other musicians, the students performed in four concerts and two workshops (including one with a guru of Johann Strauss waltzes). On the day of their competition, the Huntingtower students played as well as they possibly could for the international jury in the magnificent Golden Hall of the Musikverein (home of the Vienna Philharmonic and New Year’s Day concerts).
Every musical group was outstanding, so it was very humbling to find out that the unanimous decision of the jury was to place the Huntingtower String Orchestra equal first with the Netherlands Britten Jeugd Strijkorkest Orchestra in the String Orchestra category. Huntingtower was later told they had achieved the highest mark of all the competing orchestras, choirs and ensembles. The students then had the great honour of performing at the Gala Prizewinner’s Concert in the huge Wiener Konzerthaus on the final night of the festival.
Both before and after the SCL Festival, the orchestra played at various concerts throughout Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. The travel between the different venues gave everyone a chance to relax and enjoy the magnificent sights and beautiful scenery, with a stay at Lake Garda being particularly memorable. Each concert was unique – from the glorious lakeside location on Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Switzerland, to whole town audiences high up in the Dolomites in Italy.
Just outside of Vienna on the River Danube, the beautiful town of Ybbs sponsors 10 young children who are the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to come to Ybbs for treatment. The Huntingtower String Orchestra’s concert given in the Chernobyl children’s honour was overflowing with loving people eager to help their cause. It was such a moving experience for the Huntingtower students to see the looks of joy on the Chernobyl children’s tiny faces as they tried out the instruments after the concert and delightedly spoke to one of our students, Markiyan, in their native Ukrainian language.
The orchestra had a similar experience at a concert given to raise money for the Prague Children’s Hospital at the beautiful Hlalol Hall where the famous Czech composer Bedrich Smetana rehearsed. The concert hall was packed, and the event raised thousands of koruna (one thousand koruna is equal to approximately $30).
Music and travel is surely a great combination and the European tour was a great way to both motivate and reward the Huntingtower student musicians for the many hours of work they put in to reach the level of excellence recognised by the judges at the Summa Cum Laude Festival. The tour was a never-to-be-forgotten experience – after all, there can’t be many Australian students who can say that they went to an international music competition in Vienna and won.