Symphony under the Stars in Bellingen

Violinist Amber Davis, BYO conductor Ann Phelan and strings tutor Jacqui Gill
Violinist Amber Davis, BYO conductor Ann Phelan and strings tutor Jacqui Gill

On December 1, the Bellingen Youth Orchestra will be staging an end-of-year concert with a difference: a spectacular, free, open-air program of musical treats culminating in a full rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, complete with cannons and fireworks.

Two cannons, each weighing 80kg, will be trucked to Bellingen from the Australian Opera Company, and when they go bang (16 times) they will emit loud noises and plenty of smoke but no actual cannonballs.

“The cannons are made of wood,” BYO artistic director Annie Phelan said. “They’re the props that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra uses when they play the 1812 in the Domain.”

The music was written to commemorate the successful Russian defence against Napoleon's invasion, and it became one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works. However, the composer himself was not a fan, describing it as “very loud and noisy and completely without artistic merit”.

Annie agreed that the 1812 is somewhat lacking in terms of its structural development, but said it succeeds as a crowd pleaser because it uses memorable melodies, requires an impressively large orchestra, and has the exciting flourishes of cannons roaring, bells clanging and fireworks lighting up the sky.

Amber Davis, a former violinist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra who came to live in Bellingen Shire last year, said she found it difficult to anticipate when the cannons were going to fire.

“The cannon parts are random, they fall on unusual beats,” she said. “They always gave me a fright.”

Amber had expected to ‘retire’ as a professional musician and enjoy country life with horses and Jersey cows, but found herself drawn back in after discovering the high quality of the local young musicians and their teachers.

Together with Annie, she’s created a new chamber orchestra group, the Bellingen Sinfonia, to extend the senior BYO string players.

The BYO and the BYO String School for junior players will play at the Symphony under the Stars concert at Bellingen Showground on December 1, along with Swingfonia, the Valla Voices, Ali Hasan, and Kai Tipping’s Brazilian drum group.

Gates will open at 5pm and entry is free. People will be able to purchase food and drink or just bring a picnic and a rug and enjoy the show.