Orchestra takes flight with Mozart

Geelong Symphony Orchestra in action during a concert prior to COVID-19. (Ferne Millen)

By Luke Voogt

Geelong Symphony Orchestra is set to take “flight” with Mozart when they perform the legendary composer’s longest and last ‘Jupiter’ symphony this month.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed Symphony No. 41 on August 10, 1788, three years before his death at age 35.

“His peak was his end,” said Geelong Symphony Orchestra oboe player Stephen Moschner.

“It’s Mozart in full flight.”

Like the rest of the orchestra, Moschner was “crossing fingers and toes” this week in hope of the event going ahead on February 27.

“We’ve only had one rehearsal so far and we were meant to have one tonight as well before lockdown came in,” the Highton local said on Tuesday.

“At our first rehearsal it was great to see people we hadn’t in months.”

The symphony features flute concerto K.314 and the overture from The Marriage of Figaro.

The Jupiter symphony “doesn’t require a huge orchestra”, explained Moschner, who is also on the orchestra’s programming committee.

Along with limiting the musicians onstage, the orchestra has also capped tickets at about 500, roughly half of Costa Hall’s capacity.

“During our last concert in 2019 we had 850 to 900 people,” Moschner said.

Moschner is the orchestra’s principal oboe player and has played in almost every concert since its founding in 2016.

He learned the instrument in high school while growing up in Sydney.

“I just wanted to be involved in the school band, I didn’t even know what an oboe was,” he said.

“It’s one of those things where fate stepped in and someone just handed me an instrument and said, ‘play this’.

“I remember going home to my mum and saying, ‘hey, I’m going to play this instrument’.

“She said, ‘what is it?’ I said, ‘it’s an oboe. I don’t know what it is but I’m going to play it’.

“I was very fortunate that my teacher was an oboe player in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s very rare to have a symphony-level teacher for your first lesson.”

Moschner moved to Melbourne to study at the Victorian College of the Arts and later met his wife, Geelong born-and-bred opera singer Lee Abrahamsen.

“I produced an opera she sang in,” he said.

“We had a lot of times where we crossed paths without meeting each other. I had actually played in an orchestra for her before.”

Moschner moved to Geelong a decade ago.

An instrumental teacher at the University of Melbourne’s conservatorium, he has never lost his passion for playing the oboe.

“It’s a highly-technical challenge,” he said.

“It’s never boring. You do live, at times, on the edge of your seat.

“As with most orchestral instruments, it’s easy to get it wrong. Generally, the easier it looks the harder it is.”

The same paradox applies to Mozart’s “highly-simplistic but highly-complicated” music, according to Moschner.

“You actually read the score and think, ‘that looks really simple’.

“Then you get into the intricacies of actually playing it in an ensemble and realise it’s actually very hard.

“To create the real effortless sound of what Mozart requires is really challenging.”

The orchestra has recruited Sydney Symphony Orchestra flautist Joshua Batty and conductor Richard Davis, both English expats, to help with the challenge.

“Joshua’s probably the best flute player in Australia,” Moschner said.

“Richard was originally his teacher and a flute player in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s all over the repertoire, he knows it upside down and backwards.”

But aside from the odd recruits, Geelong Symphony Orchestra features all local professional and semi-professional musicians.

The show begins at 5pm at Costa Hall on February 27, pending Victoria’s COVID-19 situation.

Details: gso.org.au/concert-series