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Are you raising a future Canberra Symphony Orchestra musician? This new program could be for them.

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Meet Kirsten Williams.

Kirsten’s performance career spans countless solo appearances, chamber concerts, live broadcasts and orchestral leadership positions, including Associate Concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony and Associate Leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Kirsten has led the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) for almost two years, providing extensive artistic and community leadership.

Kirsten has a passion for supporting and equipping emerging artists, having been a mentor and tutor of Sydney Youth Orchestra and the Australian Youth Orchestra, and Head of Strings at Goulburn’s Hume Conservatorium. She’s one of the driving forces behind CSYCO, a new performance program kicking off in 2022.

In a nutshell, what’s CSYCO all about?

The Canberra Symphony Youth Chamber Orchestra (CSYCO, pronounced ‘psycho’ for short) is a performance enrichment program for musicians aged 14–19 who have reached an advanced level on their instruments.

The core of the program will be an unconducted chamber orchestra for 12 to 15 players, rehearsing weekly after school and performing once a term. Rehearsals will be followed by short performance classes, where young players can gain experience as soloists and learn to give each other supportive, helpful feedback.

While we have some fantastic music programs in Canberra, we don’t yet have a specialised music high school or a ‘Rising Stars’ program connected to a conservatorium, to generate those professional pathways for aspiring young players in an environment of like-minded peers. CSYCO aims to help address that gap.

I’ve led similar programs for Sydney and Australian youth orchestra players, so I’m incredibly excited to bring this opportunity to Canberra.

Kirsten Williams. Credit: Martin Ollman.

What’s the difference between a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra?

Many prospective CSYCO players will already involved in youth symphony orchestras or school music programs. Our program is designed to enrich these ensembles, not replace them—the skills we’ll be working on are directly transferrable.

The chamber orchestra has its own widely acclaimed and much-loved repertoire. CSYCO opens up a world of music to aspiring young players that they won’t come across in a larger orchestra.

You’ll be leading the program and mentoring participants—what will that look like?

I look forward to imparting all the knowledge that was gifted to me as a teenager playing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), and later the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in London. These unconducted ensembles prepared me for key moments in my performance career, including holding the Associate Concertmaster position with ACO and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; leading the CSO as Concertmaster, and countless other live and broadcast performances.

Great music-making demands a kind of ‘mind reading’! When we take the conductor out of the mix, musicians really learn to listen, communicate and take personal responsibility for their contribution to the musical whole. This builds a great depth of understanding, independence and confidence.

While we’ll be working hard to hone technical, emotional, social and musical skills, the element of fun will always be central. After all, after many years, the sheer joy of playing music continues to shape and sustain my personal performance journey.

How do musicians get involved?

The pilot program will be open to string players (violin, viola, cell, double bass). Once CSYCO is established, we look forward to opening it up to other instruments.

Due to the lockdown, applications have been extended to 30 September. I’ll be running a free, audition preparation workshop in late October (live or via Zoom) and auditions will be held in late November.


Parents, teachers and prospective applicants are invited to join a Q&A session next Wednesday 22 September from 5 pm – 6 pm, via Zoom.

Hosted by Kirsten Williams, CSO Concertmaster, and Lindy Reksten, Orchestral Development Liaison, the session will cover:

  • Why CSYCO?
  • Addressing gaps for advanced music students in the Canberra region
  • Enriching other ensembles and performance opportunities
  • Honing skills through unconducted performance
  • CSYCO repertoire
  • Structure and purpose of the performance class component

Register now

Find all the details and download an application form at

Feature image: Kirsten Williams directs the CSO without conductor for the Classic Afternoon (June, 2021, image by Martin Ollman).

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