Innocents Abroad

I suppose I have come full circle. Born in New Zealand, I did my university degrees here, underwent musical training and had a bit of orchestral experience. But, being conscious of our isolation, many young New Zealanders head abroad to get their OE (Overseas Experience) sometime in their twenties. I went first to the US for some study at Ball State in Indiana, (where incidentally, I was astonished at how many people had no idea of where NZ was – and this in a University. Some thought it was in Scandinavia, others in the Mediterranean…) then began auditioning and got a job in Canada.

I never saw this as a permanent thing, however. For us ex-colonials, London was always the ultimate destination – if you could prove yourself there you had “made it”. So after three seasons in London, Ontario, that’s where I went to hit the freelance scene.

After three extremely stimulating years playing with the Phiharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, and London Mozart Players (among others), I heard that the second chair viola job in the NZSO had become vacant. In some ways I was not ready to leave the London scene, but I knew I had to seize this opportunity. For all its excitement, London was a difficult place to live in, and there had always been a pull to return “home” – to the place where I felt I belonged in the world.

At first I told myself I might leave again, but after three or four years I realized I wasn’t going to, and I have been here now for 26 years. The lifestyle is pretty good, the pay is adequate and the standard comparable to good European and American orchestras. I still find the job rewarding most of the time, and I think that’s not bad going. And if we have a bad day – well, five minutes from my front door I can be walking up through a native bush reserve listening to the birds and enjoying a spectacular view at the top. I find that always puts things into perspective.

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Brian Shillito
Brian Shillito

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