Bourby Webster, founder and CEO of the Perth Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has won the Arts and Culture category in the Western Australian of the Year awards. The awards are part of the annual WA Day celebrations, which took place over the weekend, and celebrate outstanding local contributors to arts and culture, sport, youth, indigenous, business and professions.
Bourby established PSO in 2011 to deliver world-class musical experiences across WA. From making classical music more accessible in the regions, to encouraging young women to take up conducting roles, over the last eight years PSO has consistently challenged orchestral traditions.
Minderoo Foundation supports the growth and development of PSO as a major partner and is thrilled Bourby has been recognised for her outstanding work in the sector.
We caught up with Bourby, after her win, to ask her a couple of questions:
PSO is clearly kicking goals, but can you tell us why you think you have been recognised?
Bourby Webster: I hope we have been recognised for the effort we make to attract a new audience, keep symphonic music relevant in today’s society, and for the work we do in developing WA talent. We have so many people who come to see us who have never seen an orchestra perform live ever. Seeing the impact that can have on them, and the change it makes to their lives, is just incredible. Through initiatives such as our Performance Partnership with WAAPA and our Women on the Podium program to develop emerging conductors, we are continually searching for ways to encourage, develop, support and give opportunities to WA talent. We love seeing new faces on stage with us, and our highly professional and experienced musicians love the chance to give back, and develop the next generation. We also hope in some small way we are retaining talent in WA. Whilst we are not yet large enough to pay the equivalent of a salary, we have been able to increase the number of orchestral playing opportunities, and we know this is helping our musicians create a performing career, and not have to go interstate or overseas.
How did you feel when you won the award, and what do you hope it means for you and PSO?
BW: I was trembling when they announced it! I had hoped so much that we might get recognised for the insane hard work everyone in the team has contributed to get us where we are. It’s more than an award for me, it’s an award for the team, and a thank you to all those who have supported me and the orchestra. To know that we are valued by the State – enough to win an award – is a huge honour. In my wildest dreams I hope it opens doors, attracts more sponsors, encourages more patrons and makes people curious to come and experience us in concert. Any financial contribution would be amazing. I don’t know whether it will have such a direct impact, but the feedback I’ve received (hundreds of messages, texts, posts and more) congratulating me has given me a huge energy boost.
We hear you weren’t able to attend the awards ceremony because you were overseeing a PSO event: Girls Night Out. How was the performance?
BW: I did actually sneak out half way through the second show to attend the awards in person. But it was incredibly hard. Even as I won the award, I felt so alone as the entire team who deserve to win with me were working. The shows were incredible. We had a 100% female orchestra performing songs made famous by iconic female artists orchestrated by five WA female composers, with all stage crew, lighting engineer, producer, marketing manager etc. being women. It was a huge and exciting collaboration, and the vibe on stage and in the audience was electric. It was the celebration of women I’d hoped it would be. I could not be more proud of the orchestra, Jessica Gethin our conductor, the backing singers and the four soloists: Rose Parker, Odette Mercy, Lucy Peach and Sophie Foster.
Looking to the future, who else do you see doing amazing things in the WA Arts and Culture space that should be recognised with a WA day Award nomination next year?
BW: Oh my there are so many. What Hugh Lydon is doing for choral singing through the Giovanni Consort and Perth Choral Institute is magical. Harriet Marshall is leading the way in taking opera to a new audience and giving WA singers work through her amazing company, Freeze Frame Opera. Jessica Machin who heads up the ballet is continually pushing the boundaries of what a ballet company can and should do in such a large state. I think Anna Reece’s impact and commitment at Perth Festival is remarkable bringing us so much incredible inspiration. And of course Jessica Gethin, our Chief Conductor who was nominated alongside me… her role in bringing Perth Symphony Orchestra front of mind in WA is critical. She is a mentor, role model and international superstar, so I’ve no doubt her time as a winner will come.
Minderoo would like to congratulate all the 2019 category winners and finalists for their exceptional work in the community. The top award, Western Australian of the Year was awarded to James McMahon for his work in the community category. Other winners on the night were Matildas star Samantha Kerr, who took out the Sport Award, Associate Professor Angus Turner for the Professions Award, Business Award winner Dr Erica Smyth, Glen Kelly for the Aboriginal Award and the Youth Award winner Harrison Garland.