How a group of young professionals is building the Sydney Symphony's future over drinks and music

A Vanguard gathering at the Sydney Opera House last year. Source: Facebook.

On Thursday night, a select group of music fans in Sydney will stand just 2 metres away from some of the world greatest classical musicians, drinking wine, chatting and listening to a short concert designed especially for them.

This exclusive group is known as the SSO Vanguard Collective – Gen X and Gen Y professionals who’ve combined a social club with philanthropy to support the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The Vanguard Collective is chaired by Justin Di Lollo, business director at listed communications company STW Group. Di Lollo says it’s all about “people who like the music, but want to consume it in a new way”.

For a $500 donation – $42 a month – members are invited to five events a year, enjoying Kilikanoon Wines (former principal cellist Nathan Waks is proprietor of the Clare Valley-based winery) and great boutique beers by Newtown micro-brewer Young Henrys, along with two 20-minute concert performances by SSO members playing everything from Mozart to New Orleans brass during two hours of socialising.

“It represents pretty good value for money, but it’s not about just that. It’s about getting people to become financial supporters of the orchestra,” Di Lollo says, describing the events as a “sophisticated and intimate cocktail environment” for successful businesspeople in their 30s and 40s.

“The median member would be a senior associate in his law firm, who lives in the Eastern Suburbs,” he says, adding that it’s a great networking opportunity as well as a social gathering and they have been known to kick on – “nearby restaurants have been known to like us” – after it finishes around 8.30pm.

“It’s great for business contacts,” Di Lollo says. And other things. One member, who attends with a new, attractive friend each time, has confessed to Di Lollo that “it lends me a sophistication that has proven very successful”.

“We’re waiting for our first Vanguard marriage,” the foundation chairman quips.

The SSO plays for Vanguard members. Source: Facebook.

Underpinning the idea is creating a way to enjoy classical music without the stuffiness that’s often associated concert hall settings. Vanguard breaks down those barriers and in such an intimate setting, the music certainly moves you.

“The power of actually feeling a cello because you’re standing 2 metres away from it rather than 100m away, is incredible,” he says. “The musicians love being close to their audience too.”

But there is a serious side to the fun. The proceeds go towards supporting the chair of an SSO musician.

“The purpose of Vanguard is to create new philanthropists, not appear on the social pages,” he says. “It’s definitely not an A-lister event”.

It is, however, an excellent, enjoyable and affordable entry into arts philanthropy, especially since the names of Vanguard members appear in the program alongside benefactors donating $50,000 or more to support the orchestra. Since it began three years ago, around 100 people have signed up as Vanguard members.

Di Lollo has some big dreams for the group, hoping that in 20 years time, the chair of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra board will come from among Vanguard members, and in time, a $1 million bequest.

But for now, it’s all about great music, great fun and an easy way to get involved in supporting one of Sydney’s greatest cultural institutions.

Di Lollo says new people are always welcome. The next even is this Thursday, July 16, at the Publicis Drugstore, Walsh Bay. Later on, they’re off to Young Henrys for beer and Brahms (perhaps! The concert music is always a surprise) before an end of year gathering at the Sydney Opera House,

If you’re interested in heading along, contact Sarah Morrisby on (02) 8215 4674 or check out the Vanguard site. They also have a Facebook page here.

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