It may seem an obvious point, but Canberra is an awfully long way away from Ukraine. On a bright winter day, with the lake sparkling, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (Retired) couldn't help reflecting on how lucky we are, having just returned home from weeks on the grim, war-torn crash site of the downed MH17 plane.
It was a surreal juxtaposition, but a morning run with a dawn chorus of kookaburras was enough to put thoughts of a distant war aside for the chair of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, in time for the announcement of the 2015 season this week.
And, as Houston pointed out in his lunchtime remarks, the CSO is ever the Little Orchestra That Could when it comes to quiet triumph and growing success among local audiences. Subscriptions are consistently renewed, concerts routinely sell out, and musicians are taking their passion into the community, with programs for children with special needs, people with Parkinson's Disease and the elderly, among others.
And the artistic director and chief conductor, the redoubtable Nicholas Milton, says the orchestra, which turns 65 next year, is really only just hitting its straps when it comes to the foreseeable future.
"I guess what's most remarkable is to consider the journey the orchestra's been on, that we've now reached a point where the CSO is so firmly ensconced in the fabric of the orchestral landscape in Australia," he says.
"It's not a given, if you recall that 15 years ago the orchestra was on the brink of bankruptcy. Now we've got some of the highest numbers in the country, including the highest subscription renewal rate of any orchestra, and more sold out performances than not. I think that that's remarkable, that we're just reaching our potential and there's so much more that we can do."
He says the 2015 season will be characterised by "very difficult and virtuosic and demanding and exciting programs that the musicians have put together".
"We have an artistic committee and those musicians are intricately involved in the programming for the orchestra," he says.
"The programs are really discussed and ultimately the musicians are playing what they want to perform, what they believe, as people who know Canberra the best, with friends in the audience and neighbours, what is going to excite those people."
And thus we will see Schubert, Dvorak and Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Richard Mills, along with a sprinkling of themed favourites. The Shell Prom concert in February will – weather permitting – feature Scottish classics, while a new Saturday matinee show in September will be all about moody swing classics.
And, one of the year's highlights will no doubt be the Canberra Day concert – what the ACT government has boldly named the CBR Tribute Concert in the lead-up to the Anzac Centenary.
With demonstrations of military precision and a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture at its climax, the concert will also be "pulling out all the stops" with the use of actual cannons. We are in Canberra, after all.
Grand, to be sure, and Milton says it's always a "sheer joy" to conduct the orchestra.
"The Llewellyn concerts are such audience magnets now - each one has something thrilling, each program is big and extravagant and designed to just captivate and take our audiences on an amazing journey," he says.
"I'm excited about Noteworthy, I'm excited about painting with Parkinsons, and about the special schools. People at the special schools actually said to us, we have to rethink our approach to our students, because we didn't realise music would have such an effect."
But he's equally thrilled by the effect the music has been having on people who might otherwise never make it to Llewellyn Hall.
"The Noteworthy program is now playing to 60,000 kids, and that is just a huge number for an orchestra that is basically a part-time professional orchestra," he says.
"To see the kids and how they react, some of them are hearing a symphonic orchestra in its grandeur for the first time, and that's thrilling."
For more information about the Canberra Symphony Orchestra's program and events, visit cso.org.au or call 6247 9191.