Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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Sydney Symphony Orchestra Logo 2014.png
Former nameNational Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
Concert hall Sydney Opera House
Principal conductor David Robertson

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) is an Australian symphony orchestra that was initially formed in 1908. Since its opening in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has been its home concert hall. The orchestra's current chief conductor is David Robertson.

Sydney Opera House multi-venue performing arts centre in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre at Sydney Harbour in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is one of the 20th century's most famous and distinctive buildings.

David Eric Robertson is an American conductor. He is currently chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and was formerly music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra until 2018.


Venues and programming

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House Sydney Opera House concert hall October 2018.jpg
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Symphony performs around 150 concerts a year to a combined annual audience of more than 350,000. The regular subscription concert series are mostly performed at the Sydney Opera House, but other venues around Sydney are used as well, including the City Recital Hall at Angel Place and the Sydney Town Hall. The Town Hall was the home of the orchestra until the opening of the Opera House in 1973. Since then, most concerts have been taking place in the Opera House's Concert Hall (capacity: 2,679 seats). A major annual event for the orchestra is Symphony in the Domain, a free evening outdoor picnic concert held in the summer month of January in the large city park known as The Domain. This event draws audiences of over 80,000 and is a long-established part of the Sydney summer cultural calendar.

City Recital Hall

City Recital Hall in Sydney, Australia, is a purpose-built concert venue with the capacity for 1,238 guests seated over three tiers of sloped seating. It is situated in the city centre in Angel Place, just off Martin Place.

Sydney Town Hall city hall

The Sydney Town Hall is a late 19th-century heritage-listed town hall building in the city of Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales, Australia, housing the chambers of the Lord Mayor of Sydney, council offices, and venues for meetings and functions. It is located at 483 George Street, in the Sydney central business district opposite the Queen Victoria Building and alongside St Andrew's Cathedral. Sited above the Town Hall station and between the city shopping and entertainment precincts, the steps of the Town Hall are a popular meeting place.

Symphony in the Domain

Symphony in The Domain is the second of three open-air concerts that are held in The Domain, Sydney - Summer Sounds and Symphony, as part of Sydney Festival, and Mazda Opera in The Domain. Symphony in The Domain, performed by the Sydney Symphony, is traditionally held on the third Saturday evening of January. In 2014 the event was moved to the third Sunday, coinciding with Australia Day, and in 2015 the event was also held on a Sunday. In 2007, the event celebrated its 25th anniversary, with a record crowd of 85,000 people.


The first concert by a group calling themselves the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was held on 30 September 1905. Sponsored by the Musicians Union, this group was formed from musicians who had come together to form an orchestra to accompany the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski's Sydney concerts when he toured Australia in 1904. [1] A more sustained effort to establish an orchestra began in 1908 when an alliance between musicians, their union and leading business and legal figures organised regular subscription concerts. Between 1908 and 1917, a total of 47 concerts was held by a group calling themselves the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. These concerts included many Sydney premieres of key works of the classical repertoire including Schumann's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat, Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor, and in 1910, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique as well as a number of quite recent, even modernist works including, in 1910, Richard Strauss's tone-poem Don Juan ; in 1911, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune ; in 1912, Elgar's Enigma Variations ; in 1913, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade ; in 1914, Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia ; and in 1917, Borodin's Symphony in B minor and Glazunov's Symphony in C minor. [2] This initiative folded when most of the orchestra's members were recruited by the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music's orchestra, then conducted by its founding director, Henri Verbrugghen. [3]

Ignacy Jan Paderewski Polish composer

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a Polish pianist and composer, freemason, politician, statesman and spokesman for Polish independence. He was a favorite of concert audiences around the world. His musical fame opened access to diplomacy and the media.

<i>Don Juan</i> (Strauss) tone poem for large orchestra by the German composer Richard Strauss

Don Juan, Op. 20, is a tone poem in E major for large orchestra written by the German composer Richard Strauss in 1888. It is singled out by Carl Dahlhaus as a "musical symbol of fin-de-siècle modernism", particularly for the "breakaway mood" of its opening bars.

<i>Prélude à laprès-midi dun faune</i>

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, known in English as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was first performed in Paris on 22 December 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret. The flute solo was played by Georges Barrère.

The Sydney Opera House, home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Sydney Opera House Sails.jpg
The Sydney Opera House, home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Verbrugghen resigned from the Conservatorium in 1922 amidst controversy regarding funding for his orchestra. [4] The Conservatorium student orchestra, supplemented by teachers continued to give concerts throughout the 1920s. Although there were regular calls for the government to provide funding for a permanent full-time professional orchestra, no such orchestra had been established in Sydney when the ABC began operation in 1932. Despite expectations, according to Fraser, the ABC's initial intervention was quite modest. It simply adopted the 20 piece orchestra already engaged in the Sydney studio by the ABC's predecessor, the privately run Australian Broadcasting Company. [5] Within the year, this orchestra was expanded to a 24-player concert orchestra used primarily for the purposes of broadcasting. However it sometimes combined for concerts with the NSW State Conservatorium under different names including the ABC Symphony Orchestra and the NSW State Symphony Orchestra. [6] It was not until 1936 that the ABC sponsored a new series of orchestra concerts in Sydney under the name of the "Sydney Symphony Orchestra". [6] At this time the orchestra was increased to 45 players, and sometimes augmented to 70 players for public performances. It also again inaugurated annual concert seasons in that year. In 1937, the ABC purchased the name "Sydney Symphony Orchestra" from George Plummer who had been instrumental in establishing the initial Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 1908. [7]

Because of the political instability in Europe in the 1930s, many leading artists spent large amounts of time in Australia. Performances were given under the direction of Antal Doráti and Sir Thomas Beecham. Soloists appearing with the orchestra included Arthur Rubinstein, Bronisław Huberman, Artur Schnabel and Jascha Spivakovsky.

Antal Doráti Hungarian-born conductor and composer

Antal Doráti, was a Hungarian-born conductor and composer who became a naturalized American citizen in 1943.

Thomas Beecham British conductor and impresario

Sir Thomas Beecham, 2nd Baronet, CH was an English conductor and impresario best known for his association with the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras. He was also closely associated with the Liverpool Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras. From the early 20th century until his death, Beecham was a major influence on the musical life of Britain and, according to the BBC, was Britain's first international conductor.

Arthur Rubinstein Polish-American classical pianist

Arthur Rubinstein was a Polish American classical pianist. He received international acclaim for his performances of the music written by a variety of composers and many regard him as the greatest Chopin interpreter of his time. He has been described as one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. He played in public for eight decades.

At the end of World War II, the ABC reached agreement with the Sydney City Council and the New South Wales state government to jointly fund the orchestra. [8] The new 80-member Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert in January 1946.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

City of Sydney Local government area in New South Wales, Australia

The City of Sydney is the local government area covering the Sydney central business district and surrounding inner city suburbs of the greater metropolitan area of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Established by Act of Parliament in 1842, the City of Sydney is the oldest, and the oldest-surviving, local government authority in New South Wales, and the second-oldest in Australia, with only the City of Adelaide being older by two years.

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In September 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 8 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra featuring James Ehnes playing a Violin Concerto by Prokofiev Sydney Opera House interior.jpg
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra featuring James Ehnes playing a Violin Concerto by Prokofiev

Eugene Goossens joined the orchestra as its first chief conductor in 1947. Goossens introduced outdoor concerts and conducted Australian premieres of contemporary music. In 1948, he uttered the prophetic words, "Sydney must have an opera house!". Goossens was knighted in 1955, the year before his term was due to end. His tenure was abruptly cut short in March 1956 under personal circumstances deemed 'scandalous' at the time, and he was forced to return to England in disgrace. [9]

Sir Eugene Goossens was succeeded by Nikolai Malko, Dean Dixon, Moshe Atzmon and Willem van Otterloo. Under van Otterloo, the orchestra made an eight-week European tour in 1974 which culminated in two concerts in Amsterdam and The Hague. Also under van Otterloo, the orchestra established the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House as its home base for most of its concerts.

In 1982, Sir Charles Mackerras, a former oboist with the orchestra, became the first Australian to be appointed its chief conductor. His term ended in 1985, although illness prevented him from conducting some later concerts. Zdeněk Mácal was initially appointed on a three-year contract from 1986 until 1988, which was reduced to one year, at his request; he nevertheless left abruptly in the first season. [10] [11] The young Australian conductor Stuart Challender, who had taken over some of Mackerras's commitments in 1985, became the orchestra's chief conductor in 1987. In Australia's bicentennial year (1988), Challender led the orchestra in a successful tour of the United States. He remained as chief conductor until his death in December 1991.

In 1994, the orchestra received increased support from the federal government, enabling it to raise the number of players to 110, increase touring and recording ventures, and improve orchestral salaries. That year, it also appointed Edo de Waart as the orchestra's chief conductor and artistic director; he held the post until 2003.

Since de Waart's tenure, the Sydney Opera House has been the orchestra's full-time home, with all rehearsals taking place in the Opera House Concert Hall. Highlights of his tenure in Sydney included Wagner's Ring Cycle in concert, a focus on the works of his personal favourite Mahler and tours of Europe (1995), Japan (1996) and the United States (1998).

Gianluigi Gelmetti was chief conductor 2004–2008, succeeded by Vladimir Ashkenazy (2009–2013). In May 2012, David Robertson was named as the SSO's next chief conductor, with an initial contract from 2014 to 2018. [12] In July 2017, the SSO announced the extension of Robertson's contract by one year, through to the end of 2019. [13]

Financial structure

The SSO, like all the other major symphony orchestras in Australia, was funded by the federal government as a division of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the 1950s until the mid-2000s. A federal government review in 1994 severed the day-to-day management of the orchestra from the ABC and full independence was achieved on 1 January 2007. The orchestra now operates as a public company with a board of directors. As of 2016 the Chairman of the Board is Terrey Arcus AM. The Managing Director is Rory Jeffes (appointed in 2009). Funding is provided by federal and state governments, corporate and private sponsorships and commercial activities as well as ticketing income. [14]

The SSO and the Sydney Opera House

The iconic status of the building has opened up discussions over its orchestral potential. SOH at night.jpg
The iconic status of the building has opened up discussions over its orchestral potential.

The Sydney Opera House, while among the most famous buildings of the 20th century, is problematic for the orchestra. The SSO was instrumental in calling for a new Opera House to be built and it was always intended to be their home venue. However, control of the Opera House has always rested with a separate body, the Sydney Opera House Trust, and the two institutions have had conflicts.

The longest running point of contention is the refusal by the Opera House Trust to allow the orchestra to drill small holes into the concert hall stage to allow proper seating of the endpins (spikes on the bottom) of their cellos and double basses, which is believed to give a better resonance to these instruments. The orchestra seats their endpins in planks of wood placed on the stage, as the Opera House Trust maintains that the entire building is heritage-listed under Australian law and that such work would therefore be illegal.[ citation needed ] Edo de Waart was particularly critical of this during his tenure as Chief Conductor in the 1990s, arguing in the press that the building had been specifically constructed for the orchestra and that it was a scandal that the orchestra was being forced to accept a reduced sound quality. However, the Opera House Trust has refused to bend and as of 2012 the orchestra was still using the planks of wood.[ citation needed ]

In November 2016, temporary sound reflectors were installed in the concert hall of the Opera House, to assist in amelioration of the acoustics. The concert hall is scheduled to be closed between 2019 and 2021. [15] [16]

Chief conductors

Principal intrumentalists


Awards and nominations

APRA Classical Music Awards

The APRA Classical Music Awards are presented annually by Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and Australian Music Centre (AMC). [17]

YearNominee / workAwardResult
2003 Guyuhmgan (Georges Lentz) – Sydney SymphonyOrchestral Work of the Year [18] Nominated
Ngangkar (Georges Lentz) – Sydney SymphonyOrchestral Work of the Year [18] Nominated
Three Miró Pieces (Richard Meale) – Sydney SymphonyOrchestral Work of the Year [19] Won
Adult Themes (2002) – Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sydney SymphonyMost Distinguished Contribution to the Presentation of Australian Composition by an Organisation [19] Won
2005 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (Carl Vine) – Steven Isserlis, Sydney SymphonyBest Performance of an Australian Composition [20] Won
Inflight Entertainment (Graeme Koehne) – Diana Doherty, Sydney Symphony, Takuo Yuasa (conductor)Orchestral Work of the Year [21] Nominated
2004 Education Program – Sydney SymphonyOutstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education [21] Nominated
2006 Mysterium Cosmographicum (Michael Smetanin) – Lisa Moore, Sydney SymphonyBest Performance of an Australian Composition [22] Nominated
Journey to the Horseshoe Bend (Andrew Shultz, Gordon Williams) – Ntaria Ladies Choir, Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir, Sydney SymphonyVocal or Choral Work of the Year [22] Nominated
2007 When the Clock Strikes Me (Nigel Westlake) – Rebecca Lagos (soloist), Sydney SymphonyBest Performance of an Australian Composition [23] Won
Flying Banner (After Wang To) (Liza Lim) – Sydney Symphony, Gianluigi Gelmetti (conductor)Orchestral Work of the Year [23] Won
Liza Lim – Sydney Symphony Composer ResidencyOutstanding Contribution by an Individual [24] Nominated
Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sinfonietta Composition projectOutstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education [24] Nominated
2008 Sydney Symphony Education Program – 2007 Sinfonietta ProjectOutstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education [25] Nominated
2009 Monh (Georges Lentz) – Tabea Zimmermann, Sydney Symphony, Steven Sloane (conductor)Best Composition by an Australian Composer [26] Won

See also

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  1. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 201)
  2. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 205)
  3. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 209)
  4. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 210)
  5. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 211)
  6. 1 2 ( Fraser 2014 , p. 212)
  7. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 220)
  8. ( Fraser 2014 , p. 219)
  9. ""Sir Eugene Goossens: sex, magic and the maestro"". Rewind (Interview). Interviewed by Michelle Arrow. Australia: ABC-TV. 5 September 2004. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  10. "Conductor Makes Sudden Australian Departure", Los Angeles Times , 30 July 1986
  11. "Zdenek Macal: Just Call Him Denny : Pacific Symphony Guest Conductor Indicates He Doesn't Want Music Director's Job" by Daniel Cariaga, Los Angeles Times , 31 December 1988
  12. "US conductor to take reins of Sydney orchestra". ABC News. 15 May 2012.
  13. "A letter to the SSO family by David Robertson" (Press release). Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 26 July 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  14. Sydney Symphony Orchestra.Boeard of Directors. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  15. Jayne Margetts and Sue Daniel (10 November 2016). "Sydney Opera House Concert Hall acoustics to be upgraded in $200 million renewal project". ABC News. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  16. "Brilliant sound: Testing the Concert Hall's acoustic reflectors" (Press release). Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 11 March 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
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