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Sydney Symphony

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Title: Sydney Symphony  
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Subject: Culture of Sydney, Sidonie Goossens, Willem van Otterloo, Georg Schnéevoigt, Music of Sydney, Aleksey Volodin, David Bruce (musician), Clogs (band), 2000 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, James Crabb
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Sydney Symphony

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (abbreviation – SSO) is an Australian symphony orchestra. It has the unique privilege of having the Sydney Opera House as its home concert hall. The orchestra's current chief conductor is Vladimir Ashkenazy. His term will conclude at the end of 2013, and David Robertson will succeed him from 2014.

Current information

The Sydney Symphony is an icon of the Sydney cultural scene, performing 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.

Vladimir Ashkenazy is the current chief conductor and artistic director.


The orchestra began in 1932 as the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra.[1] It was established by the newly formed Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and consisted of a group of 24 musicians who were brought together to play concerts and to provide incidental music for radio plays.

The first significant concert event in which the orchestra took part was in 1934, when Sir Hamilton Harty visited Australia. His visit led to calls for the creation of a permanent symphony orchestra for Sydney.

In 1936, the orchestra was increased to 45 players, augmented to 70 for public performances. It also inaugurated annual concert seasons that year.

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 and Artur Schnabel.

At the end of World War II, the ABC reached agreement with the Sydney City Council and the New South Wales state government to establish an orchestra in Sydney. In 1946 it purchased the title "Sydney Symphony Orchestra" from the original owner, an orchestra that had been founded in 1908.[1] The new 82-member Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert in January 1946.

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.

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 1986-88, which was reduced to one year, at his request; he nevertheless left abruptly in the midst of that first season.[2][3] 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.

De Waart is regarded as having significantly improved the quality of the orchestra during his tenure, bringing it into the first rank of international orchestras for the first time. When he came to the post the orchestra had only recently relaxed protectionist rules requiring members to be Australian citizens. De Waart introduced blind auditions for permanent positions for the first time, introduced restrictions on the use of substitutes, and brought a new level of drive to the orchestra. Since de Waart's time, the Opera House has also truly been the orchestra's home for the first time, 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, being succeeded by the incumbent, Vladimir Ashkenazy (2009-2013). In May 2012, David Robertson was named as Ashkenazy's successor for the 2014-2018 seasons.

Financial history and current 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. The current Chairman is John Conde AO and the Managing Director Rory Jeffes. Funding is provided by federal and state governments, corporate and private sponsorships and commercial activities as well as ticketing income.

The SSO and the Sydney Opera House

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.

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 is still using the planks of wood.

Chief conductors



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).[5]

Year Recipient Award Result
2003 Guyuhmgan (Georges Lentz) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[6] Nominated
Ngangkar (Georges Lentz) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[6] Nominated
Three Miró Pieces (Richard Meale) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[7] Won
Adult Themes (2002) – Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sydney Symphony Most Distinguished Contribution to the Presentation of Australian Composition by an Organisation[7] Won
2005 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (Carl Vine) – Steven Isserlis, Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[8] Won
Inflight Entertainment (Graeme Koehne) – Diana Doherty, Sydney Symphony, Takuo Yuasa (conductor) Orchestral Work of the Year[9] Nominated
2004 Education Program – Sydney Symphony Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[9] Nominated
2006 Mysterium Cosmographicum (Michael Smetanin) – Lisa Moore, Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[10] Nominated
Journey to the Horseshoe Bend (Andrew Shultz, Gordon Williams) – Ntaria Ladies Choir, Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir, Sydney Symphony Vocal or Choral Work of the Year[10] Nominated
2007 When the Clock Strikes Me (Nigel Westlake) - Rebecca Lagos (soloist), Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[11] Won
Flying Banner (After Wang To) (Liza Lim) - Sydney Symphony, Gianluigi Gelmetti (conductor) Orchestral Work of the Year[11] Won
Liza Lim – Sydney Symphony Composer Residency Outstanding Contribution by an Individual[12] Nominated
Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sinfonietta Composition project Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[12] Nominated
2008 Sydney Symphony Education Program – 2007 Sinfonietta Project Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[13] Nominated
2009 Monh (Georges Lentz) - Tabea Zimmermann, Sydney Symphony, Steven Sloane (conductor) Best Composition by an Australian Composer[14] Won

See also

  • Symphony Australia


External links

  • Sydney Symphony official website
  • AllMusic
  • Listen to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform at the 'Sydney Opera House Opening Concert' in 1973 on australianscreen online
  • The 'Sydney Opera House Opening Concert' was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2010
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