Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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. Simone Young will be the orchestra's next chief conductor when she takes up the position in 2022.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra Logo 2014.png
Former nameNational Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
Founded1932; 90 years ago (1932)
Concert hallSydney Opera House
Principal conductorSimone Young

Venues and programmingEdit

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.


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]

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.

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.

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. de Waart 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 from 2004 to 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] Robertson concluded his SSO chief conductorship in 2019.[14]

Simone Young first guest-conducted the SSO in 1996. In December 2019, the SSO announced the appointment of Young as its next chief conductor, effective in 2022, with an initial contract of 3 years.[15] Young is the first female conductor to be named chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.[16]

Financial structureEdit

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. 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 HouseEdit

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.[17][18]

Chief conductorsEdit

Awards and nominationsEdit

APRA Classical Music AwardsEdit

The APRA Classical Music Awards are presented annually by Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and Australian Music Centre (AMC).[19]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2003 Guyuhmgan (Georges Lentz) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[20] Nominated
Ngangkar (Georges Lentz) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[20] Nominated
Three Miró Pieces (Richard Meale) – Sydney Symphony Orchestral Work of the Year[21] Won
Adult Themes (2002) – Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sydney Symphony Most Distinguished Contribution to the Presentation of Australian Composition by an Organisation[21] Won
2005 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (Carl Vine) – Steven Isserlis, Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[22] Won
Inflight Entertainment (Graeme Koehne) – Diana Doherty, Sydney Symphony, Takuo Yuasa (conductor) Orchestral Work of the Year[23] Nominated
2004 Education Program – Sydney Symphony Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[23] Nominated
2006 Mysterium Cosmographicum (Michael Smetanin) – Lisa Moore, Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[24] 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[24] Nominated
2007 When the Clock Strikes Me (Nigel Westlake) – Rebecca Lagos (soloist), Sydney Symphony Best Performance of an Australian Composition[25] Won
Flying Banner (After Wang To) (Liza Lim) – Sydney Symphony, Gianluigi Gelmetti (conductor) Orchestral Work of the Year[25] Won
Liza Lim – Sydney Symphony Composer Residency Outstanding Contribution by an Individual[26] Nominated
Sydney Symphony Education Program – Sinfonietta Composition project Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[26] Nominated
2008 Sydney Symphony Education Program – 2007 Sinfonietta Project Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education[27] Nominated
2009 Monh (Georges Lentz) – Tabea Zimmermann, Sydney Symphony, Steven Sloane (conductor) Best Composition by an Australian Composer[28] Won

See alsoEdit



  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. ^ a b (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. ^ Galvin, Nick (29 November 2019). "Conductor bids so long and thanks for all the music ... and coffee". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  15. ^ "Simone Young announced as the next Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra" (Press release). Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 14 December 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  16. ^ Morris, Linda (14 December 2019). "Simone Young named new chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Brilliant sound: Testing the Concert Hall's acoustic reflectors" (Press release). Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 11 March 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  19. ^ "Classical Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  20. ^ a b "2003 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  21. ^ a b "2003 Winners – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  22. ^ "2005 Winners – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  23. ^ a b "2005 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  24. ^ a b "2006 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  25. ^ a b "2007 Winners – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  26. ^ a b "2007 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  27. ^ "2008 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 3 May 2010.
  28. ^ "2009 Finalists – Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 3 May 2010.


External linksEdit