Sydney Symphony

Sydney Symphony

Infobox musical artist
Name = Sydney Symphony

Birth_name = Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Landscape = yes
Background = classical_ensemble
Origin = flagicon|AUS Sydney, Australia
Genre = Classical
Years_active = 1932-"present"
Associated_acts =
URL = []
Current_members = Chief Conductor and Artistic Director
Gianluigi Gelmetti
Past_members = Founder
Eugène Aynsley Goossens
Notable_instruments =

The Sydney Symphony is a symphony orchestra based in Sydney, Australia. It is often considered Australia's finest orchestra (although debate rages with the rival Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and it has the unique privilege of having the Sydney Opera House as its home concert hall.

Current Information

The SSO is an icon of the Sydney cultural scene, performing around 150 concerts a year to a combined annual audience of over 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.

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.

Gianluigi Gelmetti is the current chief conductor and artistic director; his contract finishes at the end of 2008 and he gave his farewell concert in September 2008. His successor in 2009 as Chief Conductor is to be Vladimir Ashkenazy.


The orchestra began as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and evolving from a small group of twenty-four musicians which were brought together to play concerts and to provide incidental music for radio plays when the Australian Broadcasting Commission was formed.

The first significant concert event in which the orchestra took part was in 1934, when the renowned conductor 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 Dorati and Sir Thomas Beecham. Soloists appearing with the orchestra included Arthur Rubinstein, Bronislaw 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. The new 82-player 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 a year before the end of his term. His term ended under scandalous circumstances, after customs officers found erotic pictures and rubber masks [] .

Sir Eugene Goossens was succeeded by other conductors, including 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. Under van Otterloo, the orchestra established the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House as its home base.

In 1982 Sir Charles Mackerras became the first Australian to be appointed chief conductor. When Mackerras fell ill in 1985, the young Australian conductor Stuart Challender stepped in to conduct some of his performances. These concerts led to Challender's appointment as the orchestra's chief conductor in 1987. In Australia's bi-centennial year (1988), he led the orchestra in a successful tour of the United States. He remained as chief conductor until his death from AIDS 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, who 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. 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).

In 2007, The Sydney Symphony played with The Whitlams at the Sydney Opera House for the Whitlams concert known as "Whitlams LIVE with The Sydney Symphony Orchestra"

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 1950's until the mid 2000's. A federal government review in 1994 severed the day to day management of the orchestra from the ABC and full independence was achieved in December 2006. 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.

2000 Olympics Controversy

In 2000, the orchestra mimed its entire performance at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics and parts of the recording were in fact played by rival Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. []

The SSO and the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House, while perhaps the most famous building 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. (This is believed to give a better resonance to these instruemnts). The orchestra is currently forced to seat 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 2008 the orchestra is still using the planks of wood.

Chief conductors

ee also

*Symphony Australia

External links

* [ Sydney Symphony official website]

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