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The Sydney Symphony Orchestra (abbreviation:SSO), commonly known as the Sydney Symphony, is a symphony orchestra based in Sydneymarker, Australia. It has the unique privilege of having the Sydney Opera Housemarker as its home concert hall. There is a permanent friendly rivalry between Sydney and Melbournemarker, as a part of which there are competing claims for the title of Australia's best orchestra: the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra or the Sydney Symphony.

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 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 Placemarker and the Sydney Town Hallmarker. The Town Hall was the home of the orchestra until the opening of the Opera House in 1973.

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 Domainmarker. 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. It was established by the newly formed Australian Broadcasting Commissionmarker (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 Councilmarker and the New South Walesmarker 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. The new 82-player Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert in January 1946.

Sydney Opera House

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 scandalous personal circumstances, 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 Amsterdammarker and The Haguemarker. Also under van Otterloo, the orchestra established the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera Housemarker 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 bicentennial year (1988), he 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. 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 Housemarker 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 Corporationmarker 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 1st 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 Housemarker, 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 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


  1. Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia

See also

External links

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