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Stuart Challender conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Image: T. Schramm

Tempo primo

Last week marked the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s final classical performances in our Concert Hall before the venue undergoes its biggest upgrade since the Sydney Opera House opened in 1973

Sydney Opera House

Beginning in February 2020, major renewal works will transform our Concert Hall for everyone. This multi-million-dollar project will result in better acoustics and sound for artists and audiences, more ambitious performances, improved access for people with mobility needs and a safer venue for staff working behind-the-scenes. The renewed Concert Hall venue will meet the needs of the next generation of artists, audiences and visitors.

Next year, the world-class orchestra will be resident at Sydney Town Hall for much of its 2020 season as well as performing chamber music favourites in our very own Utzon Room for its Cocktail Hour series.   

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra are renowned for not only excelling in their core symphonic repertoire but for engaging in collaborations with other art forms and new commissions by both Australian and international composers. This year for instance they performed the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Last and First Men in the Joan Sutherland Theatre for our contemporary music festival Vivid LIVE, and in 2015 they staged a concert of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde.

The orchestra’s ongoing contribution to the rich history of the Sydney Opera House as an esteemed resident company ensures the vibrancy of orchestral music in all its forms for generations to come.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform Tristan and Isolde Image: Ken Butti

Over three performances from 4 to 7 December, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed Gustav Mahler’s shadowy and theatrical Klagende Lied, translating to ‘Sorrowful Song’, to farewell the Concert Hall until reopening in 2022. Under the baton of the charismatic Simone Young, the piece featured singers, choir and two orchestras (one of them off-stage) — a suitably epic finale for the year. 

The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra invite the community to relive this historic event by watching our livestream of the final performance on Saturday 7 December 2019. 

To celebrate this exciting moment for the future of the orchestra and the Opera House, we take a look back at some of our favourite Sydney Symphony Orchestra memories in the Concert Hall ...

The grand opening

29 September 1973

It all began on 29 September 1973 - the official opening concert of our Concert Hall. A 110-member strong Sydney Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the famed Australian conductor Charles Mackerras. 

The performance featured Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson singing the aria ‘Dich, teure Halle’ from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera - the title translating to ‘O Dear Hall of Song’. 

Revisit the original program from this opening gala concert [PDF, 3.8MB]. 

Programme from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's opening concert, 1973. Image: Sydney Opera House archives Image: Sydney Opera House archives
Programme from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's opening concert, 1973. Image: Sydney Opera House archives Image: Sydney Opera House archives

Classical heights

1973 - present

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra have played alongside a staggering wealth of premier classical artists, from conductors to composers, guest musicians and more on the Concert Hall stage. Recent highlights include Stuart Skelton, Yuja Wang, David Robertson, Steven Isserlis, Simone Young and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Not to mention stars from outside the realm of classical music, such as Wynton Marsalis, Conchita and Trevor Ashley. 

As one of the world’s leading orchestras, many of the SSO’s performances have been significant milestones in the classical repertoire. Achievements include Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle under Edo de Waart and Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting all of Beethoven’s symphonies in 2007. Australian premiere performances are wide-ranging, from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Berlioz's Trojans to Steve Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra in 2019

Sydney Symphony Orchestra Image: Keith Saunders Photography
Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Conchita in the Concert Hall Image: Ken Butti
Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in the Concert Hall Image: Ken Butti

From film to stage

From Hobbiton to Hogwarts and galaxies far, far away, the orchestra have taken Concert Hall audiences everywhere. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra have proudly performed live to film for years, with some one-offs alongside beloved series.

Fandom highlights include Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the James Bond films. International feature films such as The Artist have been performed, as have classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and medleys such as Tan Dun’s Martial Arts Trilogy concert in 2013, conducted by the composer himself.

Star Wars in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall Image: Sarah Lorien

A performance on the sails

February 4, 2015

On February 4, 2015, you didn’t need to be in the Concert Hall to see the musicians perform. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra saluted the great musical city of Vienna and its classical musical history in true Opera House style — by projecting the concert onto the sails, interspersed with footage of Vienna. 

The programme boasted works by Brahms, Beethoven and Strauss and the concert was livestreamed, drawing crowds in Circular Quay and across the world simultaneously. 

Watch the livestream of The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler's epic Das klagende Lied, recorded live from the Concert Hall on Saturday 7 December on Facebook or YouTube.

Find out more about the biggest upgrade in Opera House history and how we’re transforming this world-famous icon for the 21st century here

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