Messiah, Sydney Town Hall in 1957
The Opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973
The Choir in the late 1990’s
The choir with Music Director Peter Seymour
Festival Chorus and Symphony Chorus in rehearsal in 2017
For nearly a century, the choirs of Sydney Philharmonia have been driven by a passion to sing. From the very start in 1920 when 12 church choristers met to form the Hurlstone Park Choral Society- amateur singers performing at a professional level have given their time and talent to rehearse and perform the widest range of works in the choral repertoire.
A commitment to musical excellence saw the organisation grow quickly both in size and reputation to become what is today one of Australia’s longest continuously existing arts organizations.
From its earliest beginnings in suburban Sydney, the original group of choristers quickly made their mark on the musical life of the city. A decade of notable successes at Eisteddfods and performances with various church groups and musical societies led to them being offered performance opportunities with the ABC and Sydney Conservatorium of Music. By 1930 the membership numbered 100 and the Society had more offers of work than it could manage. When in 1941 the ABC renamed its orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Society’s singers were appointed as the Orchestra’s Choir – a role which Sydney Philharmonia Choirs fills to the present day.
Under Musical Director Peter Seymour the Choir expanded as its reputation grew, and in 1969 was renamed the Sydney Philharmonia Society. Seymour felt a strong need for the organisation to present concerts independently of the ABC which led to the establishment of an annual subscription series in 1972. Seymour formed a second smaller choir known as the Motet Choir (now Chamber Singers), Philharmonia’s young adult choir, VOX, was formed in 2001 by Lyn Williams and in 2007 Brett Weymark formed Festival Choir to provide an opportunity for choristers who were unable to make the time commitment needed by Symphony Chorus, Chamber Singers and VOX.
Among many musical highlights was the Philharmonia’s performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 in the presence of the Queen. Australia’s Bicentennial year, 1988 was another landmark for Sydney Philharmonia who played a pivotal role in the Australia Day celebrations at the Sydney Opera House, and the vast Easter Choral Celebration where over 3,000 singers from the UK, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian Festival Choir performed Messiah and the Verdi Requiem in the now-demolished Entertainment Centre.
During the 1980s Sydney Philharmonia toured outside Australia for the first time performing in Singapore, Japan, and Italy. In 2003 the choir was the first Australian choir to participate in London’s BBC Proms where they performed Mahler’s 8th Symphony. That success was repeated in 2010 with another tour to London to perform the Mahler 8. They have also performed at the 40th birthday celebrations for the SOH, at the funeral of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and with the Rolling Stones
One hundred memorable years on from the founding of the organisation, members of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs continue to bring their passion and commitment to singing great music to the highest standard with some of the world’s finest conductors, orchestras and soloists.
Our Music/Artistic Directors
1920 – 1927 Tom Downer
1927 – 1952 Vivian Peterson
1952 – 1963 Albert Keats
1964 – 1968 Ivan Rixon
1968 – 1987 Peter Seymour
1988 – 1991 John Grundy
1993 – 1997 Antony Walker
1998 – 2002 Mats Nilsson
2003 – present Brett Weymark