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 a century, the choirs of Sydney Philharmonia have been driven by a passion to sing. From the outset, when 19 church choristers met in 1920 to form the Hurlstone Park Choral Society, amateur singers performing at a professional level have devoted their time and talent to the wealth of music in the choral repertoire. Since then, the organisation has grown in size and reputation to become one of Australia’s longest continuously active arts organisations.
The original group of choristers quickly made their mark on Sydney’s musical life, enjoying notable successes at eisteddfods and in performances with church groups and musical societies. By 1930 the membership numbered 100 and the Society had more offers of work than it could manage. The Society’s singers first appeared with the ABC Orchestra (later the Sydney Symphony Orchestra) in 1936 and in 1941 the ABC awarded them the contract as the ABC choir, beginning the enduring relationship as the choir for Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts.
Under Musical Director Peter Seymour, the Society expanded as its reputation grew, and in 1969 was renamed the Sydney Philharmonia Society. Seymour believed the organisation should present concerts independently of the ABC, which led to the establishment of an annual subscription series in 1972. He also formed the Motet Choir, a second smaller choir now known as the Chamber Singers. Philharmonia’s young adult choir, VOX, was formed in 2001 and in 2007 Brett Weymark formed the Festival Chorus to widen opportunities for choral singers in the community.
Musical highlights include a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in the presence of the Queen for the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973. Australia’s Bicentennial year, 1988, was another landmark, with Sydney Philharmonia playing a pivotal role in the Australia Day celebrations at the Sydney Opera House and the vast Easter Choral Celebration where more than 3,000 singers from the UK, New Zealand and Scandinavia performed Messiah and the Verdi Requiem in Sydney’s Entertainment Centre.
During the 1980s Sydney Philharmonia toured internationally for the first time, performing in Singapore, Japan and Italy. In 2002 it was the first Australian choir to perform in the BBC Proms, singing Mahler’s Eighth Symphony under Simon Rattle. That
success was repeated in 2010 with another tour to London to perform Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. They have also performed at the 40th birthday celebrations of the Sydney Opera House, 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.
As we celebrate our 100th year anniversary, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs seeks to clarify that the book, A Choral Century – Sydney Philharmonia 1920-2020 is not a publication of, or in any way endorsed by, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. It is the work of Larry Turner, Louise Herrington, Neil Nicoll and Christopher Rogers, without authorisation from Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.
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