Sydney Symphony Orchestra reveals 2021 season

Sydney-Symphony-OrchestraFeaturing the best and brightest of our musical exports, allowing audiences the rare opportunity to hear the nation’s foremost performers back on home soil alongside Australia’s premier Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2021 Season.

In the Orchestra’s upcoming season, 18 works will be premiered, including 15 world-premieres of Australian works. Throughout the season, audiences will experience weekly the best of Australian artistry through returned, internationally-acclaimed homegrown soloists and conductors, our nation’s foremost composers, and never-before-heard Australian works with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra CEO Emma Dunch is proud to announce the Orchestra’s latest season, a program developed in history-defining circumstances and a reminder of the power of live music. “It gives me great pleasure to announce the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 Season,” she says.

“In 2021, we celebrate the magic of live performance with the very best of our nation’s artists and composers. We launch our major commissioning project, 50 Fanfares, giving the world premiere of 15 new Australian works by composers of a broad range of voices and musical styles, commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, we share the stage with the world’s most sought-after artists, and we spotlight the extraordinary virtuosity of our very own Sydney Symphony musicians,” says Ms Dunch.

With more of the nation’s leading artists returning to Australia than ever before, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will share the stage with 19 illustrious soloists and conductors. Alongside Australia’s premier Orchestra, audiences will experience the immense virtuosity for which these artists are internationally celebrated, back in some of the very same venues that they performed in before they took the world by storm.

Among the artists include Australian-Chinese conductor Dane Lam who made his debut with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the iconic Sydney Opera House at the age of 18. Since then, Lam has gone on to lead orchestras across Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Asia. In 2021, the Brisbane-born conductor will lead the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the first Symphony Hour program for the season 0 one hour programs starting at 7.00pm exploring classical and contemporary works right in the heart of the city at Sydney Town Hall.

In this bite-sized concert, Lam will together with Australia’s premier Orchestra perform Water, written by English rock band Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony, with Sydneysider and organist David Drury performing on the largest instrument of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere (25 February).

Fast gaining a reputation as Australia’s finest young violinist, Grace Clifford will perform Sibelius’ intense and fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto. Currently studying at the New England Conservatory in Boston, United States of America, the 22-year-old musician has performed with orchestras across the country, New Zealand, Malaysia, and toured the United States of America. Clifford will join the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by New-Zealand born conductor Gemma New for Arctic Winds – Sibelius and Tchaikovsky at the Sydney Town Hall (25-28 August).

In his Sydney Symphony Orchestra debut as conductor, Australian Fabian Russell will explore a program of early works by composers of the 21st Century, featuring John Adams’ Shaker Loops and Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Symphony (27 May). The pieces launched the careers of each composer when they premiered.

A renowned brass specialist, Russell will return to conduct a program celebrating the best of the brass repertoire (28 May). The program will begin with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which was written in 1942 under the direction of conductor Eugene Goossens, who would then go on to become the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s first chief conductor five years later.

Other Australian artists who will join the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2021 include Benjamin Bayl (conductor), Nicholas Carter (conductor), Ray Chen (violin), James Clayton (bass baritone), Steve Davislim (tenor), Daniel de Borah (pianist), British-Australian Finnegan Downie Dear (conductor), Andrew Goodwin (tenor), British-born and Australian citizen Stephen Hough (pianist), Caitlin Hulcup (Mezzo soprano), Piers Lane (pianist), Benjamin Northey (conductor), Jacqueline Porter (soprano), Siobhan Stagg (soprano), and Simone Young (Chief Conductor Designate).

Setting the tone for the season to come, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 Season will kick-off with a program featuring Chief Conductor Designate Simone Young at the helm as she leads the Orchestra and Brisbane-raised violinist Ray Chen in Tchaikovsky’s swoon-worthy Violin Concerto at the Sydney Town Hall (10-13 February). The program will also feature a new work by fellow Queenslander Connor D’Netto, the first of the 50 Fanfare commissions to be given its world premiere.

Since winning a position at age 15 at the highly selective Curtis Institute of Music, Colorado, TaiwaneseAustralian Ray Chen is regarded as one the world’s foremost violinists. Leveraging social media and producing videos that combine comedy, education and music, the 31-year-old soloist is a pioneer of using modern technology to engage new audiences and demographics. His proficiency for making classical music relatable through social media is surpassed only by his mastery on the stage, performing globally with the world’s major orchestras in leading concert halls across the globe.

Described by ABC Classic FM as “the model contemporary Australian composer,” 26-year-old Connor D’Netto combines lush orchestral textures with driving rhythms and delicate electronic music elements. An award-winning composer, D’Netto’s music has been commissioned by ensembles across the nation and internationally, and performed by artists such as Australian singer-songwriter Katie Noonan.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra welcomes back Australian conductor Simone Young as its Chief Conductor Designate. Showcasing her mastery on the podium for which she is globally renowned, the Sydney-born conductor will perform works by Beethoven (18-20 February), and Bach and Brahms (29-31 July).

For Sacred Ground (4-7 August), Young will be joined by an all-Australian cast including Siobhan Stagg (soprano), Caitlin Hulcup (mezzo-soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), James Clayton (baritone), and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for Mozart’s exquisite Requiem. In the same program, the globally sought conductor will give the world premiere of Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s new work, as part of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 50 Fanfares project.

Simone Young’s long-standing association with the Sydney Symphony began in 1996, and she has been a frequent guest conductor while residing in Europe and holding roles with major institutions there. Young becomes the Orchestra’s thirteenth Chief Conductor, the first Australian-born conductor to hold the position since 1991, and the third Australian to hold the title. The Sydney Symphony’s two previous Australian-born Chief Conductors were Sir Charles Mackerras (1982–1985) and Stuart Challender (1987–1991).

Appointed in 2018, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles returns to guide audiences on journeys through the most sublime works in 2021. Across the season, he will give the world premiere of three 50 Fanfares commissions written by Australian composers.

Joined by Australian soprano Jacqueline Porter, the Scottish conductor will lead the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Schubert’s Lieder selections and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony – works which will illustrate why Runnicles is sought the world-over as a masterful interpreter of music (6 and 8 May).

From 12-15 May in the Force of Nature program, Runnicles will be joined by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Flute player Joshua Batty debuting as soloist in Leonard Bernstein’s Halil. The Hebrew word for “flute” – Halil will showcase Batty’s virtuosity as a flautist and demonstrate why he was appointed as Principal Flute in 2019.

Runnicles will return to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 15-18 September, joined by British-born pianist Stephen Hough performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 – the opening theme of which was used in the final leg of the 1980 Soviet Union Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony torch relay. First performed in 1937, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony – a work rumored to be a rebellion against Stalin’s rule – will also feature as part of the program.

Showcasing the phenomenal artistry of its own musicians, 35 Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians will feature as guest conductors, and in chamber ensembles, and in specially curated programs. In an Easter special, Concertmaster Andrew Haveron will lead and direct Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross – a work that uses as inspiration each of Christ’s final seven words on the cross (26 and 27 March).

A technical feat, Haveron will lead his fellow musicians, displaying the artistry for which they are renowned. On 27 March, the work will feature alongside Barber’s Mutations from Bach, Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon per Sonar Primi Toni No.1 and Canzon per Sonar in Echo Duodecimi Toni.

Principal Cello Umberto Clerici will take up the baton in place of his cello in 2021, conducting a program inspired by Mozart. Featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.17 with Australian pianist Daniel de Borah, the work will be performed alongside Ibert’s Hommage à Mozart and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, a work inspired by Mozart.

Recently appointed Principal Clarinet James Burke will make his soloist debut with the Sydney Symphony performing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (17-20 March). Prior to his appointment with the Sydney Symphony in September 2020, British-born Burke was Co-Principal of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Principal Clarinet of the Academy of St Martin in-the-Fields in London. His extensive career has seen him perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia and London Symphony Orchestra, and collaborate with world-renowned artists such as violinist Joshua Bell.

Appointed as Principal Flute in 2019, Joshua Batty will debut as soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing Leonard Bernstein’s Halil as part of the Force of Nature program, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles (12-15 May). Performing extensively as Principal Guest Flute with leading orchestras across Europe, USA and South America, the accomplished flautist is known for his virtuosity and championing new and rarely performed works. As a soloist, he has premiered several works and performed at Buckingham Palace. Chamber performances featuring Sydney Symphony musicians will take place throughout the year as the Orchestra continues its intimate Utzon Room concerts at the Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be bringing the most distinguished artists to Australia. American conductor Karina Canellakis (14-17 July), New-Zealand born Gemma New (25-28 August), Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska (10-13 November), and British-Australian conductor Finnegan Downie Dear will make their Sydney Symphony Orchestra debut.

Russian pianist Konstantin Shamray will perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for the first time, giving his account of Rachmaninov’s challenging Piano Concerto No.3 (13-16 October). Bursting onto the scene in 2008 after winning both the Judges’ and People’s Choice prizes at the Sydney International Piano Competition, Shamray has garnered critical acclaim collaborating with the world’s foremost orchestras and ensembles.

In his debut performance with the Sydney Symphony, Dutch-Australian conductor Benjamin Bayl will lead the Orchestra in performances of Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Mozart’s Symphony No.41 (Jupiter), and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 with pianist Stephen Hough.

The first Australian Organ Scholar of the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, Bayl’s extensive musical career has seen him work as Assistant Conductor to the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the celebrated conductor Iván Fischer. Bayl’s reputation as a renowned conductor has been confirmed following recent successful debuts across Europe, Asia, and South America.

In 2021, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will premiere 18 works, including 15 world-premieres and three Australian debuts. In her Sydney Symphony Orchestra debut, Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska will perform a program featuring works by composers from her homeland at the Sydney Town Hall. Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the 36-year-old conductor will give the Australian premiere of Jaakko Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto.

Written in 2011, the internationally-renowned violinist, conductor, and composer’s Violin Concerto is colourful and dramatic and will be performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Andrew Haveron. The concerto sits alongside two works by another famous Finnish composer, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 and Valse Triste (10-13 November).

In Summer Breezes (12-13 November), the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s woodwind players will give the first live performance of Australian composer Harry Sdraulig’s Hat-trick. Composed for Principal Flute Joshua Batty, Principal Oboe Diana Doherty and Principal Bassoon Todd Gibson-Cornish, Hat-trick received its first world premiere as part of the Sydney Symphony’s Chamber Sounds series – digital chamber music performances that took place during the COVID-19 shutdown. Audiences will experience the lyricism and virtuosity of Sdraulig’s work live at the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room, alongside other pieces that will showcase the inimitable skill of the Sydney Symphony’s woodwind players.

In her debut performance with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand conductor Gemma New will give the Sydney Symphony debut of fellow compatriot Douglas Lilburn’s Aotearoa Overture. Written in 1940 by New Zealand’s foremost composer, Aotearoa Overture is an ode to his homeland. The work will sit alongside Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, a musical masterpiece that evokes the beauty of the Finnish landscape, performed by 22-year-old Australian violinist Grace Clifford, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony. No.5 (25-28 August).

Throughout 2021, 15 Australian works will also receive their world-premiere as part of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 50 Fanfares project. Announced in February 2020, 50 Fanfares is a multi-season major commissioning project which will see the Sydney Symphony commission and present works by 50 Australian composers in 2021 and 2022. The 50 Fanfares works to be presented in the 2021 Season will be officially announced early February, 2021.

Other works that will be premiered by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra include Greenwood’s Water (25 February), Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight (22 April), Schreker’s Intermezzo (16-19 June), Schubert’s Offertorium (4-7 August), Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony after String Quartet No. 10, arranged by Barshai (11-12 August) and Rebel’s Les élémens (29-30 August).

In collaboration with award-winning brand agency Principals, and in consultation with focus groups comprised of patrons and members of the Orchestra and staff about what the Sydney Symphony Orchestra means to them, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra unveils a new look in 2021, reflective of the emotional experience of live performance and the idea that music has the power to move us all.

The safety of its audiences, musicians and staff remains paramount for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2021. To maintain a COVID-19 safe environment, the Sydney Symphony will implement socially distanced seating as advised by NSW Public Health Orders, and processes to protect the health and safety of all patrons.

Processes will include reducing points of physical contact with patrons by sending tickets digitally prior to their performances. Masks will also be strongly encouraged at performances, and available on arrival at the venue for those who may not have one.

At the venue, mask-wearing staff will manage strict doors for entry and exit by audiences, sanitisation stations will be positioned throughout the space, and in the early stages, bars will be on restricted service. Ticketholders will also be asked to register ahead of arrival. The Sydney Symphony will continue to implement NSW Public Health Orders as they relate to ticketing, seating arrangements and on-site procedures.

“This is a truly remarkable time for music here in Australia. The historic circumstances that we have found ourselves in this year reminds us of the importance of community, of connection, and live performance,” says Ms Dunch.

“We cannot wait to take the next step with audiences in our Orchestra’s musical journey – it’ll be a year filled with old favourites and new discoveries, exceptional music-making, and as always, sublime moments with Australia’s premier Orchestra!”

For more information about the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 season, visit: for details.

Image: Sydney Symphony Orchestra (supplied)