Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs is Australia’s largest choral organisation. It presents its own annual concert series in the Sydney Opera House the City Recital Hall, and other venues in New South Wales, as well as serving as chorus for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
OriginSydney, Australia
Genresclassical and contemporary choral music
Years active9 September 1920 (9 September 1920)–present

Formed in 1920, it currently comprises the following choirs:

  • Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers, formerly the Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir; an auditioned chamber choir of around 32 voices
  • Sydney Philharmonia Symphony Chorus; an auditioned choral orchestral choir of 100 voices
  • Vox; an auditioned young adult vocal ensemble for 18- to 30-year-olds
  • Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus; a large community choir of up to 450 voices
  • ChorusOz; an un-auditioned choir formed annually to rehearse and perform a single major choral work over the course of a long weekend.
  • Christmas Choir; or Messiah Choir – an un-auditioned choir formed annually to rehearse and perform performances of either Handel's Messiah or Carols at the House in December.


The choir formed in 1920 as the Hurlstone Park Choral Society and gave its first "Glee Performance", conducted by Tom Downer, on 9 September 1920 in hut 13, Randwick Hospital. The program was listed as Come where my love lies dreaming, Great God of wonders, There is music by the river and Sleep, baby, sleep. The first public performance, also conducted by Tom Downer, was on 3 November 1920 at the Masonic Hall, Dulwich Hill and the program was listed as Come where my love lies dreaming, Great God of wonders, There is music by the river, Sleep, baby, sleep, Oh hush thee my baby, Moonlight, The bells of St Marys and God save the King. The earliest performances to have been noticed in the press were at the Masonic Hall, Dulwich Hill, in 1922[1] and at St Clement's School Hall, Marrickville, in 1923.[2]

In 1922 the choir gave its first performance of a major choral work, 'Assisting Marrickville Choral Society' in Handel's Messiah. The next performance of Messiah was in 1927, and then annually in a sequence interrupted only in 1933 and 1943, until 2010.

Also in 1927, and continuing to 1939, the society entered Eisteddfods in various NSW locations, winning places on nine occasions. The prize money often had a significant bearing on the organisation's financial situation, which was always precarious. Despite its financial situation, in 1961 the Hurlstone Choral Society felt able to make an unsolicited gift of £50 to its 'major rival', the Sydney Royal Philharmonic Society, which was 'broke and in danger of extinction'.[3]

The choir changed its name to Hurlstone Choral Society in 1937, Sydney Philharmonia Society in 1969[4] and Sydney Philharmonia Limited in 1974.[5] It employed its first professional manager in 1974.

During this time, Sydney Philharmonia has worked with many conductors, including Eugene Ormandy,[6] Otto Klemperer,[6] Sir Eugene Goosens,[6] Sir David Willcocks, Sir Charles Mackerras,[6] Sir Malcolm Sargent,[7] Sir Granville Bantock,[7] Sir Bernard Heinze,[7] Sir Thomas Beecham,[7] Georg Schnéevoigt,[7] Hans Vonk,[6] Ward Swingle,[6] Zubin Mehta,[6] Christopher Hogwood,[6] Edo de Waart,[6] Charles Dutoit, Mark Elder,[6] John Nelson, Vladimir Ashkenazy,[8] Richard Hickox, and Sir Simon Rattle.[9] The current musical director and chorusmaster is Brett Weymark.

Sydney Philharmonia’s singing commitments have grown to the point where a typical year (2018) sees it perform 12 performances in its own concerts and 20 performances with the Sydney Symphony. Other commitments such as corporate events, commercial concerts and the like mean that the organisation mounts around 50 performances a year.[8][10]

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in a formal concert in the Sydney Opera House
Sydney Philharmonia Vox on television show The X Factor
Sydney Philharmonia The Beatles Unplugged ensemble
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in a Dawn Chorus concert[11]

Civic and community events

Sydney Philharmonia has taken part in many civic and community events such as the 1988 bicentennial celebrations and the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano as part of an international video link. Two years later, in 2000, it performed in both the opening concert Symphony at the Superdome[12][13] and the live, globally telecast opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics, singing the Australian national anthem and an excerpt from Hector Berlioz's Te Deum that accompanied the lighting and ascension of the Olympic flame.[14]

Sydney Philharmonia took part in the 2001 centenary of federation celebrations in Sydney and Melbourne and the state memorial for former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. It performed with the Australian World Orchestra concerts in 2011 and the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in 2012.[15]

Non-traditional offerings

While Sydney Philharmonia has a long history of traditional classical-style choral concert presentation, it has in recent years gone considerably beyond this style in some of its concerts, with some notable success.

  • The Vox chamber ensemble backed Labrinth in his performance of Earthquake on the television program The X Factor, 9 October 2012.[18]
  • The Beatles Unplugged was the title of an August 2012 concert which featured choral arrangements of Beatles songs with choreography and with costumes evoking the 1960s.[19][20]
  • Purcell's opera King Arthur was presented in 2010 in the City Recital Hall as if it were a 1940s radio play, with foley artists and an on-stage voice-over artist announcing stage directions. The performers were costumed, but in a 1940s style. This concert was nominated for a Limelight Award.
  • The Dawn Chorus concert series in 2009 was a series of four free concerts scheduled for 5:30 am on summer Saturdays on Sydney beaches during the Sydney Festival. These performances attracted audiences of over 7000.[21][22]


In 2002, Sydney Philharmonia was the first Australian choir to sing at the BBC Promenade Concert Series, performing Mahler's 8th Symphony under Sir Simon Rattle.[9] In 2010 Sydney Philharmonia celebrated its 90th Anniversary with a return to London and a return appearance at the opening night of the Proms, again performing Mahler's 8th Symphony, this time with the BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek.[23]

Sydney Philharmonia has also toured to other parts of the UK,[24] as well as Japan, Korea, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Newcastle (NSW), Orange (NSW) and Perth.

Awards and nominations

APRA-AMC Classical Music Awards

The APRA-AMC Classical Music Awards are presented annually by Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and Australian Music Centre (AMC).[25]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2004Berceuse (Gerard Brophy) – Sydney Philharmonia ChoirsVocal or Choral Work of the Year[26]Won
2006Journey to Horseshoe Bend (Andrew Shultz, Gordon Williams) – Ntaria Ladies Choir, Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir, Sydney SymphonyBest Performance of an Australian Composition[27]Nominated

Helpmann Awards

The Helpmann Awards, presented annually, recognise distinguished achievement in the Australian performing arts.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2010Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms (Igor Stravinsky) – Sydney Festival with the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Philharmonia ChoirsBest Symphony Orchestra Concert[28]Won


  • Wesley-Smith, Martin; Wesley-Smith, Peter (1991). "Boojum! : nonsense, truth and Lewis Carroll, a musical" (CD). Vox Australis. ASIN B00004KH7F. Catalog no. VAST 010-2. Retrieved 27 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van; Mackerras, Charles Sir, 1925–2010; Macann, Rodney; Doig, Christopher; Campbell, Elizabeth; Illing, Rosamund; Dunham, Warwick; Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Sydney Philharmonia Choir (1992). "Missa solemnis" (CD). ABC Classics. 434 722-2. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Page, Jimmy; Plant, Robert (1992). "Stairways to heaven" (CD). Triple J Music. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Sydney Philharmonia Choir; Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (2000). "Ode to joy – great choral masterpieces" (CD). ABC. 465 684-2. Retrieved 5 December 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • James, William G. (William Garnet); Miller, David, (Performer.); Williamson, Malcolm, (Composer.); Edwards, Ross, (Composer.); Ford, Andrew, (Composer.); Boyd, Anne, (Composer.); Walker, Anthony, (Conductor.); Gyger, Elliott, (Composer.); Walker, Antony, (Conductor.); Sculthorpe, Peter, (Composer.); Whittington, Stephen, (Composer.); Gyger, Elliott. Ring out, wild bells; Williamson, Malcolm. This Christmas night; James, William Garnet. Carol of the birds; James, William Garnet. Three drovers; James, William Garnet. Christmas bush for His adorning; James, William Garnet. Silver stars are in the sky; James, William Garnet. Christmas Day; James, William Garnet. Day that Christ was born on; James, William Garnet. Christmas night; James, William Garnet. Noel-time; James, William Garnet. Sing gloria; James, William Garnet. Little town where Christ was born; James, William Garnet. Country carol; James, William Garnet. Merry Christmas; James, William Garnet. Our Lady of December; James, William Garnet. Christmas tree; James, William Garnet. Golden day; Ford, Andrew. Wassails and lullabies; Sculthorpe, Peter. Awake, glad heart; Boyd, Anne. Burning babe; Edwards, Ross. Haill! Quene of Heven; Whittington, Stephen. Puer natus in Bethlehem; Ford, Andrew. Coventry carol; Ford, Andrew. Corpus Christi carol; Edwards, Ross. Five carols from Quem Quaeritis; Ford, Andrew. This endris night; Edwards, Ross. Now the most high is borne; Edwards, Ross. Nowell in Bethlehem; Ford, Andrew. Susanni; Ford, Andrew. Song of the nuns of Chester; Ford, Andrew. Boar's head carol; Edwards, Ross. Lorde that lay in asse stalle; Ford, Andrew. Gloucestershire Wassail; Edwards, Ross. Fader of Hevene; Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (1995). "An Australian Christmas" (CD). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 446 975-2. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Vine, Carl; Waart, Edo de. (Conductor); Harvey, Michael Kieran. (Performer); Vine, Carl, 1954–. Symphonies, no. 6; Vine, Carl, 1954–. Symphonies, no. 4.2; Vine, Carl, 1954–. Concertos; Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (2000). "Choral symphony, Symphony no. 4.2 Piano concerto" (CD). Australian Broadcasting Corporation : Universal Music Group [distributor]. 456 698-2. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Streisand, Barbra (2000). "Timeless: Live in Concert" (CD liner). Columbia Records. ASIN B00004HYMR. Catalog no. 63778. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) (The choir performed live in two concerts as part of Streisand's Timeless: Live in Concert Tour.)
  • Various (2000). The Games Of The XXVII Olympiad: Official Music From The Opening Ceremony (CD). Sony Music, BMG Australia. ASIN B00004Z1CY. 5005345000. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  • Schultz, Andrew; Bruce, David; Porcelijn, David; Macann, Rodney; Stanton, John, 1945–; Pedersen, Aaron; Williams, Gordon Kalton; Strehlow, T. G. H. (Theodor George Henry), 1908–1978. Journey to Horseshoe Bend; Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Ntaria Ladies Choir; Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (2004). "Journey to Horseshoe Bend, a cantata based on the novel by TGH Strehlow" (CD). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC 476 2266. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) A recording of a performance on 28 May 2003 at the Sydney Opera House.
  • Tavener, John; Josey, Christopher; Rozario, Patricia; Sydney Philharmonia Choir (2004). "Lament for Jerusalem a mystical love song" (CD). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC 476 160-5. Retrieved 29 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Nathan, Isaac; Mackerras, Charles, 1925-2010; Weymark, Brett; Briger, Alex; Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers; Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2011). "Don John of Austria, Australia's first opera". ABC Classics. 4764114. Retrieved 30 November 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) A recording of performances on 18 and 20 October 2007 at the City Recital Hall Angel Place in Sydney.
  • Australian National Anthem CD.[29]

Movies and television


  1. "HURLSTONE CHORAL SOCIETY [sic]". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, NSW. 23 February 1922. p. 12. The Hurlstone Park Choral Society ... gave a successful invitation concert
  2. "Hurlstone Park Choral Society". The Alert. Marrickville, NSW. 27 April 1923. Monday evening last
  3. Daily Telegraph 12 March 1961, cited in Thornley, Clare (2004). The Sydney eScholarship Repository: The Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney: the rise and fall of a musical organisation (Master of Music (Musicology) thesis). Sydney University. pp. 131–132. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  4. The Messiah. Concert program. Sydney: Hurlstone Choral Society. December 1968.
  5. "Search ASIC Registers". Australian Securities & Investments Commission. Retrieved 1 September 2012. Registration date: 28/08/1974
  6. Garrett, David (February 1995). "Magnificat". ABC Radio 24 Hours. Australian Broadcasting Corporation: 37–40.
  7. "Hurlstone Choral Society". Messiah. Concert program. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 14 October 1941. p. 15.
  8. 2012 season media kit (PDF). Sydney, Australia: Sydney Symphony. p. 5. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  9. "BBC - Proms - Prom 30 2002". The Proms Archive. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  10. Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Season 2012 (PDF, printed booklet). Sydney, Australia: Sydney Philharmonia Limited. 2011.
  11. Hindmarsh, Peter (2009). "quoir". Retrieved 2013-05-09.
  12. Olympic Arts Festival (19 August 2000). Symphony at the Superdome. Concert program. Sydney: Playbill Pty Ltd.
  13. McCallum, Peter (21 August 2000). "Mahler's dignity preserved in SuperDome arena". Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney.
  14. Games of the XXVII Olympiad opening ceremony (Program). Sydney: Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG). 15 September 2000. pp. 17, 52, 64, 74.
  15. Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. Concert program. Sydney: Sydney Opera House. 15 December 2012.
  16. "Mick's still got the moves as the Rolling Stones hit Hope Estate". Cessnock Advertiser. Cessnock, NSW. 19 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  17. "Gig review: The Rolling Stones on tour in Australia @ Hope Estate". Britpop News. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  18. "The X-Factor Australia Video - Official Site - Channel 7 - Yahoo!7 TV". The X Factor. Series 3. Episode 20. 9 October 2012. Seven Network. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  19. Sydney Philharmonia Choirs (24 August 2012). The Beatles Unplugged. Concert program. Sydney: Playbill Pty Ltd.
  20. Kary, David (August 2012). "Review". Sydney: Sydney Arts Guide. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  21. Westwood, Matthew (January 2009). "Sydney Festival Reviews". Sydney: The Australian. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  22. "Sydney Festival 2009 Presents Dawn Chorus - Sydney Philharmonia Choirs at Balmoral Beach, Balmoral, Newcastle [sic], NSW on 10 Jan 09, 5:30 AM". Liveguide. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  23. "BBC - Proms - Prom 01 - First Night of the Proms 2010 2010". The Proms Archive. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  24. Cambridge Summer Recitals Ltd (2002). Cambridge Summer Music Festival. Concert program. Cambridge, UK. pp. 50–52.
  25. "Classical Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  26. "2004 Winners - Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  27. "2006 Finalists - Classical Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  28. "Winners". Helpmann Awards. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  29. "It's an Honour - Symbols - Australian National Anthem". It's an Honour website. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  30. "Sydney Philharmonia Choir - IMDb". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  31. "Sydney Philharmonia Choir [au] - IMDb". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
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