The Sydney Symphony spends more of its time than any other Australian orchestra in the public eye, giving concerts, but this is still only a fraction of its time together, the bulk of which is spent rehearsing.
Where? Edo de Waart insisted, early in his time as the orchestra's chief conductor, that more than just the final rehearsal should be in the Concert Hall. The SSO's management persuaded the NSW Government and the Sydney Opera House Trust that the Sydney Opera House should truly become – as Eugene Goossens had imagined – the orchestra's home, and so it has been since 1995.
Immediately before, the SSO had rehearsed in the purpose-built Eugene Goossens Hall in the ABC's new Ultimo Centre, but spent only a few years there – the over-generous acoustic and the players' difficulty in hearing each other were problems obvious from the first.
As a broadcasting organisation growing like topsy, the ABC had trouble over the years finding where best to put its orchestra. The first venue, in 1932, was in the now demolished Arts Club, in Pitt Street. It was small, but close to ABC management, and to the Sydney Town Hall, where the orchestra performed. War anxiety about central Sydney prompted a move in late 1941 to another Arts Club building, in Burwood. It was too far from the Town Hall, uncomfortable, and not designed for broadcasts. So in 1946 the SSO took up residence in a studio in Darlinghurst Rd, Kings Cross (occupied years later by the Australian Chamber Orchestra). Too small and in insalubrious surroundings, it was also no good for television, so in 1964 the SSO moved to a converted cinema in Chatswood, the Arcadia. Still further from the Town Hall, but close to a railway station, shopping and (desideratum of increasingly affluent musicians) on-site parking, this was to be the orchestra's rehearsal home until 1989. Many of the musicians bought homes in nearby suburbs.
In 1973 the Opera House opened and the orchestra moved in, rehearsing in the Recording Hall (now The Studio), which had similar problems to those later experienced in Ultimo. By 1974 the SSO was back in Chatswood, but by 1989 the Arcadia had been sold and demolished. While waiting for the ABC Ultimo Centre to be finished, the orchestra spent a couple of years at the Sydney Town Hall, ironically long after it had ceased being their main performance venue.
Spare a thought, as you grumble about the traffic and the parking on your way to and from the concert, for the musicians of the Sydney Symphony, who often do it twice, on a performance day! But they can hear the point, that this Concert Hall is where they should be for rehearsal and performance – and you're hearing the benefits of their having found, at last, the right home.
David Garrett ©2007