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Edo De Waart Retires

11 April, 2024

Congratulations to Edo de Waart – the longest-serving Chief Conductor in the history of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – who has announced his retirement after more than 60 years of performing at the highest level around the world.

Edo de Waart has announced his retirement from conducting, bringing to a close an extraordinary career that spanned more than 60 years, and included titled roles on four continents.

De Waart was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser from 1993 to 2003 – the longest-serving Chief Conductor in the Orchestra’s 90-year history.

His relationship with the Sydney Symphony spanned 30 years. He first conducted the Orchestra as part of our 60th anniversary celebrations in July 1992, leading us in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and Ross Edwards’ Violin Concerto Maninyas with former Concertmaster Dene Olding as soloist, and his final appearance with us was in September 2022, conducting Brahms’ Variations on a theme by Haydn, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 with soloist Yeol Eum Son, and the world premiere of Andrew Howes’ Luminifera – Wild Light for Orchestra, one of our 50 Fanfares commissions.

Edo de Waart after what would be his final concert with the Sydney Symphony, September 2022. Photo by Craig Abercrombie.

De Waart led the Sydney Symphony through a period of enormous change. He became Chief Conductor at a difficult time following the death of former Chief Stuart Challender, but lifted the ensemble to new heights of artistic excellence over his tenure. De Waart was a significant figure in the divestment of the Orchestra from the ABC through the mid-1990s, establishing the Sydney Symphony as Australia’s flagship orchestra and greatly increasing our international reputation.

He led the Orchestra during the entire period of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, including the Olympic Arts Festival that saw musicians from around the world perform in Sydney, which was launched with an extraordinary performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Symphony of a Thousand, with 1000 singers from Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Britain packing the SuperDome (now known as Qudos Bank Arena).

Musical highlights of de Waart’s tenure include his revelatory interpretations of Mahler, Mozart and Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss; two extraordinary performances of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie (1999 & 2002); a Ring Cycle in concert (1995–2000) and tours of the USA, Europe, Japan and Taiwan. He was a great champion of Australian composers including Ross Edwards, Graeme Koehne, Georges Lentz, Peter Sculthorpe and Carl Vine, and made many recordings with the Orchestra for ABC Classics, which you can listen to in the playlist on this page.

Edo de Waart takes a bow after his final concert as Chief Conductor, 29 November 2003.

De Waart began his musical career as an oboist with Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra before he won the Dimitri Mitropoulos Conducting Competition in New York in 1964, aged just 23. As part of his prize, he served as assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic for one year before returning to the Netherlands as assistant conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Bernard Haitink.

He subsequently served as music director at the San Francisco Symphony (1977-1985), Minnesota Orchestra (1986-1995), Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (1989-2004), Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (2004-2012), Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (2009-17) and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (2015-2019).

Maestro, from all of us at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, congratulations on an extraordinary career, and we hope you enjoy your retirement.