The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a lot to celebrate right now. After two years it’s returning to its home in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, following the space’s closure for a major acoustic renewal. And it’s also welcoming incoming chief conductor Simone Young for her inaugural season – the first woman in the orchestra’s 90-year history to occupy the role. Young, who is from Manly, is only the third-ever Australian to hold the role, and the first Aussie chief conductor in three decades.

Young first played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 1996 and has worked with the company many times since. She’s frequented the stages of Europe’s major opera houses, and worked with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. From 2005 to 2015 she was the artistic director of the Hamburg State Opera and the chief music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic, and from 2017 until last year she was the principal guest conductor of Switzerland’s Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.

A six-performance series will celebrate the reopening of the Concert Hall – beginning with a new commission by composer and Kalkadunga man William Barton, which will be the first work heard in the renewed auditorium. Other highlights of Young’s inaugural season include the start of a multi-year cycle of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos; a collaboration between the orchestra and the Belvoir theatre group; a performance with Edo de Waart, the orchestra’s chief conductor from 1995 to 2000; and the world-premiere of a new work by percussionist Timothy Constable. Casual Fridays and a Sunday-afternoon concert series will also be introduced, to make the orchestra experience more accessible.

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Here’s what else Young has in store for symphony crowds.

What's your new job title?

Chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It sounds very grand and basically means that I will be doing a significant number of weeks of concerts with the orchestra. I will also have a hand in planning, do some sponsor and donor events and generally be the public musical “face” of the orchestra. It is a tremendous honour, and I look forward to the next few years of music-making with the orchestra and engagement with Sydney audiences.

Why did you choose to make the move to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra?

It felt like the right time. I have been guest-conducting this orchestra for 25 years now (one week a year, roughly), and we have built up a long and happy relationship. The reopening of the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House gives us a “new” home with very exciting potential. The orchestra itself is in great shape, virtuosic and passionate, which should make for thrilling concerts and powerful emotional experiences.

Do you have any fun plans or ideas for your new role?

I am very interested in collaboration – the arts scene in Sydney, and Australia-wide, is vibrant and very diverse. I want to engage regularly with the wider arts scene, and I am starting this in 2022 with collaborations with Belvoir theatre group on Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and also [working] with the … First Nations author Tyson Yunkaporta on reimagined texts for our concert performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio. There is also the opportunity to engage often with both established and emerging Australian talent – composers in particular – and to focus more strongly on these incredible creative voices.

Will you be implementing any big changes?

Not really – no point in fixing something that isn’t broken! But I do think that having a Sydneysider as chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony is in itself a big change – I grew up listening to this orchestra, I am both artistically and emotionally invested in these musicians and in our audience. I love Sydney audiences – they have always been incredibly enthusiastic in their welcome home to this girl from Manly – and I am very excited to be spending so much time performing with the wonderful Sydney Symphony in my hometown.

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