Sydney picks the right chief, but on short order

Sydney picks the right chief, but on short order


norman lebrecht

December 14, 2019

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has named Simone Young as its next chief conductor, starting in 2022.

It’s a perfect fit. Young, 58, is a Sydney girl who grew up with the orchestra, studied with some of its players and has stayed attuned to its needs through an international career that has taken her to most of the world’s great opera houses, inlcuding a remarkable 10 years as Generalmusikdirektor of the city of Hamburg.

Since leaving Germany, she has enjoyed a burgeoning reputation in the US with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonic orchestras.

This is a great catch for the Sydney Symphony, which is not in great shape financially.

The only caveat is time. Both conductor and orchestra, when I asked them recently, firmly denied any possibility of a link-up between them. I deduced from this that she could not give Sydney the time it required.

So they have settled for a compromise – eight or nine weeks a year, arranged in three blocks.

That’s a good start, but it’s not enough in general terms, to effect the kind of transformation Sydney needs.

Young is high-energy and full of ideas. But she’s being asked to work a miracle.

She says: I am so happy to be able to announce this! This marvellous orchestra, with whom I have worked as a guest for so many years, and with whom I already have so many wonderful memories, has appointed me their next Chief Conductor, starting in 2022. I am very honoured to be able to lead this wonderful group of musicians and look forward to some exciting times in Sydney! I will still be working a great deal in Europe, the USA and Japan, but this closer tie with my hometown will bring me home far more often – Sydney, I do love you!


  • MacroV says:

    Given how far away Australia is, coming for several blocks of time a year makes sense. Maybe a couple more weeks would be in order. But how many weeks does David Robertson conduct?

    • Angela says:

      Robertson was conducting concerts in Sydney ten weeks a year, amounting to 11 or 12 weeks’ presence over three or four visits. (The ten weeks doesn’t count time spent conducting the orchestra on tour.) Twelve weeks’ presence would be considered fairly normal/desirable for an Australian chief.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    She was the obvious choice. She will take up an orchestra in excellent shape artistically. They keep on getting better & better ( I can no longer recognise the orchestra that I first encountered in early 80’s).

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Simone Young would be very welcomed by the people of Sydney!! She’s a gifted woman and now has great experience under her belt. She’s certainly up to the job, and more.

  • Jean says:

    Do they have any idea about what classical music is down there in Australia ?

  • Doug Grant says:

    Sadly the Australian orchestras all lack the concentrated focus of a music director who can shape a distinctive orchestra sound, through management of player recruitment and extensive consistent rehearsal. So the orchestras are technically proficient but rather lacking in character.
    Again sadly, it proves to be impossible to get an internationally profiled conductor to be prepared to spend a long time in Australia in order to achieve the above. If Young won’t do it, who will?
    Already Melbourne has failed to persuade Hrusa to become chief conductor.
    Melbourne says it is looking amongst conductors who have visited more than once in recent years. Not many such have a solid international profile. So who is possible? Morlot is about the only one who comes to mind. Of the younger generation, the most appealing is Stanislav Kochanovsky.
    Adelaide and Queensland Symphonies are also looking for a chief!

    • MacroV says:

      I understand Australia is a long way from everything, but still find it hard to understand how a conductor wouldn’t find a job there (esp. in Melbourne, one of the world’s loveliest cities) attractive. I understand Hrusa not being interested since he’s trying to develop a big career in Europe and the U.S., and eventually setting himself up to take over the Czech Philharmonic. But others?

      • EGJ says:

        If you think that Melbourne is one of word loveliess cities,what you think about european cities like Paris,Rome,Moscow,London,Munich,Budapest,Milano,Madrid,etc…

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Melbourne is lovely, but the problem is that it is difficult to go for a week to guest conduct a major orchestra (or even a mid-level one) if you live in Australia.

        If a conductor takes a job like the Halle in Manchester (a solid but not top orchestra), then you can go to Berlin, Munich, Vienna, London, Paris etc to conduct their orchestras, as well as many mid-level orchestras in the less renowned centres. Similarly, taking the conductor job in somewhere like Baltimore allows you to guest conduct for a week in much of the US. From Melbourne you can’t even really do the Asian cities (at least not comfortably).

  • Talking the Talk says:

    ‘Since leaving Germany, she has enjoyed a burgeoning reputation in the US with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonic orchestras’ … As what exactly?

    • Andrew Constantine says:

      As a really fine conductor! One of my friends – a principal in the LAPhil – talks of her as “music director stature”.

  • SMH says:

    San Francisco Opera should’ve grabbed her!