Conductor Development Program: A History
Symphony Services International is proud to be training a new generation of Australian and New Zealand orchestral conductors making their mark on the world stage.
Our Conductor Development Program is recognised internationally for its orchestral training excellence.
The format of the Symphony Services International Conductor Development Program has set an international benchmark in conductor training.
The program is unique because of the small size of participant groups, the expert teachers who are all professional conductors, and the amount of podium time offered with professional orchestras.
The conductor, a core element of a successful orchestra!
It is a conductor’s vital input, synchronising the performance of up to 100 or more musicians, to lift music from the sheet of paper on musicians’ stands into the hearts and minds of an audience.
To do this well, a conductor spends years gaining extensive knowledge and familiarity of musical styles, memorising the great scores, getting inside the heads of composers and their intentions, practising the co-ordination of their eyes, ears and gestural skills and refining a whole host of other barely-discernible skills.
It would be fair to say that until the late 1990s Australia had no substantial culture to support the training of young conductors. The Australian conductors performing internationally were few and far between.
Symphony Services International (formerly Symphony Australia) is proud to have shaped a platform of education and training that’s been responsible for a new generation of Australian conductors beginning to make their mark on the world stage.
Our Conductor Development program is today internationally recognised for its excellence in training.
The Symphony Services International Conductor Development Program has a format which has set an international benchmark for conductor training. Our program is widely considered unique because of the amount of podium time offered with professional orchestras as well as small groups of participants and expert teachers who are all professional conductors.
Having time on the podium is essential for a conductor. An instrumentalist has ready access to his or her instrument to rehearse and perform, but a conductor needs access to a whole orchestra to hone their skills and knowledge. The unique benefit of call time is what also sets the Symphony Australia Conductor Development Program apart from conductor training in Australian tertiary institutions.
A Timeline of the Conductor Development Program
Between 1993 and 1997, Symphony Services International’s predecessor, the Concerts Division of the ABC, offered training days and short courses for the benefit of young musicians who aspired to become conductors.
In 1997 Nathan Waks, the ABC’s Director of Music and later inaugural Managing Director of Symphony Australia, introduced a more rounded program to provide training for young Australian conductors. The program was officially named the Conductors Master-Course and consisted of a three-week intensive training period which culminated in the Symphony Australia Young Conductor of the Year competition.
The first step in redefining conductor training in Australia occurred when Symphony Australia entered into a partnership with Jorma Panula. Recognised as the world’s most influential conductor trainer and renowned for his decades of leadership at the prestigious Sibelius Academy, Panula’s involvement lifted the program to a new level and proved how seriously Symphony Australia took the issue of conductor training.
For the next few years, around eight young conductors were selected annually via audition to participate in Panula’s intensive two-week training course. The best four candidates were then selected to compete for the title of Symphony Australia Young Conductor of the Year.
Involvement in the competition consisted of tutoring with Jorma Panula, call time on the podium with a professional symphony orchestra and a final live performance judged by Panula and others. The prize for the winner was $20,000.
In 1999 Symphony Australia implemented a strategic plan that would invest heavily in Australian conductors over the next ten years and set a goal of seeing at least one Australian participant on the world stage.
This goal has been far exceeded with graduates of the program, such as Benjamin Northey, Matthew Coorey, Nicholas Milton and Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo amongst others, all now conducting orchestras around the world. In May 2010, Benjamin Northey conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Later in 1999, Jorma Panula took on the directorship of the entire Conductor Development Program and the length of the course expanded from a 3-week to 12-week program.
By early 2000 all of the major Australian symphony orchestras were involved in the course, providing an average of 20 orchestral calls per year, with six or seven international conductors contributing to the program annually.
Jorma Panula, by then in his 70s, needed to scale back his commitments so the course started to involve a wider group of international guest teachers.
2001 was the final year of the Symphony Australia Young Conductor of the Year competition. Symphony Australia decided the time was right to focus more on training.
While Jorma Panula still led the program, a number of other guest conductors were now fully integrated into the teaching framework. The delivery of the Major Performing Arts Inquiry (Nugent Report), also in 2001, saw the allocation of an additional $100,000 per year to support the development of Australian conductors. This new funding resulted in a significant increase in subsidised podium time with professional orchestras, already a significant distinguishing feature of Symphony Australia’s conductor training.
In 2004 Panula retired from the program, though remaining involved for some years as an International Advisor. The internationally distinguished British conductor Christopher Seaman, formerly a guest teacher of the program, was selected as Director.
Christopher Seaman is very involved in all the conductor courses, including the Scholar Conductors program, which provides a unique opportunity for high school-aged musicians to directly learn from a senior, internationally experienced conductor.