The Strathfield Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a concert on the weekend dedicated to the community orchestra’s inaugural conductor, the late Richard Gill.

The orchestra, which was founded by Emily Finn in 1969, will pay tribute to the beloved conductor and music educator’s legacy with a gala concert featuring music by Elena Kats-Chernin and Miriam Hyde, as well as Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The Beethoven was unfinished business for Gill, who had planned to conduct the symphony in this anniversary concert, before his health declined last year. Conducting the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s, when the orchestra was smaller and struggled with the demands of some of the larger scale repertoire, Gill and the orchestra only presented a single movement of the work.

Richard Gill at the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary in 1979. Photo supplied

“Fifty years ago, it was really hard for the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra to perform the whole symphony,” says Artistic Director Sadaharu Muramatsu, who will conduct the concert. “He wanted to complete one of the Beethoven symphonies he couldn’t do 50 years ago. So this concert for us is very special.”

These days the orchestra is able to take on more challenging repertoire, explains Muramatsu, who has led the ensemble since 2012. “The orchestra’s standard is getting better and better,” he says. “Last season we did the Walton Viola Concerto – it was a very difficult piece for us, but that was also a very good challenge, and the performance went really well – and next season we are taking up the challenge of Mahler’s Symphony No 5.”

The concert will open on a festive note with Miriam Hyde’s Happy Occasion Overture, written in 1957 for the newly formed Australian Youth Orchestra.

“Miriam Hyde and Strathfield Symphony Orchestra have had a very strong connection over many, many years,” Muramatsu says.

Hyde’s husband played violin with the orchestra and served on the orchestra’s committee, as did her daughter Christine Edwards, who is a regular face at the orchestra’s performances. “She comes to our concerts every single season,” says Muramatsu.

As well as composing, serving on the committee and donating money for music purchases, Hyde herself performed as piano soloist on a number of occasions, including several performances of her Second Piano Concerto. The orchestra presented concerts celebrating her 90th birthday – at which the Happy Occasion Overture was performed – as well as commemorating her death and the centenary of her birth.

Sadaharu Muramatsu and Strathfield Symphony OrchestraSadaharu Muramatsu and the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied

Elena Kats-Chernin’s Redmyre Suite also holds a special place in the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra’s heart, the composer writing it for the ensemble’s 40th anniversary. “Ten years later we want to perform the same piece again,” says Muramatsu.

The title is taken from Strathfield’s earlier name, and the work draws on the sound of the railway line so integral to the city’s history. “I wanted to write a piece which evoked the past and had lyrical as well as celebratory moments,” Kats-Chernin wrote in her note for the work.

So at 50 years old, what does the future hold for the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra? Muramatsu wants to see the orchestra continue to grow and develop, and is hoping to foster connections between one of his other ensembles – Symphonia Jubilate, a youth orchestra program for primary and secondary school students – and the adult community orchestra. “There are not so many Inner West area orchestras in Sydney, so I feel it’s very important to develop this area’s orchestral culture,” he says.


The Strathfield Symphony Orchestra’s anniversary concert The Big 5-0! is at Strathfield Town Hall, September 21 and 22

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