About Penrith Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra-in-Residence at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre

Established in 1988 as a community orchestra, Penrith Symphony Orchestra comprises dedicated amateur and professionally trained musicians.

The orchestra collaborates with distinguished conductors and soloists, and is recognised as one of Australia's leading "pro-am" community orchestras.

As the orchestra of Western Sydney, it plays a major role in providing audiences in Western Sydney, the Blue Mountains and surrounding areas with accessible and affordable live performances of major orchestral, operatic and oratorio repertoire.

Early years

Penrith Symphony Orchestra first performed in 1988 as part of the Bicentennial celebrations, when an orchestra of 45 players conducted by Gerald Williams performed Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Gabriella Pusner, and Alfred Hill's Symphony No. 2 (The Joy of Life) with a 65-voice choir comprising members of the then Nepean Choral Society (precursor to Penrith City Choir) and the Warrimoo Chorale.

In 1989, the new orchestra’s concerts included performances of Elgar's Cello Concerto with soloist Georg Pedersen, Brahms's Symphony No. 2, Mozart's Requiem, Delius’s Sea Drift, and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances with the Nepean Choral Society. In 1990, with the opening of the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre and in recognition of funding support from Penrith City Council, the orchestra changed its name from the Western Philharmonic to the Penrith Symphony Orchestra. In that year, the orchestra's performances included Brahms's Ein Deutches Requiem and Handel's Messiah with the Nepean Choral Society, as well as its first Family Concert, with Shane Porteus as the narrator in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

Financial support from Penrith Panthers enabled Penrith Symphony Orchestra to present its first subscription series in 1991. The orchestra also received funding from the NSW Government through the Ministry for the Arts, fostering its further development.

In 2000 the orchestra was honoured to receive the inaugural Community Orchestra of the Year Award from TOAN (The Orchestras of Australia Network) for its work in extending the public's perception of orchestras. Penrith City Council also received honourable mention in the awards for enlightened support for an orchestra.

PSO today

Today, the orchestra’s subscription concerts, held in the Richard Bonynge Concert Hall within Penrith's Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (The Joan), attract large audiences, including a growing number of loyal subscribers, many of whom have attended the orchestra's performances throughout its 30-year history.

The orchestra is proud also to have a number of founding members still performing in it regularly today.

The annual PSO concert season constitutes the major component of the annual classical music program at The Joan, and is the largest classical music season in Western Sydney. In recent years, this annual season has been further expanded with the addition of operatic performances, including staged chamber opera productions in the Q Theatre at The Joan, as well as opera gala concerts.

While based in Penrith, over the years the orchestra has also performed in locations including the Blue Mountains, Bathurst, Camden, the Hawkesbury, Parramatta and Sydney. Since 2004, the orchestra has regularly presented family-friendly performances, including popular Sunday morning children’s concerts ("Pops for Tots"), performed in Penrith, Springwood and Richmond; afternoon family concerts; and more recently, children's concerts in the Q Theatre. Other community-oriented performances have included appearances in the Penrith Mayoral Musicale, an annual series of free concerts presented for several years by Penrith City Council to showcase local talent; and charity performances for Anglicare in the Sydney Town Hall and the City Recital Hall, Angel Place.

Artistic direction

Gerald Williams, conductor of PSO's inaugural concert in 1988, was appointed as the orchestra's first Artistic Director and guided it through its first decade (1988-97).

He was succeeded by noted English conductor Myer Fredman (1997-1999).

Henryk Pisarek became PSO's third Artistic Director 2002, occupying the role until 2007. The orchestra received further recognition during his time when he received a 2003 TOAN Award for services to Penrith Symphony Orchestra, Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra and the East-West Orchestra.

PSO's fourth and current Artistic Director, Paul Terracini, was appointed in 2009 and assumed the role from the 2010 season. Under his leadership, Penrith Symphony Orchestra has continued to expand its scope and profile as a leading performing arts organisation in the cultural life of the growing Western Sydney region.

Collaborations

In recent years, the orchestra has engaged in numerous performance collaborations, including with Pacific Opera for The Marriage of Figaro (Penrith and Parramatta, 2013), with Opera Australia for a gala concert with OA artists and community choirs (Parramatta Park, 2015), and with leading big-band musicians for a concert at Fernhill Estate (2014).

Longstanding annual collaborations with local choirs have recently included several landmark performances, such as Orff's Carmina Burana (2013: PSO's 25th anniversary concert); Terracini's Like a Minstrel (2015: a new work commissioned by PSO and The Joan to mark the venue's 25th anniversary); and Verdi's Messa da Requiem (2016, with performance partners Opera Australia and Sydney Chamber Choir).

Other notable collaborations established in recent years include an annual concerto performance opportunity within the PSO season for the winner of the (Sydney) Conservatorium High School concerto competition, as well as the performance of new works by winners of the annual PSO Young Composer Award.

PSO has established a strong reputation for fostering young talent and creating valuable performance opportunities for emerging artists and established performers alike. Concerto soloists frequently include leading solo artists and orchestral musicians, such as principal players from the Sydney Symphony and other professional orchestras. The orchestra's oratorio and operatic performances feature soloists with national and international experience, as well as elite students and graduates of the Sydney Conservatorium Opera School who are among the finest up-and-coming voices of their generation.

Penrith Strings: Towards a Penrith Youth Orchestra

In 2015, Penrith Symphony Orchestra formed a partnership with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and The Joan to establish the Penrith Strings program, a youth orchestral training program for mainly secondary-aged students in Western Sydney. This highly successful program, supported by the Crown Resorts Foundation's Western Sydney Arts Initiative, provides much-needed training and mentoring in orchestral string playing and is creating a pathway for young musicians leading towards performance opportunities with PSO and elsewhere.

In 2018, coinciding with PSO's 30th Anniversary season, the Penrith Strings program expands to include winds, brass and percussion, creating for the first time in the region a Penrith Youth Orchestra.