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Sydney Symphony Orchestra appoints first Indigenous director

[by Airlie Walters]


William Barton. Image: Keith Saunders

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra announced that First Nations composer and performer William Barton will join the Board of Directors of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

A peerless yidaki (didgeridoo) performer, William Barton is world-renowned as a composer who works across classical and traditional First Nations music, bringing together Western art traditions and his Kalkadunga heritage. The Sydney Symphony has enjoyed a long association with William Barton as both performer and composer. Most recently (July 2022), the Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave the world-premiere of Barton’s Of the Earth – a work for which the Orchestra joined forces with Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir, soprano Nicole Car and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung – commissioned to celebrate the re-opening of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

Barton’s appearances with the Sydney Symphony spans almost two decades, with the Orchestra also recording and performing a number of his works on international tours.

Chair of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Board Geoff Wilson said: “We are delighted that William Barton is joining the Sydney Symphony’s Board of Directors. William is a close and valued musical collaborator and one of the nation’s visionary artists. His unique voice will help guide the Sydney Symphony’s artistic growth as we move towards our centenary year. We also look forward to William’s continuing contribution as a musician and community leader with special knowledge of the needs of First Nations people and regional and remote communities. His insights and expertise will be invaluable as the Orchestra seeks to expand its programs to increase the positive impact of our work in these communities.

“We are especially delighted that William joins the Board at one of the most exciting times in the Orchestra’s history. This year represents the first full year with Simone Young as Chief Conductor in our renewed home at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. As a community and cultural leader, William has made a significant contribution to our nation. We look forward to working with William as we plan for the Orchestra’s future as the nation’s flagship orchestra.”

William Barton said: “I am excited to join the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Directors at this moment in the Orchestra’s history. I have a great affection for the musicians of the Orchestra and for the organisation’s commitment to contemporary music and Australian artists. I am honoured to be part of the engine room of change, and, in my role, I hope to connect people of all walks of life through open conversation and actioning our intentions through the vibrancy of music and reinforcing the legacy of arts culture and language for the next generations to come.”

Mentored by his uncle, Barton learnt the yidaki, and at the age of 17 gave one of his earliest orchestral performances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and producer has brought Australian music to the forefront through collaborations with ensembles around the globe, including the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra and performances at Westminster Abbey and the Beijing Olympics, among other engagements. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from Griffith University and the University of Sydney and has
released five albums of music that capture his unique creations which bring together western art music and First Nations musical traditions. Among his many public and critical accolades, Barton was recently named Queensland’s State Recipient in the 2023 Australian of the Year awards.


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