Sydney Symphony Orchestra to lose ‘millions’ over delayed renovations

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A six-month delay to the completion of Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall will cost the Sydney Symphony Orchestra up to $5 million in lost box office revenue.

The SSO was to have made a triumphant return to the concert hall in February with Simone Young as its chief conductor after the auditorium’s two-year closure for renovations.

A render of the completed renovation of the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House. Credit:Sydney Opera House

The pandemic lockdown has slowed work on the revamp, part of a $275 million renewal for the Sydney Opera House.

Sixteen concerts across five programs have been rescheduled for the smaller Sydney Town Hall as part of the SSO’s autumn season, a quarter of the performances originally programmed for 2022.

Now the SSO is seeking compensation from the NSW government for its losses.

Concert Hall ceiling with acoustic rings in June 1973. Credit:Max Dupain

The orchestra loses money each time it plays in the town hall. It received $5 million from the NSW government last year to compensate for the estimated $18.9 million costs of its dislocation across 2020 and 2021. A further $5 million was set aside but is yet to be paid.

The orchestra’s first performance at the Sydney Opera House next year will be Celebrating the Concert Hall – Simone Young Conducts Mahler 2 from July 20.

The concert at which Young will make her chief conductor debut will feature a new work from First Nations composer and didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton.

“The delay in the opening of the concert hall is projected to cost the SSO between $4m to $5m due to the loss of 64 originally scheduled concerts that were originally to have been held between February and July 2022,” an SSO spokesperson said.

The projected loss is equivalent to the second tranche of $5 million that had been set aside by the NSW government.

An SSO spokesperson confirmed the Sydney Symphony had not received this instalment.

Simone Young leads a smaller Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Town Hall.Credit:Nic Walker

“The Sydney Symphony is in active discussions around the necessary support for its 2022 losses while the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall remains closed,” they said.

The NSW government’s arts agency said the orchestra had already received substantial funding.

This included emergency funding through the Rescue and Restart and COVID Support packages, as well as providing $5 million to help with venue “relocation” costs.

A Create NSW spokesperson pointed to the SSO’s $7.8 million surplus in 2020 – its biggest since before the global financial crisis – which SSO says is needed to offset this year’s losses.

“As the SSO has recorded healthy profits in 2020 and projected continued profitability to 30 June 2021, the NSW government has determined that the current level of financial support provided to the SSO is adequate,” Create NSW said.

“The NSW government must invest wisely to rebuild our state after the significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue providing financial assistance to organisations where there is a demonstrated need.”

The suspension of construction work in Sydney, restrictions on workers and suppliers in several COVID-19 hotspots under the public health orders, international and interstate border closures and supply chain disruptions have affected the concert hall upgrade.

The Sydney Opera House could not confirm a precise completion date but anticipated the hall would reopen in mid-2022.

Once complete, it will boast a new sound system and theatre fly system, improved acoustics and backstage access, and a lower stage that will improve audience sight-lines.

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