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Guest Artists 2019


Graham Abbott

Who is Graham Abbott?

Graham Abbott is a Conductor…

Sydney-born Graham Abbott is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium and was a fulltime high school Music and English teacher from 1980 to 1984. In 1985 he was awarded the ABC / Willem van Otterloo Conducting Scholarship, during the tenure of which he studied with Myer Fredman at the Sydney Conservatorium and taught at that institution. In 1986 Graham was appointed Conductor-in-Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide. He was Musical Director of Adelaide Chorus (now Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus) from 1986 to 1992 and made his professional debut with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 1987. Since then he has been a frequent guest conductor with all the major Australian orchestras. He has also conducted the Hunter Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, Adelaide Chamber Orchestra, Queensland Philharmonic, Canberra Symphony, Australian Classical Players, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and various new music and early music ensembles.

Whilst his repertoire in orchestral, choral and operatic fields spans almost every conceivable period and style (totalling more than 650 works), Graham Abbott is particularly respected as a conductor of the music of Handel. He has conducted Messiah more than 70 times, in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and has given first Australian performances of major Handel works such as Athalia, Ariodante, Agrippina, La resurrezione and the complete so-called Roman Carmelite Music of 1707. Graham Abbott is a Life Member of the American Handel Society.

Graham was Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 1997. During this period he conducted a vast range of music, from both Bach Passions to Australian premieres of Philip Glass symphonies, major Australian works and much standard repertoire. He was also Musical Director of Melbourne Chorale (now the MSO Chorus) from 1994 to 1997. He helped to re-establish that organisation as Melbourne’s premier choir, conducting it in its own innovative concert series as well as preparing it for engagements with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

An experienced conductor of opera, Graham’s repertoire includes five Handel operas - Julius Caesar, Alcina, Ariodante, Agrippina, and Orlando - as well as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, La traviata, Il trovatore, Don Pasquale, Un ballo in maschera, Aïda, Fidelio, L'Elisir d'amore, The Pearlfishers and Pelléas et Mélisande. He was also Assistant Conductor for the Australian premiere season of John Adams' Nixon in China at the 1992 Adelaide Festival. In 2001 and 2002 Graham was Music Advisor to Chamber Made Opera in Melbourne.

For the first three months of 1997, Graham worked in Glasgow as the acting Chorus Master of the Chorus of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Guest conducting engagements during this time included Messiah with the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, and orchestral programs with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and with the Ulster Orchestra in Armagh and Coleraine, Northern Ireland. In 1998 Graham returned to Scotland twice to conduct performances that included the Dvořák Stabat Mater in Edinburgh.

In addition to orchestral concerts around Australia, performance highlights in recent years include the Dvořák Stabat Mater with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for the 2004 Perth Festival, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (staged) for the 2005 Perth Festival, and the world premiere of Legrenzi’s Christmas Matins with the Choir of St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, in 2008. Graham conducted chamber-sized performances of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra in 2013, and again in Brisbane with Camerata of St John’s in 2014.

Recent engagements also include Messiah with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2012 and 2016, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (staged) for the Brisbane Festival in 2013, Don Giovanni for the State Opera of South Australia in 2015, and Bizet’s The Pearlfishers for Opera Queensland in 2017, as well as concerts with the Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras. 2018 performances include The Pearlfishers for State Opera of South Australia, concerts with the Adelaide, Melbourne and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, the Australian Bach Society, the Canberra Choral Society, and the Sydney Conservatorium High School. 2019 engagements include returning to the Unwrap the Music series with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Messiah with the NZSO, Britten’s Saint Nicolas for St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, the Cherubini C minor Requiem in Hobart for the Festival of Voices, The Four Ages of Tallis with Adelaide Chamber Singers, and Boojum! for the State Opera of South Australia. 

Graham Abbott is a Music Educator…

A respected teacher, Graham has been involved in educational projects throughout Australia, and he has undertaken similar work in the UK as well. He conducted Camerata Australia, under the auspices of the Australian Youth Orchestra, in concerts in Sydney and Jakarta in 1992, and conducted at National Music Camp in 1991 and 1995. He has worked with many tertiary institutions as a conductor, tutor, speaker and examiner. While he was Associate Conductor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra he acted as a consultant to the Education Manager, and again was the MSO’s Education Consultant in 2000 (during which time he was commissioned to write a review of the orchestra’s Education programs). He held the post of Education Manager with the MSO in 2001, and was Artistic Advisor to the MSO’s Education Program before and after this. To the end of 2006 he programmed and conducted the majority of the MSO’s educational concerts.

In 2004 and 2005, Graham was involved as a conductor/teacher in a unique partnership between the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and The Hay Group called the Encore Leadership Program. This program was a leadership training course for corporate executives and others in positions of leadership in the business sector, in which the interaction between conductor and orchestra was used as a metaphor for different models of leadership in business.

Graham has had many years’ experience as a public speaker on music. He has developed a reputation as an engaging and entertaining educator, capable of opening the world of music to the untrained music lover. He taught modules for teachers, community-based musicians and high school students in the Symphony Australia Conductor Training program between 2002 and 2005 (and did so again in 2012) and is highly sought-after as a conducting teacher and workshop director. From 2002 to 2004, and again in 2009, Graham was a member of the national panel for Stage 2 of the Symphony Australia Young Performer Awards. In 2011 Graham was the opening speaker in the MSO's Beethoven Festival weekend (a talk repeated for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in 2014), and in 2012 accompanied a group of Adelaide music lovers on a tour of the United States as a speaker and consultant. He undertook a similar tour of Scandinavia and Germany in 2014, and will speak on a tour to New York City in October, 2018.

Graham has been an inspirational speaker on music for Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s audiences. This was extended in 2006 and 2007 to the ASO’s “e-programs”, a joint project between ABC Classic FM and the ASO. These were program notes for the ASO’s Master Series concerts, provided as online video-on-demand (with downloadable transcripts), designed to enhance concert experiences for the average music lover. This is believed to be an Australian first in using online video technology in this way.

Graham Abbott took part in a week-long residency at the Singapore American School in 2006. He was also the curator, conductor and presenter of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Unwrap the Music series from 2010 to 2014, and returns to this series in 2019. In late 2018 he leads a series of choral workshops at the Australian National Academy of Music.

For fifteen years – from 2003 to 2017 – Graham produced and presented Keys To Music on ABC Classic FM, as well as undertaking many other presenting and producing roles with the station. He is now regarded as one of Australia’s pre-eminent communicators on music, a feature which, when combined with his conducting and teaching expertise, makes him a unique member of Australia’s arts and education world. In 2018 Graham is devising and presenting a series of public classes for the Open Academy at the Elder Conservatorium, University of Adelaide, as well as continuing his ongoing role as a speaker and presenter for many performances mounted by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Since 2016, Graham has been one of the Patrons of the Riverina Conservatorium in Wagga Wagga, NSW, replacing the late Peter Sculthorpe. He makes annual visits to the Conservatorium to give lectures, conduct workshops, and present professional development programs for staff.

Graham was awarded the 2007 Bernard Heinze Award by the University of Melbourne in recognition of his services to music in Australia.

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