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The Darwin Symphony Orchestra (DSO), a not-for-profit organisation celebrating its 25th year in 2014, is a treasured community icon throughout Darwin and the Northern Territory as a whole. Comprising 65 volunteer musicians and a small professional core, who live and work within the Darwin community, the DSO is an orchestra of and for the community. The ensemble’s identity as an accessible and essential community resource has resulted in concerts being held in some of the most remote places imaginable with a diversity in programming that crosses all cultural boundaries. From floating on pontoons on the Katherine River to performing on a working barge on Darwin Harbour and becoming the first symphony orchestra to perform at Uluru, the DSO exemplifies the unique ‘can do’ attitude that is representative of the people of the Northern Territory.
Founded in 1989, the DSO has been steadily moving towards establishing itself as one of Australia’s most diverse and culturally significant orchestra/musical institutions, reaching audiences throughout every corner of the territory in which it resides. Alongside a resident concert season in Darwin, the orchestra has an impressive and adventurous touring history with visits to Alice Springs, the Devils Marbles and Simpson’s Gap in Central Australia, Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula, Pine Creek, Katherine, Yirrkala, Milingimbi and Maningrida, and Kununurra in Western Australia. This has contributed to the orchestra becoming a cherished Territory institution that prides itself on bringing many facets of the community together through its deliverance of vibrant and accessible orchestral performances.
In 2013, under the artistic directorship of Chief Conductor Matthew Wood, the DSO undertook its boldest project to date with a major tour to one of Australia’s most remote and iconic landmarks, Uluru, launching the ensemble onto an international stage and enticing journalists from around the world, including the BBC Music Magazine, and thousands of music lovers to hear the orchestra in this world-first performance. In two concerts, presented under the luminous canopy of the vast Australian desert sky, in front of one of nature’s boldest and most breathtaking creations, the DSO showcased the community spirit of which it is emblematic.
Each season, the DSO presents a diverse program that incorporates all musical tastes and styles. From indoor symphonic performances to free outdoor family entertainment catering to thousands, there is something to suit every member of the community. As a relatively isolated community, the DSO offers Territorians the opportunity to experience the wonder and majesty of a symphony orchestra – an experience that would not often present itself otherwise. The opportunity to witness some of Australia’s most exceptional performers in concert with their orchestra is indeed a highlight for both the members of the orchestra and audience members alike. Given the relative isolation of Darwin, the orchestra can boast an impressive list of guest artists, including in recent seasons working with opera superstars Emma Matthews, Nicole Car, Jacqueline Dark, James Egglestone, Rosario La Spina and Andrew Jones, to name just a few. The orchestra also hosts many other leading Australian musicians from all genres of music making, such as jazz genius James Morrison through to didgeridoo expert William Barton.
The DSO also has a strong tradition of championing Australian music. Whilst its season may be relatively small in number of concerts in comparison to other orchestras in Australia, the orchestra and Artistic Director make a conscious effort to program as much Australian repertoire as possible, often equalling at least one Australian work per concert.
The closely-held core values of accessibility, vibrancy and community volunteering have flourished throughout the 25-year history of the DSO. The majority membership of the orchestra donates in excess of 250 hours per year to provide vibrant and engaging performances to the Northern Territory community. Collaborations with local and territory-based arts organisations and educational institutions offer unique opportunities for the community to engage with a symphony orchestra, including regular performances with community choral, dance, student and other music ensembles. The orchestra regularly collaborates with indigenous artists such as Warren H Williams, Jacinta Price and Catherine Satour.
Launched in 2012, the DSO Music Education in Schools program, presented by the DSO String Quartet, has reached over 2000 Territory-based school students since its inception. Also hitting the air-waves in 2013 with a presentation and performance via the Alice Springs School of the Air, this program continues to engage and inspire students throughout the region. In Darwin, the DSO also runs a regular Family Proms Series focusing on family-based music education in an inclusive environment.
The DSO is the primary provider of symphonic music in the Northern Territory. Regionally and resourcefully challenged, the DSO plays an intrinsic role in the Darwin and Northern Territory community, overcoming significant hurdles in its development as a treasured community icon. As an orchestra of the people, for the people, the DSO prides itself on its connection with the community, diversity of programming, outreach and educational initiatives and continued pursuit of artistic excellence as it delivers orchestral music to the people of Darwin and the Northern Territory.