I have felt truly happy and energised to have shared with our engaged and intelligent audiences so many extraordinary moments…performances that have opened hearts, enriched souls and undeniably brought us closer together as a community.
Dr Nicholas Milton AM has been Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) since 2006, the musical force behind an extraordinary period of success in the CSO’s history. Milton’s leadership has seen the orchestra break Box Office records and establish itself as a dynamic force in the national orchestral landscape.
Milton’s historic tenure concludes in 2020; the conductor reflects on his journey with the CSO.
I would like to take this unique opportunity, from the bottom of my heart, to thank all of you who have supported our magnificent Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) during the wonderful years in which I have had the privilege and honour to work with this brilliant orchestra. I have felt truly happy and energised to have shared with our engaged and intelligent audiences so many extraordinary moments: evenings of musical magic that we onstage and you in the audience will never forget, in performances that have opened hearts, enriched souls and undeniably brought us closer together as a community.
I am incredibly proud of what the organisation has accomplished together as a unique musical family during my time with the CSO. A conductor can only effectively function in partnership with an imaginative and empowering management team. I feel incredibly privileged to have worked for almost the entirety of my tenure with my dear friend Henry Laska, former CEO, who constantly guided me and helped me promote and realise our shared vision for the organisation.
The orchestra I first conducted as a guest conductor in 1999 has grown enormously during the last twenty years, and the organisation itself has matured and evolved, dramatically, during this time. I inherited an orchestra that already possessed a remarkable performance and aesthetic culture. The CSO has benefited immeasurably from the unparalleled dedication of my distinguished predecessors, to whom I offer my most grateful respect and deep recognition, most notably, the legend himself – Ernest Lllewellyn, Leonard Dommett and, most recently, the inimitable Richard Gill AO.
The most extraordinary Australian musicians have performed as members of the CSO over the years. Above all, I would like to express my deepest and sincerest thanks to the musicians of the CSO – past and present – who put their trust in me, who inspired me with their artistry, enthusiasm, courage, elegance, grace, and musical integrity. My time with the CSO was a joyful and wonderful chapter of my life for which, I know with certainty, I will always remain profoundly grateful.
It’s impossible for me to mention all of the highlights of my tenure, but two events do stand out:
Shortly after I commenced as Chief Conductor with the orchestra, Llewellyn Hall was damaged by a severe storm system. For the reopening, we chose to perform Carl Orff’s gigantic oratorio, Carmina Burana, with a massive community choir and children’s choir. We sold out the renovated Llewellyn Hall within a few days, subsequently welcomed another thousand to the dress rehearsal, and people are still talking to me about that performance and how they’ve never forgotten its enthralling impact.
After I was invited by the Prime Minister to join the Australia-Germany Advisory Group in 2016, one of our cultural initiatives was a gala concert event with the CSO and six outstanding singers from my opera house in Germany at that time, the State Opera House of Saarbrücken. That event was another unforgettable musical experience that not only brought joy and delight to Australian audiences but also forged important connections between countries and musicians that have endured to this day.
I have long believed that the professional orchestra serving the nation’s capital has an obligation and a responsibility to celebrate Australia’s most outstanding emerging and established musicians. I am proud that the CSO has, especially over these last fifteen years, provided a wealth of performance opportunities to the best musical talent emerging from our land. Our responsibility extends to the creation of new music, and Australian music now holds an even more integral place at the heart of the CSO’s musical quest. Curated during my tenure by my dear friend Professor Matthew Hindson AM, our Australian Series remains one of the most remarkable and successful initiatives in the national orchestral landscape. Our extensive commissioning program has opened up imaginative and dramatic sonic dimensions and continues to unleash the prodigious potential of an emerging generation of composers and performers.
During my tenure, we have performed riveting works by every generation of Australian composers. In their diverse languages, the composers we have honoured, discovered and encouraged with commissions constitute a joyful celebration of the fervent freedom of our national character in all of its ardent variety. The CSO’s education and community engagement has also undergone the most dramatic and revolutionary change, and that interaction with children of all ages and backgrounds has been enriching and inspiring.
Looking to the future
Finally, I’d like to warmly thank our enlightened Board of Directors led by Sir Angus Houston for their ongoing engagement and passionate support of our shared dreams for the community. I am pleased to be leaving the CSO in the leadership of Jessica Cottis, an extraordinary musician, wonderful conductor and a brilliant and unique communicator. Together with CEO Rachel Thomas and Jessica’s artistic team (Simon Hewett, Principal Guest Conductor and Andy Baird, Artistic Planning Manager), the CSO can look forward to a bright and exciting future in which the organisation will develop even further as an orchestral innovator, telling compelling Australian stories and taking on thought-provoking subject matter through music.
All of us in the CSO family keenly look forward to seeing you at concerts in 2021 and beyond, and sharing with you magnificent, reflective, magical moments of exquisite beauty. Please continue to support and engage with the magnificent musicians who are the heart and soul of our organisation.
Dr Nicholas Milton AM
CSO Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, 2006–2020
This article originally appeared in The Canberra Times, 27 November 2020:
Canberra maestro bids farewell
Milton is clearly proud of what the orchestra has achieved, saying, “it’s been a joyful journey and at the end I felt there was nothing in the canon that the CSO couldn’t play. I found it to be a wonderful family, considerate and friendly, coming together to create a moment of beauty.”
The Canberra Times: CSO’s consummate showman passes the baton
Bridging the gap between serious musical kudos – he had a distinguished career as a violinist and chamber musician before dedicating himself to conducting – and serious charisma, he’s become known over the years for taking audiences on rollercoasters between space, time and emotion.
”An orchestra enshrines, celebrates and proposes cultural values within and for a society, and the work of an orchestra – delivering joy and beauty and inspiration – has far-reaching echoes into the very fabric of the human condition.”
“I recall with great fondness countless wonderful and magical moments with the orchestra: performing on stage in Llewellyn Hall with such terrific and passionate musicians, our concerts with massed community choirs or gigantic gala or opera events, happy open-air concerts on the stunning grounds of Government House…”
Canberra Weekly: Take 5 with Nicholas Milton
“A conductor is constantly inspired, challenged, motivated and driven by the musicians with whom we are privileged enough to share a stage. I could never deeply enough express my sincerest thanks to the musicians of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra – past and present – who trusted me and inspired me with their artistry, passion, dedication and musical integrity.”