Graham Abbott


Sydney-born Graham Abbott is a Music Education graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium and, after five years working as a high school teacher, in 1985 was awarded the ABC Willem van Otterloo Conducting Scholarship. During that year he studied with Myer Fredman at the Sydney Conservatorium, where he also taught. 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 orchestral debut with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 1987.

In a career spanning nearly forty years, Graham has been a guest conductor with all the state symphony orchestras, most of the major Australian opera companies, and most of the country’s major choirs. He has also conducted the Hunter Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra, the Queensland Philharmonic, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Classical Players and many new music and early music ensembles. His opera repertoire includes Fidelio, Aida, L’élisir d’amore, Julius Caesar, Orlando, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, La traviata, Il trovatore, Don Pasquale, Un ballo in Maschera, The Pearlfishers, The Barber of Seville 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 and in 2001-2002 was Music Advisor to Chamber Made Opera in Melbourne.

Graham was Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 1997 and Musical Director of Melbourne Chorale (now MSO Chorus) from 1994 to 1997. During this period, he conducted a vast range of music, from the Bach Passions to Australian premieres of Philip Glass symphonies, major Australian works and much standard repertoire. In 1997, Graham was acting Chorus Master of the Chorus of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Guest conducting engagements during this time included concerts with the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Ulster Orchestra.  Graham later returned to Scotland twice to conduct performances that included the Dvořák Stabat Mater in Edinburgh.

Conducting highlights in recent years include Israel in Egypt (Sydney Philharmonia Choirs), Handel’s Water Music (Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) and Coronation Anthems (Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus), semi-staged performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion for the Perth Festival and Opera Queensland, Rachmaninov Vespers with Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Dvořák’s Stabat Mater with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for the Perth Festival, Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and Camerata (Brisbane), three appearances at the Festival of Voices in Hobart, Messiah with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Haydn’s Creation at The Big Sing McLaren Vale, and concerts and educational activities for the Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras.

While his repertoire in orchestral, choral and operatic fields spans almost all periods and styles, Graham Abbott is most respected as a conductor of, and enthusiast for, the music of Handel. He has conducted Messiah nearly eighty times, with all the major Australian orchestras as well as in the UK and in New Zealand. His repertoire includes five Handel operas, many of the oratorios, and most of the orchestral music. He has given first Australian performances of major Handel works such as Athalia, Ariodante, Agrippina and La resurrezione, as well as conducting the Australian premiere of Handel’s complete Roman Carmelite Music for the Adelaide Chamber Singers.

Graham is also in demand as a music educator. For fifteen years, from 2003 to 2017, he wrote and presented Keys To Music on ABC Classic, and recent podcast series Classics Unlocked for Universal Music Australia, and Classical Uncovered for Melbourne Recital Centre, available on the major streaming platforms. He inaugurated the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Unwrap the Music concerts in 2010, and presented and conducted most of the performances in that series until 2022. He regularly leads workshops in public speaking and media training for singers in the Melba Opera Trust’s mentor program, has directed choral workshops at the Australian National Academy of Music, and has run adult education courses for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the University of Adelaide. Since 2018 he has been a regular tour leader and speaker for Hayllar Music Tours, leading many events both within Australia and internationally.

For Graham Abbott’s music blog, see:

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