In 2022 the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic celebrates its 169th year of music-making in Melbourne, making it Australia’s oldest surviving cultural organization, and one of the oldest secular choirs in the world. Today, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir continues to present critically acclaimed performances to audiences in Melbourne and Regional Victoria. It is committed to the encouragement and fostering of young musicians and is recognized by many as Melbourne’s premier symphonic choir. The RMP’s choristers are strictly auditioned, and are voluntary musicians who share a common love of choral music, and who give their time freely in the pursuit of musical excellence.
“… The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic … under the leadership of Andrew Wailes, outlined the passion of this work with aplomb. The dedicated preparation was obvious on all levels: first-class diction, intonation and vocal power were all abundant. “
The RMP was founded in 1853, by a group of civic leaders and music lovers who wished to bring musical culture of a high standard to the early colony of Victoria. Since that time it has presented performances at many historic occasions and important events in the history of Melbourne. These include the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, the Great Centennial Exhibition of 1888, the opening of the First Australian Parliament in 1901, the opening of the Melbourne Town Hall, and the 1956 Olympic Games. Throughout its long existence, the RMP has consistently presented performances of major choral and orchestral works to great acclaim, often as Australian or Melbourne premieres. Amongst the many works performed for the first time in Australia by the RMP Choir and Orchestra, are Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Elgar’s The Kingdom and The Spirit of England and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. In recent times this tradition of innovative programming has continued, with the RMP presenting world premiere performances of works such as From the Beginning by Stuart Greenbaum, Sky Saga and Southern Gloria by Nicholas Buc, Fronting Eternity by Gordon Kerry and Mourning and the Light Within by John Peterson.
“Strong on emotion and delivery … the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir, prepared by Andrew Wailes, was rock solid. In fact, its performance was by far the best presentation I have heard from a Melbourne-based choir this year.” The Age
Handel’s great oratorio Messiah has particular significance for the RMP. It first launched the choir in 1853, and has been performed at least once every year since. This unbroken sequence of performances is considered to be a world record. Throughout its distinguished history, the RMP has boasted many outstanding conductors. These include such figures as Sir Malcolm Sargent, Georg Szell, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Granville Bantock, Sir Charles Groves, Sir Eugene Goossens, and Chief Conductors including Alberto Zelman and Sir Bernard Heinze.
“All credit, therefore, to the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra… who, under RMP Music Director Andrew Wailes’ inspired direction, gave the two-part masterwork a thrilling performance.” (Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the RMPO)
The Sunday Herald Sun
2006 highlights included Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, a Venetian polychoral concert, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Irish Songs of Praise, and the world premiere of John Peterson’s Mourning and the Light Within. 2007 concerts included Haydn’s The Creation, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Missa Brevis, Tarik O’Regan’s Dorchester Canticles, Irish Songs of Pride, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia and Mass in C. Concerts for 2008 included Faure’s Requiem, performed with the visiting London Bach Choir, Schubert’s Mass in A minor and the Bruckner Te Deum, performed with the the Melbourne University Choral Society and the Academic Orchestra of Stuttgart University. Later performances in the year included an all-Bach concert (Magnificat BWV243, Easter Oratorio BWV 248 and the solo cantata Ich Hab Genug BWV82) and a program of African and Australian Aboriginal music centered on Fanshawe’s African Sanctus. In October, music featured Kodaly’s Budavari Te Deum and Verdi’s Quattro Pezzi Sacri. Concerts for 2009 included a Program celebrating the 350th anniversary of the birth of Henry Purcell – featuring a concert performance of his opera Dido and Aeneas, Come, Ye Sons of Art and the Funeral Music for Queen Mary. Other highlights included the annual RMP Aria competition, An Evening with Mr Handel featuring great Handelian choruses, recitatives and arias from opera and oratorio, the Melbourne Premiere of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace, with the Melbourne University Choral Society and the Australian Catholic University Choir. The year concluded with the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah and two concerts of traditional Christmas Carols in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Concerts for 2010 season included Passiontide Reflections with music of Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions and Handel’s Brockes Passion, a recital concert of Chopin’s music, a Schubertiade, the annual RMP Aria competition , preceded by ‘Sing Your Own Oratorio’. Then in October the RMP Choir and Orchestra was again joined by the Melbourne University Choral Society and the Australian Catholic University Choir for a performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, and in December Handel’s Messiah and Carols in the Cathedral.
The 2011 Concert season featured ten concerts from Mozart’s Requiem and Vesperae sollenes de Confessore through Mahler, Liszt, and 20th Century masters: Britten, Finzi Part and Grainger. The RMP ARIA competition was held in August, then in October the RMP Choir and Orchestra were again joined by the Melbourne University Choral Society and the Australian Catholic University in Elgar’s epic masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius before performances of Messiah and Carols in the Cathedral.
2012/13 concerts included a regional tour of all of the State’s major Cathedrals and Basilicas featuring Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Christopher Willcock’s Anastasis, and the world premiere of Stefan Cassomenos’ Hieratikon. The choir has also performed at important civic events including the Dawn Service at the Shrine on ANZAC Day, the Battle for Australia commemoration, The Melbourne Awards Gala, and the Prime Minister’s Olympic Dinner. The choir performed Mozart’s Requiem with Orchestra Victoria at the Melbourne Recital Centre and visiting American conductor Christian Badea. Other concerts included highly praised performances of Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, three performances of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at Hamer Hall with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, an all Wagner Opera Spectacular and Carols concerts in St Pauls Cathedral. The choir also appeared at the Melbourne Cup, with American recording artists Josh Groban during his Australian tour, at the Stary, Stary Night Gala and at the Prime Minister’s Olympic Gala.
In 2014 the RMP choir performed works including Vaughan Williams Toward the Unknown Region, Elgar’s The Music Makers at Melbourne Town Hall (later released on CD), and highlights from John Williams Star Wars Trilogy at the Melbourne Recital Centre. In July the choir toured to Tasmania to perform as a featured ensemble at the Festival of Voices in Hobart (including a performance of Mozart Requiem with conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, David Lawrence and the Hobart Chamber Orchestra), and also presented concerts of a capella motets by Stanford, Lauridsen, Stopford, Brahms, Rheinberger and Vaughan Williams, Handel’s Messiah and gave three spectacular Carols concerts in St Paul’s Cathedral. Other performances included various commemoration services at the Shrine of Remembrance, and a live Televised performance at the 2014 Melbourne Cup.
In 2015 the choir began the year with an epic five-hour concert of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall, with Principal Guest Conductor Diego Matheuz. The program included the Mass in C Major, and the Choral Fantasia, precursor of the great Ninth Symphony.
“Singing without scores, Andrew Wailes’ RMP Choir again excelled themselves in what was a reprise of the MSO’s premiere performance of this great work with the RMP under Joseph Post in 1955. Why it has not been performed by the MSO since 1981 is difficult to fathom. Although some members of the audience seemed keen to spring to their feet very readily at various points throughout the evening, the standing ovation that greeted the Choral Fantasy involved most of the audience.” (Beethoven: Vienna 1808 with the MSO)
Classic Melbourne, May 2015
Other concerts included a season of twelve performances with The Australian Ballet and Orchestra Victoria of “The Dream”, featuring John Lanchbery’s reworked version of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the world premiere of Stephan Cassomenos’ Requiem for the End of Time with the Plexus Collective at Deakin Edge, Faure’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, an appearance at the 2015 Emirates Melbourne Cup, Handel’s Messiah and three Carols concerts at St Paul’s Cathedral.
“…It was Orchestra Victoria with conductor Nicolette Fraillon that first attracted enthusiastic attention, with a fine performance of the lovely overture from the delicate winds to the stirring burst of sound that introduced the dancers… Also worthy of mention were the mellifluous voices of members of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir (prepared by Andrew Wailes) to further the illusion that things were going well in Fairyland.” (“The Dream”, with The Australian Ballet and Orchestra Victoria)
Classic Melbourne, June 2015
2016 highlights included the epic Sea Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed at Hamer Hall; Vivaldi’s Magnificat in G minor at Deakin Edge, provided vocal backing on a Christmas CD recording with John Farnham and Olivia Newton John (Friends Forever) which subsequently charted No.1 on the Australian popular music charts; performed at the 2016 Emirates Melbourne Cup; performed another world-record -breaking Handel’s Messiah at Melbourne Town Hall; and gave three traditional Carols in the Cathedral concerts in St Paul’s Cathedral.
2017 saw the RMP Choir begin the year with a CD recording of a Mario Lanza Tribute CD with Mark Vincent (another No. 1 on the Australian charts); a special Requiem for the Fallen concert on ANZAC Day at St Paul’s Cathedral including Mozart’s Requiem and Elgar’s For the Fallen; a spectacular performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem at Hamer Hall; a series of Scotland the Brave concerts at Hamer Hall; ‘Zelda: Symphony of a Goddess’ concerts at Hamer Hall; Rutter’s Gloria at Deakin Edge, and a busy December program including Handel’s Messiah at Melbourne Town Hall and three traditional Carols in the Cathedral Concerts in St Paul’s.
Following disruptions caused by the pandemic in 2020 the RMP quickly returned to a full schedule of performances, which in 2022 has included Across the Vast, Eternal Sky – The music of Ola Gjeilo, the Australian premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Coronation Cantata “Moscow”, Rutter’s Requiem, and most recently supported the famed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli at his sold-out concert at Rod Laver Arena.
The Choir has also performed the music at Australian Citizenship Ceremonies throughout the year at Melbourne Town Hall, as well as at various civic and corporate events which in recent years have included the Battle for Australia Ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance and the Victoria Tourism Awards.
The RMP is a member of the Australian National Choral Association, and gratefully acknowledges the support of its donors and sponsors including the Eric Ormond Baker Charitable Fund and the City of Melbourne.