Antony Walker recognised for international contribution to music

The annual University of Sydney Alumni Awards program celebrates the achievements of our alumni and honours their contribution to the University and wider community.
The Alumni Achievement Awards recognise the success of graduates who are established in their careers.

The Alumni Award for International Achievement recognises the outstanding contributions that alumni have made to international society through community service and/or professional achievements that have made a significant global impact.

We are very pleased that this year’s Alumni Award for International Achievement will be awarded to Antony Walker, who completed his Bachelor of Music at the University of Sydney in 1991.

Here is Antony in action, conducting Pinchgut Opera‘s performance of Hadyn’s L’anima del Filosofo: Orpheus and Eurydice, in the City Recital Hall, Sydney, in December 2010.

Antony Walker

Having studied voice himself, conductor Antony Walker is known for having a particular affinity with singers. He took this to a whole other level during a 2008 performance of Verdi’s opera Aida.

The tenor for that performance was unwell and, by the fourth act, his voice was gone. Antony did what few conductors could have done: he sang the role from the conductor’s podium while still conducting as the tenor played out the action on stage. It was a heart-stopping demonstration of the focus, energy and broad skillset of this energetic and very gifted music professional.

Music became a big part of Antony’s life at age eight, when he was introduced to his inspirational piano teacher, Elizabeth Kozma. She in turn introduced him to the music of Bártok, Kodály, Mozart and Beethoven, planting the seed for Antony to start composing and learning the cello. He was just 12 when this teacher predicted he would become a conductor.

A little later, when Antony was in Paris with his father, his French music teacher gave him recordings of operas by Benjamin Britten and Richard Strauss. This opened his eyes to the extraordinary operatic world.

As his engagement with music continued, Antony thought he might be a composer or a singer, both of which he studied at the University of Sydney, along with cello and, importantly, conducting. His talent was noticed early. Still a student, he was invited to conduct the Sydney Symphony and the Melbourne Symphony. This was the beginning of what has become a dynamic international career.

At just 22, Antony became musical director of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs before becoming chorus master for the Welsh National Opera in London. From there, he was appointed Artistic Director of Washington Concert Opera and Music Director of Pittsburgh Opera, making him one of the youngest music directors of a regional company in the United States.

Antony has now conducted extensively across Europe and the United States, including choral, symphonic and chamber works and more than 100 operas. Over the past decade, high points include conducting two productions at the English National Opera in London, a production of Rossini’s Semiramide in Florence (the city where opera was born), and five different productions at one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world, the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Antony has recorded 30 CDs and DVDs celebrating composers from Beethoven to Fauré and Handel. A CD he produced with operatic baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes won the 2004 ARIA award for Best Classical Music Album of the Year.

Despite his many overseas engagements, Antony still regularly returns to Australia to conduct around the country and stay engaged with three of his more personal music projects: chamber opera company Pinchgut Opera; the original instruments ensemble Orchestra of the Antipodes; and vocal group Cantillation.

Antony helped start these companies when he was a student, and he continues to bring tremendous creative energy and dedication to their productions.

In fact, Antony brings the same energy and dedication to everything he does. The 12-year-old who used to sit in concerts reading along with the scores as the orchestra played is now a seasoned conductor bringing a dazzling range of music scores to life.

What his teacher told him all those years ago now underpins his extraordinary career: Antony Walker understands the drama of music.