Past Conductors

Fabian Russell

Fabian Russell was born in Sydney, Australia in 1968. In a career spanning three decades he has been at the forefront of the Australian classical music industry as a conductor, artistic director, orchestral musician, soloist and educator. Having spent many years as a musician with some of Australia’s major orchestras, Fabian took the decision to become a professional conductor following the rapid growth and artistic success of The Orchestra Project – a national training orchestra that he created during his time as a member of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Fabian has received invitations to conduct the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Victorian Opera, Australian Youth Orchestra, Australian National Academy of Music, Orchestra Victoria, Sydney Symphony Orchestra Sinfonia, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Niedersächsisches Jugensinfonieorchester, Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra, Monash Academy Orchestra, Queensland Youth Orchestra, Sydney Youth Orchestra, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, University of Tasmanian Conservatorium Orchestra, Australian International Summer Orchestral Institute and Monash Academy Orchestra. He has collaborated with leading international soloists including legendary American pianist Gary Graffman, Brett Dean, Richard Tognetti, Lin Jiang, Michael Kieran Harvey and Kristian Winther. He is currently Associate Conductor of the Australian Youth Orchestra, Guest Conductor Victorian Opera and until recently was Principal Conductor of the Monash University Academy Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Head of Orchestral Studies at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

In 2013 Fabian made his Victorian Opera debut in a new production of John Adams’ Nixon in China that received considerable critical acclaim and resulted in the Green Room Award for Outstanding Conductor as well as the Helpmann Award nomination for Best Music Director. Described in The Age as “nothing short of a triumph, Fabian Russell’s direction of Orchestra Victoria shows up the clarity and dynamism of Adams’ extraordinary score, but also its inner beauty and moments of reflective stillness, especially in the elegiac final act.” And in The Australian “Musical polymath Fabian Russell conducts Nixon in China with energy and finesse drawing a powerful performance from Orchestra Victoria and an excellent cast of nine principals and chorus of twenty four.”

Fabian has enjoyed a long relationship with the internationally acclaimed Australian Youth Orchestra as Associate Conductor where he has been engaged to prepare AYO in 24 seasons since 2002, including three international tours, for various Guest Conductors including Lawrence Foster, Diego Masson, Benjamin Zander, Alexander Anissimov, Rossen Milanov, Alexander Shelley, John Nelson, Thomas Dausgaard, Simone Young, Manfred Honneck, Christoph Eschenbach and soloist Joshua Bell. In 2013 he was a Conductor in Residence at the AYO National Music Camp in Adelaide.

In 2002 Fabian founded The Orchestra Project – the Melbourne based training orchestra comprised of Australia’s finest young musicians. The Project received significant support from the MSO and the ANAM in its initial years and now functions independently as a professional training ensemble. Fabian has been Artistic Director and Conductor of the Project since its inception. He has also served as Assistant Conductor to various guests including MSO Chief Conductors Markus Stenz and Oleg Caetani.

In 2008 Fabian was invited to be Principal Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra and was subsequently appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Director. Under his stewardship MYO grew to become what was considered to be one of Australia’s leading pre-professional orchestral training programs, providing rare opportunities for young orchestral musicians to perform works such as John Adams Harmonielehre, Olivier Messiaen Turangalila Symphonie, Mahler Symphony No. 5 and most of the major ballet works of Stravinsky and Ravel.

At the age of nineteen Fabian accepted a contract position as Guest Principal Tuba of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra where he remained for three years. Following this he was appointed to a Principal position with Orchestra Victoria. In 1993 he was appointed to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra where he remained for fourteen years until the end of the 2006 season. He has played under many of the world’s finest conductors including Sir Georg Solti, Charles Dutoit, Mariss Jansons, Neeme Jarvi, Edo de Waart and Yuri Temikarnov. He has also performed with some of the world’s great soloists including Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Frank Peter Zimmerman, Lang Lang, Yuri Bashmet, Mischa Maisky, Barry Tuckwell and Hakan Hardenberger. He participated in seven major international tours with the Sydney Symphony and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing in many of the major concert halls throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He has also toured throughout Japan with Orchestra Ensemble Kanizawa. In addition to his orchestral posts Fabian performed as soloist with numerous Australian orchestras, including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as a finalist in the 1997 Symphony Australia Young Performer Awards, the Melbourne Symphony and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. During the course of these two decades he established an international reputation as a leading brass musician of his generation. (Photo credit : Lucien Fischer)

Steven Hillinger

Steven Hillinger graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1992 from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music studying French Horn with Anthony Buddle and received the Richard Merewether Memorial Scholarship for French Horn in 1991. Steven has performed with orchestras including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra.

In 1993 Steven completed a Graduate Diploma in Conducting at the Sydney Conservatorium, studying with Henryk Pisarek. In 1994 Steven was offered a place in the Master of Music course, graduating in 1997, with John Hopkins as his teacher. This was the first time a Masters in Conducting had been offered. In 1993 and 1994 Steven was awarded the Alan Bellhouse Memorial Scholarship for Conducting. Steven has guest conducted many orchestras including the Willoughby, Penrith, Mosman and University of New South Wales Symphony Orchestras, the Ku-ring- gai and East-West Philharmonic Orchestras, the Cove Chamber Orchestra, The Occasional Performing Sinfonia, the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. Steven has worked with the Australian Youth Orchestra and in 1994 was shortlisted to audition for the position of Assistant Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

In 1995 Steven participated in a conducting masterclass given by David Porcelijn, and in that same year conducted at the Sixth Sydney International Spring Festival. Steven was a finalist the 1997, 1998 and 2000 Westfield Young Conductor of the Year Awards with the Queensland, Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras respectively and was awarded a TOAN Conductor in the Community Fellowship on each occasion. In 1998, Steven was awarded a Queen’s Trust grant to visit Europe to continue his research into music repressed by the Nazis. Steven was the conductor of the Lane Cove Youth Orchestra (1998), Fisher’s Ghost Youth Orchestra (1998-2000), Sydney Youth Brass (2000), Shore School Symphony Orchestra (2005-2006), Burwood Girls High School Senior Concert Band (2010-2011), St. Aloysius College Senior Concert Band (2012), Ascham School Symphony Orchestra (1997-2014) and was Musical Director of the City of Sydney Wind Ensemble (2001-2006). Steven also worked extensively with the Sydney Youth Orchestra’s Association between 2001 and 2007, conducting the Sydney Youth Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphonic Wind Orchestra, was the Musical Director of the University of New South Wales Concert Band from 2006 to 2012 and the Associate Conductor of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Wind Symphony (2013-2014). Steven has also worked as Assistant Conductor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

From 2003-2012, Steven has conducted the annual fundraising ‘Opera Night at Rivendell’ performances for Concord Hospital. In both January 2003 and 2009, Steven toured to Eastern Europe with the North Sydney Girls High School Symphony Orchestra and in March 2005 took the Symphony and Wind Orchestras on a tour of China. In September 2005 he undertook a tour of Eastern Europe with the Ascham School Symphony Orchestra and in 2008 took them on a tour of China. As well as a large amount of guest conducting, at present, Steven is conducting the North Sydney Girls High School Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra, the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra, University of New South Wales Symphony Orchestra and in 2016 was appointed Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra.

Thomas Tsai

Thomas Tsai is a very active and highly regarded music educator, teaching cello at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at both tertiary and secondary levels. He also coordinates the Conservatorium High School Chamber Music with his wife Felicity Tsai, in addition to tutoring the elite ensembles. Thomas has taught cello and chamber music at the Newcastle Conservatorium, The Australian Institute of Music, Conservatorium Foundation Department (University of Sydney) and Conservatorium Access Centre, and in 2013 was named Chief Conductor of the SBS Radio and Television Youth Orchestra as well as guest conductor of the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, he became the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the North Sydney Youth Symphony, and was the first conductor of the NSWYO.

Thomas’ students have been prizewinners of numerous awards such as the Ku-ring-gai Concerto Competition and Sydney Symphony Sinfonia, before continuing their post-graduate studies internationally. His students also excel at secondary level, having won scholarships to all the prestigious Sydney private schools: PLC Pymble, PLC Croydon, St Andrew’s Cathedral School, MLC Burwood, Newington College, Sydney Grammar School, Shore Grammar, Trinity College, Barker College, Meriden, Tara, Ravenswood and Roseville College.

Thomas graduated at the University of Southern California, where he was selected for the internationally acclaimed Gregor Piatigorsky Cello Class upon invitation by American cellist Lynn Harrell. He has performed in masterclasses with André Navarra, Raphael Wallfisch, Eleonore Schoenfeld, Siegfried Palm and Lynn Harrell. He was the first recipient of the American Symphony Scholarship for outstanding musical performance, performing solo recitals and as soloist with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra and Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra.

He has recorded for the ABC Classic FM and Fine Music FM, as soloist and in chamber ensembles for broadcasts and recordings. He is held in high regard both as a soloist and chamber music performer, performing regular recitals, and was a co-founder of the Apollo Piano Trio with Daniel Herscovitch and Maria Lindsay, touring from 2005 to 2009 with chamber music recitals and solo appearances with orchestras performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. A CD recording of Australian Piano Trios was released in 2013 on the Wirripang label.