Richard Gill AO

Richard Gill AO’s profound love for music, combined with his unwavering dedication to music education, has left an enduring impact on the Australian music scene.
(Photo credit: Nick Gilbert)

Conductor and Educational Visionary


Richard Gill AO (1941-2018) was an iconic Australian musician, conductor, and educator whose contributions to the world of music left an indelible mark. With an unwavering passion for nurturing young talent, he dedicated his life to transforming the landscape of music education in Australia. Richard Gill’s influential career spanned over five decades, during which he conducted orchestras, mentored countless students, and championed the importance of music in society.

Early Life and Musical Journey

Richard Gill was born on November 4, 1941, in Sydney, Australia. From a young age, he exhibited a natural affinity for music, but had no formal training until he was 14, his early exposure was as a chorister at the local catholic school. He started learning piano at 14 and had an  instinct and aptitude for music.

Richard went on to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Sydney Teachers College, majoring in piano and voice in a teaching course. Richard Gill gained his first experience as a conductor whilst working as a music teacher at Marsden High School, this local comprehensive High school soon had a full Orchestra, choir and music ensembles. Classroom music was at the heart of the programme, and composition at its core.There were many extra curricular activities including some of  his composed and performed musicals, here he also met his wife who taught PE and dance and choreographed these shows.

Professional Career

Returning from Salzburg where he studied at the Orff Institute of the Mozarteum, he influenced generations of musicians while teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (1975 – 1983) during which time he also took up directorship of the Sydney Youth Orchestra, where he invented the Babies’ Proms. In 1985 he became the Founding Dean of Music at the  Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (1985 – 1990).

Gill then took an appointment as Director of Chorus at Opera Australia (1991), where he also established himself as a regular conductor. A cultural visionary, he was founding director of several companies and orchestras, including Oz Opera (1996), Victorian Opera (2006) and the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra (2013). He was inaugural artistic director of all three of these companies. He was a champion of new Australian music and in his 7 year tenure at Victorian Opera at least one new Australian work was commissioned as a season cornerstone. An abiding advocate for new music, he conducted world premieres of The Ghost Wife and Eternity Man (Jonathan Mills), Rembrandt’s Wife (Andrew Ford), Lindy (Moya Henderson), The Eighth Wonder and Through the Looking Glass (Alan John) to mention a few.He also championed commissioning and programmed numerous instrumental and choral pieces from an astonishingly wide range of Australian professional and student composers.

Music Education Advocate

Richard Gill was a tireless advocate for music education. He recognised  its profound impact on cognitive development, emotional well-being, and cultural enrichment. He passionately campaigned for the inclusion of music in the school curriculum, believing it to be an essential aspect of a well-rounded education. Richard’s efforts resulted in numerous initiatives and programs dedicated to music education, including launching the Discovery Series of concerts with the SSO, Ears Wide Open’ concerts with the Auckland andMelbourne Symphony Orchestra , the establishment of the SSO Sinfonia which emphasised training opportunities for young players, Youth Opera at the Victorian Opera and the National Music Mentor Programme. In his role as Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Education Programme he also ran Schools’ concerts for High School and Primary School students.

Richard also devoted his time to conducting workshops and masterclasses, inspiring generations of young musicians and educators. He was a charismatic and dynamic speaker at Schools across Australia,, using his platform to communicate the transformative power of music and the importance of its preservation.

Legacy and Honours

Gill’s indefatigable devotion to music was rewarded with probably the largest roll call of awards in Australian music history including, to name a few, an AO in 2016, a Centenary Medal, the Sir Bernard Heinze Award 1999, the Australian Music Centre Award for Most Distinguished Contribution to presenting Australian compositions 2001, APRA AMCOS Arts Music Awards Distinguished Service to Australian Music 2014 (now named after him), and the Australia’s Council’s Don Banks Award 2006, Senior Australian of the Year NSW 2005, Music Education Hall of Fame 2014, NSW Gov Meritorious Service to Public Education 2012, Creative Partnership Award for Leadership 2018, Rotary International Vocational Excellence 2003, Music and Opera Trust Elite Music and Opera Award for exceptional contribution 2018, Orff National Council Award of Honour 2002.  He received two doctorates (honoris causa) from Edith Cowan University 1995 and the Australian Catholic University 2010 in a life marked with a profusion of deserved recognition.

Richard Gill AO’s profound love for music, combined with his unwavering dedication to music education, has left an enduring impact on the Australian music scene. His legacy continues to inspire educators, musicians, and music enthusiasts to embrace the transformative power of music. Richard’s belief in the importance of fostering creativity, artistic expression, and cultural understanding lives on, ensuring that his contribution to the world of music will be celebrated for generations to come.

His passion for the importance of music education in children’s lives endures through the National Music Teacher Mentoring Programme, which he founded in 2016, and at the Richard Gill School in Muswellbrook, formally opened in 2021 after its first intake of Kindergarten in 2020.

TEDxSydney: Richard Gill – The Value of Music Education

Published 16 Jun 2011

Music educator Richard Gill argues the case for igniting the imagination through music and for making our own music. In this talk, he leads the TEDxSydney audience through some surprising illustrations of the relationship between music and our imagination.

A Citizen of Music: Celebrating the Life of Richard Gill

Broadcast Mon 29 Oct 2018 at 4:00pm

In A Citizen of Music, ABC Classic FM’s Martin Buzacott celebrates the career of this most revered of Australian musicians.

Richard Gill Arts Leadership award winner 2018

Published 31 Jul 2018

The Creative Partnerships Awards celebrates the dedication, passion and leadership of inspiring Australians who are bringing arts, philanthropy and business together to create great art and culture.

Creative Partnership Awards | Richard Gill Arts Leadership award winner 2018