About Astra

For over seven decades, the name of Astra has occupied a singular position within Melbourne's musical community. The string orchestra of women musicians that started in 1944 has evolved into one of Australia's forward-looking cultural forces, embracing many forms of performance.

The Astra Choir assumed a dominant role since 1978. Choral programs range from mediaeval chant and Renaissance polyphony through 19th century Romanticism, the innovations of the Second Viennese School, and the latest in electronic and experimental composition. The Astra Choir has premiered hundreds of compositions – both from Australian and international composers, including from Germany, the United States, Italy, Greece, China and Romania.

Astra performances activate diverse architectural surroundings - the choir was among the first ensembles in the 1980s to utilize environments in such building as the North Melbourne Town Hall, the domed reading room of the State Library of Victoria, and the Old Custom’s House. Each program is designed as an event engaging the audience with contemporary and older materials in interaction with the physical location.

Beyond the choir, Astra brings into its world high-level performers from a variety of disciplines, including contemporary ensembles and instrumental virtuosi. Frequent performers have included pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, recorder player Genevieve Lacey, along with ensembles such as Slave Pianos, Speak Percussion, Fiedermann and Pipeline. Dance collaborations included Nan Hassell’s Danceworks and Russell Dumas’s Dance Exchange. Other ventures were into theatre (William Henderson’s The Eleventh Hour), new film creations (Hannah Chetwin and John Hughes) and numerous electro-acoustic projects (Michael Hewes, Cindy John, Graham Hair and Steve Stelios Adam).

Astra's work has earned many accolades, including the prestigious Sydney Myer Performing Arts Award. The Australian Music Centre's Best Australian Composition award was given to John McCaughey, Astra's long-time Artistic Director, for his outstanding contributions to Australia music.

Astra publishes scores by Australian composers (Keith Humble, Lawrence Whiffin, and Helen Gifford). Astra recordings include three significant CD productions with New World Records (NY) and also has appeared on Move Records, as well as Astra’s own imprint.

The 2024 season opens a new chapter in Astra’s history with the appointment of Andrew Byrne as Musical Director alongside John McCaughey. Byrne's quarter century of experience as composer and artistic director in New York adds new impulses to the Astra tradition in contemporary and choral programming.