The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (= NZSO) is the the national orchestra of New Zealand and its leading professional orchestra. It is a crown entity owned by the Government of New Zealand, with 90 full-time players.
The orchestra was founded in 1946 as the National Orchestra and administered by Radio New Zealand until 1989, under the name of the NZBC Symphony Orchestra (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation). It is currently based in the Wellington Town Hall but frequently performs in the adjacent Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. With over 100 concerts annually, the NZSO has always had a heavy touring schedule within New Zealand. It performed in Christchurch as early as 1947. It performs its core series of 12 programmes in Wellington and Auckland, about half of those in Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin, and visits some 25 New Zealand towns and cities annually.
The NZSO has several times toured overseas. In 2005 the Orchestra undertook a highly successful tour that included performances at the BBC Proms, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Snape Maltings in England and the World Expo at Aichi in Japan. The London Evening Standard headlined the Proms concert as a “Triumph for Kiwis” while The Times wrote of “the feel-good energy of this Orchestra: its brightly focused strings, its characterful woodwind and its noble brass”. In August 2008 the Orchestra travelled to China to take part in the Beijing Olympic Cultural Festival. During this prestigious tour the NZSO performed at the Forbidden City and the National Centre for the Performing Arts. A subsequent NZ Listener article described this as New Zealand’s “other gold”.
For a number of years, the NZSO had no permanent conductor, but has had chief conductors. Franz-Paul Decker was chief conductor from 1991 to 1996, the last conductor to hold this title, and now has the title of Conductor Laureate. The first conductor to have the title of Music Director of the NZSO was James Judd, from 1999 to 2007. James Judd is now the orchestra's Music Director Emeritus. In May 2007, Pietari Inkinen was named the NZSO's second Music Director, and he formally took up the post in January 2008. Other conductors who have worked with the NZSO include Xian Zhang, Alexander Lazarev, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, David Atherton, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Edo de Waart. Soloists who have appeared with the Orchestra recently include Lang Lang, Pinchas Zukerman, Sa Chen, Lynn Harrell, Cho-Liang Lin, Hilary Hahn, Vadim Repin, Yefim Bronfman, Simon O’Neill, Steven Isserlis, Jonathan Lemalu and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
The NZSO has recorded several LP’s and many CD’s, several with internationally known soloists such as Alessandra Marc and Donald McIntyre. It records at least one CD of New Zealand music each year. It has made a number of recordings on the American Koch label and now (2007) records regularly with Naxos. Over one million of these CD’s have been sold internationally in the last decade and they have received critical acclaim:
Gramophone magazine welcomed the NZSO’s first recording with Pietari Inkinen (of Sibelius tone poems) with “perceptive and engaging Sibelius from this promising young Finnish conductor: Not only does he draw some high-quality, notably zestful playing from his new charges [the NZSO], he directs … with such keen temperament, abundant character and sensitivity to texture and nuance that they come up sounding strikingly new-minted”.
The Orchestra’s recording of John Antill’s Coroboree is given star billing, joining the list of NZSO CD’s that have been featured in the “Editor’s Choice” section, whilst in Gramophone’s February 2009 issue …”the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra respond with conspicuous poise and application for their Finnish chief, Pietari Inkinen,…a conductor with talent to spare”.
February 2009 saw the NZSO’s recording of Jean Sibelius’ Night Ride & Sunrise; Belshazzar's Feast and Kuolema voted BBC Radio 3’s CD of the week:
“Following the ear-opening coupling of the King Christian Suite and Scènes historiques, Inkinen is reunited with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, this time around a year into his tenure as the antipodean enemble's Music Director in a fast-developing partnership already beginning to bear rich and ripe fruit.”
Other repertoire recorded by the Orchestra includes music by Edward Elgar (three discs), Ferdinand Ries, L.v. Beethoven, Edward Elgar, Copland, Lilburn, Sculthorpe, Frank Bridge, Akutagawa, Felix Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The latest recording is a CD of music by Einojuhani Rautavaara.
The concerts of NZSO in Wellington or Auckland are broadcast in real time and online on Radio New Zealand Concert (formerly Concert FM, formerly the YC Network) and may be repeated.
The NZSO National Youth Orchestra was founded by John Hopkins in 1959. It auditions afresh each year and, after an intensive rehearsal schedule, performs one programme, in 2007 to be repeated in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. In 2005 the orchestra inaugurated its Composer-in-Residence scheme appointing Robin Toan as first recipient of the award. In 2006, Claire Cowan was Composer-in-Residence.
The NYO celebrated its 50th Anniversary Celebratory Season in 2009, under the baton of Paul Daniel, with John Chen as soloist. Their programme was Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 7, Ravel's Left-Hand piano concerto and an original composition by Natalie Hunt, composer in residence: Only to the Highest Mountain. The 2009 season also saw the return of John Hopkins to join in the celebrations.