The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (= TSO) was established as such in 1948 as a result of a partnership between the State Government, the Hobart and Launceston City Councils and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Since 1923 an amateur orchestra, the Hobart Orchestral Society, had provided concerts for Hobart patrons. In the 1930's the ABC Tasmanian Studio Orchestra was formed and, under conductor Clive Douglas, it provided live radio broadcasts on 7ZL.The outbreak of war delayed the ABC’s decision to create a permanent orchestra in every state. However, the introduction of a four-concert subscription series by the augmented amateur orchestra in 1946 paved the way for the establishment of a permanent professional orchestra.
The Tasmanian Orchestra (Agreement) Act of 1948 made provision for an orchestra of 24 full-time members that could be augmented to 31 players for ‘concerts at popular prices, and further augmented for the presentation of subscription concerts’. The gala opening concert at the City Hall was attended by 3,000 people and was broadcast live to the mainland. Conducted by Joseph Post and with Tasmanian-born pianist Eileen Joyce as soloist, the concert proved to be an enormous success.
From its earliest years the orchestra provided an annual subscription series, concerts ‘at popular prices’, the ABC Concerto and Vocal Competition Tasmanian final, youth concerts and free school orchestral concerts. Subscription concerts were supplemented by summer and spring festivals, light music festivals and specific-composer festivals. The orchestra was regarded as the pre-eminent cultural identity for the State. Special events within Tasmania were celebrated with concerts by the orchestra including the Commonwealth Jubilee in 1951 and the Tasmanian Sesquicentenary in 1953.
Building on its roots as a studio orchestra, radio broadcasting became an essential aspect of the orchestra’s profile. The TSO was the first Australian orchestra to have a weekly radio program, ‘Journey into Melody’ which was broadcast nationally from 1956 until 1969. From the mid-1960's concerts were broadcast on radio and television and this practice continues today. The TSO’s multi-media activities have widened now and it has established a reputation unequalled in Australia for its video clips, film and television productions and TV recordings.
he first resident conductor of the orchestra was Kenneth Murison Bourn. He was succeeded in 1962 by Thomas Matthews, under whose inspirational direction the orchestra carved a niche as one of the most exciting performing ensembles in Australia. Subsequent conductors have included Thomas Mayer, Vanco Cavdarski, Nicholas Braithwaite and Dobbs Franks, each of whom has been instrumental in shaping the development of the orchestra. David Porcelijn was Principal Conductor and Artistic Director during the 1990's. His leadership ensured a varied orchestral diet of standard repertoire, new music and concerts embracing popular musical styles. Under his baton the orchestra recorded a full cycle of Beethoven symphonies for ABC Classics.
Ola Rudner continued to oversee the TSO's on-going development as Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor between 2001 and 2003, before Sebastian Lang-Lessing took the helm beginning in 2004. In addition to concerts around Tasmania, Lang-Lessing directs an annual Sydney Season with the TSO at the City Recital Hall and led the orchestra on a tour of Japan as part of Asian Orchestra Week in 2005. He also initiated a series of performances at the Port Arthur Historic Site in 2006. Lionel Hickey was the TSO’s Concertmaster from 1948 to 1962 and has been succeeded by talented musicians including Leon La Gruta, Wilfred Jones, William Hennessy, Barbara Jane Gilby and Jun Yi Ma.
Since its inception, the orchestra has regularly toured regional Tasmania. Over the last twenty years it has played frequently on the mainland and has toured internationally on several occasions. The orchestra has performed at the Festival of Perth, the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, the Australian Theatre Festival in Canberra, the Brisbane Biennial and the Adelaide Festival. In 1979, the orchestra joined the Australian Ballet to undertake a highly successful tour of Greece and Israel. Since then the orchestra has toured to South Korea, Indonesia, China, Argentina, Canada and the USA. Most recently, in 2005 the orchestra took part in Asian Orchestra Week in Japan.
The TSO’s recordings appear on ABC Classics, Hyperion and Chandos labels. It is the only Australian orchestra to have recorded complete cycles of Beethoven and Schumann symphonies, for ABC Classics. Five critically acclaimed discs of music by early Romantic period composers Henri Herz and Ignaz Moscheles with conductor/pianist Howard Shelley have been released on Hyperion Records. All Hobart subscription concerts are broadcast nationally on ABC Classic FM.
The TSO has always championed contemporary music; indeed, the presentation of works by Australian composers was stipulated in the 1948 Act. From the ‘Take Five’ youth series of the 1960s to the New Music Tasmania Festival, the TSO has maintained a commitment to performing contemporary composition and there have been many premiere performances. The Australian Music Centre has awarded the TSO several accolades for its recordings of new music, including the inaugural award for the support of Australian contemporary composition.
In 2003 the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra launched its Australian Music Program, an initiative that has gone from strength to strength in the years since. The Australian Music Program, which is generously sponsored by Hydro Tasmania, was directed by Richard Mills 2003-2008. The current Director is Lyndon Terracini. The TSO aims to be the Australian repertoire orchestra and consequently devotes much of its time and resources to the activities of the Australian Music Program. These include: commisioning new works, recording Australian works for the TSO's Australian Composer Series on ABC Classics (18 CD's released thus far), performing repertoire by Australian composers, training young composers in writing for orchestra, and researching the vast archive of Australian composition.
The TSO also plays regularly at a wide variety of community events around the State and TSO members form an integral part of the Tasmanian arts community, participating in teaching, performance and new music activities in addition to their orchestral responsibilities. The central position of the TSO in the Tasmanian community was highlighted in 2005, when the Federal Government’s Review of Orchestras recommendation that the TSO be downsized was greeted with public outcry. State and Federal politicians rallied behind the ensemble, and extra funding was provided for the orchestra, ensuring its financial stability for the near future.