Story: Orchestras

Page 2. The first professional orchestras

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Christchurch Exhibition orchestra

The professional orchestra formed for the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch from November 1906 to April 1907 expanded public expectations. Alfred Hill, who (after heated debate) had been engaged as conductor, responded to the government’s initial suggestion that 30 musicians would be employed by arguing that ‘to do even common justice to the best music a full orchestra is necessary’, and insisted on a minimum of 56 performers.1 He ended up with 44. When the exhibition closed, the orchestra toured the country. In New Plymouth arrangements were made to delay the regular sailing to Onehunga until after the orchestra’s concert so that the musicians could perform in Auckland the following night. The Star described its concerts as ‘quite a revelation for Auckland amateurs’.2

Parochial pride

The amateur Auckland Orchestral Society was well received at the 1906–7 Christchurch exhibition. The Auckland Star noted that it was ‘markedly ahead of all other New Zealand orchestral combinations’, claiming that ‘it was freely asserted during their Christchurch visit that had such a capable body of instrumentalists been permanently available for the Exhibition, the highly-salaried professional orchestra would have been unnecessary.’ This view was not shared by those who heard the Exhibition orchestra.

Film and radio orchestras

New Zealand was to wait another 40 years for the establishment of a full-time professional symphony orchestra. In the meantime, the advent of silent movies and then radio broadcasting provided the impetus for the formation of smaller ensembles. The 10-member 2YA Orchestra (two violins, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, drums and piano) was founded in Wellington in 1928. Regional rivalry ensured the formation of a 3YA orchestra in Christchurch and a 1YA Orchestra for Auckland within a few months. The 4YA Orchestra (Dunedin) was soon to follow. These ensembles presented variety programmes for radio. They also performed in public, often accompanying local choral societies.

1940 Centennial Orchestra

The radio orchestras provided 34 players for the New Zealand Centennial Music Festival Orchestra. This festival took place between May and the end of June 1940 with concerts in Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. Local players reinforced the professional core – in Auckland the orchestra was 90-strong. The conductor was English pianist Anderson Tyrer. The Centennial Orchestra whetted appetites for a permanent, symphonic-size professional orchestra.

Combining professional forces

Other events, too, helped build momentum. The Auckland Star reported in 1945 that ‘[a] clear indication of the musical strength ready to be welded into a permanent symphony orchestra worthy of the Dominion, was given in the Town Hall on Saturday night, when an instrumental combination of over 50 players, drawn from the N.B.S. [National Broadcasting Service] String Orchestra, the 1YA Studio Orchestra, and the 1ZB Orchestra, presented an orchestral concert under the direction of Mr. Gil Dech, guest conductor. With the exception of bassoons, for which two ’cellos were substituted, most of the instruments used by a symphony orchestra were employed in the presentations.’4

  1. Otago Daily Times, 31 July 1906, p. 6. Back
  2. Auckland Star, 9 May 1907, p. 4. Back
  3. Auckland Star, 28 February 1907, p. 4. Back
  4. Auckland Star, 5 November 1945, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Peter Walls, 'Orchestras - The first professional orchestras', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Peter Walls, published 22 Oct 2014