In the years following the Second World War, professional regional orchestras emerged.
Auckland’s professional orchestra grew out of the Auckland String Players, founded by Owen Jensen in 1940. Peter Godfrey took over as principal conductor and, in 1964, helped found the Symphonia of Auckland. The Auckland Star rejoiced that ‘within a very short time the city will have an orchestra of good standard as a permanent feature of its life.’1 In 1969, Juan Matteucci, the former NZSO principal conductor, became music director. The Symphonia was dogged by financial troubles, with the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council repeatedly calling on Auckland local authorities to assume more responsibility. The situation was exacerbated by Matteucci’s imprudent programming. Despite last-minute attempts to save it, the Symphonia went into voluntary liquidation in July 1980.
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Some Symphonia musicians, aptly known as ‘the Phoenix group’, created a new, cooperatively managed ensemble. In 1980 the Auckland Regional Orchestra (from 1985 the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra or APO) began operating with 33 players. By the end of the century, the number of tenured musicians had doubled and there was pressure from funders to modify the cooperative management model. A thorough restructure of the governance and management provisions took place in 2005.
In the 2000s the APO has regularly featured large-scale repertoire, including Richard Strauss’s Elektra, Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Verdi’s Nabucco, and performed Britten’s War Requiem in the 2013 Auckland Festival. It has been acclaimed for its enterprise in programming, its commitment to the music of New Zealand composers and the quality of its performances. The Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008 saw local authorities assume more responsibility for supporting the orchestra, and this continued under the new Auckland Council.
Shortly after the February 2011 earthquake, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra shared the stage with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at Burnside High School in a concert designed to signal a determination to continue performing in their city despite the loss of venues. Later that year it accepted an invitation to Japan, which was still coming to terms with the devastation caused by the Fukushima earthquake.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
In 1958 the John Ritchie String Orchestra was founded in Christchurch. From 1962 it performed as the Christchurch Civic Orchestra and from 1974 as the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO).
In 1974 the CSO’s governing trust dismissed Vanco Cavdarski as their principal conductor. In the ensuing heated debate, some of the trustees (including Christchurch’s mayor, Neville Pickering) set up a rival trust, and their new Canterbury Orchestra secured Arts Council support while an unfunded CSO continued to attract impressive houses under the conductorship of Peter Zwartz. The dispute ended in 1979 with the CSO once again recognised as the city’s professional orchestra.
Since that time, this orchestra has steadily consolidated its position as the largest professional orchestra in the South Island. In the mid-1990s the decision was made to raise the orchestra's artistic standard by tenuring players, including Ukrainian, Russian, English and New Zealand musicians.
Dunedin’s professional regional orchestra grew from the ashes of the local 4YA radio orchestra in 1958. The Concert Orchestra was formed with English immigrant musicologist Peter Platt as its principal conductor. In 1966 it was reinvented as the Dunedin Civic Orchestra. Finally, in 2000, after a period as the Dunedin Sinfonia, it became the Southern Sinfonia. In the 2010s the orchestra presented an annual five-concert subscription series, undertook education work and accompanied opera, ballet and choral concerts. In 2013 it became the third New Zealand orchestra to perform at the Asia Orchestra week in Japan.
Alex Lindsay String Orchestra
Wellington gained a professional chamber orchestra in 1948. Expatriate violinist Alex Lindsay, who had returned to New Zealand from England to play alongside Vincent Aspey in the National Orchestra, left that orchestra after a year and – inspired by the visit of the Boyd Neal Orchestra in 1947 – formed the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra. In 1963 Lindsay went to Australia and then Europe for four years, but his orchestra continued until 1973 when, at its founder’s insistence, it was wound up.
Following this, the Wellington Regional Orchestra was set up with the support of the Arts Council, absorbing many of the players from the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra. Renamed Wellington Sinfonia, then Vector Wellington Orchestra, and later Orchestra Wellington, in 2014 this part-time professional orchestra presented a subscription series and accompanied performances of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the NBR New Zealand Opera.