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Our History

Queensland's orchestral history dates back to 1871, when violinist R.T. Jefferies arrived in Brisbane with a passion for sharing the exhilaration of live symphonic music. However, it wasn't until 1947 that Queensland established its own - and Australia's second - professional symphony orchestra, which was the result of a partnership between the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council.

The 45-member Queensland Symphony Orchestra took to the stage for the first time on March 26 1947, performing for 2500 music enthusiasts at the Brisbane City Hall. The performance, featuring guest conductor Percy Code, pianist Eunice Gardiner and works by Wagner, Grieg, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, marked the beginning of a new era of Queensland music-making. In its first year, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra performed 31 live concerts, and initiated the annual regional tour of North Queensland.

Under inaugural Chief Conductor John Farnsworth Hall and his successor Rudolf Pekárek, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra became Queensland's flagship performing arts company during the 1950s and 1960s. The calibre of its guest artists from those early decades is remarkable and includes: conductors Otto Klemperer, Sir John Barbirolli, Eugene Goossens, Rafael Kubelik and Walter Susskind; violinists Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin; cellists Mstislav Rostropovich and Jacqueline du Pré and pianists Daniel Barenboim and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

In the early 1970s the Queensland Symphony Orchestra continued to grow toward its eventual size of 71 members and achieved great artistic success under American Chief Conductor Ezra Rachlin. Its subsequent appointment of Patrick Thomas in 1973 (Australia's first 'home-grown' Chief Conductor) led to a bold program and elevated performance standards, along with countless world and Australian premieres of new music.

The mid-1970s saw the Queensland music scene further stimulated with the formation of the Queensland Theatre Orchestra (subsequently the 31-member Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra) under the direction of Georg Tintner. Originally created to supply pit services for operatic and ballet performances, Tintner's inspired direction resulted in the smaller orchestra beginning to perform concert repertoire as well, while Tintner himself was a regular guest artist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

The Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra achieved renown in the 1990s as a first-class chamber orchestra, and under the direction of then Artistic Advisor, Anthony Camden, attracted high-calibre soloists including James Galway, Pinchas Zukerman and Sir Neville Marriner. It took to the international stage with a tour to Japan in 1991, and a tour across South-East Asia in 1996.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra began to receive international acclaim in the 1980s when the newly appointed Chief Conductor, Werner Andreas Albert, later also the Chief Conductor of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, involved the Orchestra in international recording projects. The Queensland Symphony's world-wide attention was enhanced further in the 1990s with the appointment of Maestro Muhai Tang as Chief Conductor, and the Orchestra's first tour abroad to China.

In 2001, political and financial reasoning led to the amalgamation of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra. Australia's third-largest symphony orchestra, The Queensland Orchestra, was born. While such artistic mergers have often proved fatal elsewhere in the world, The Queensland Orchestra, under its inaugural Chief Conductor Michael Christie survived and flourished. At just 27 Christie was the youngest person to ever hold such a position in Australia. He went on to lead The Queensland Orchestra on a successful tour of
Japan in 2002.

In 2008, The Queensland Orchestra welcomed Maestro Johannes Fritzsch to the position of Chief Conductor. Since his appointment, The Queensland Orchestra has engaged audiences of all musical tastes, interests and ages with an extensive state-wide program spanning 47 weeks of the year. The Orchestra has attracted guest artists of celebrated international acclaim including Jose Carreras, Freddy Kempf, Stephen Hough, Mark Kaplan and Piers Lane. Performances of both classical and modern compositions have been described by critics as 'breathtaking', 'impressive' and 'exhilarating'.

2009 marked the beginning of a major transformation for The Queensland Orchestra. The appointment of Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Pickett CSM and Director of Artistic Planning, Richard Wenn, sparked the beginning of a process of revitalisation. The innovation that characterised 2009 was continued in 2010, when The Queensland Orchestra became the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and former Chief Conductor Werner Andreas Albert was named as Conductor Emeritus. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra continued to thrive, welcoming renowned international and Australian artists, including Cyprian Katsaris, James Morrison and Hector McDonald. In 2010 the Queensland Symphony Orchestra celebrated a new beginning for all members of its organisation and renewed its commitment to touching the hearts and minds of all Queenslanders through classical music.

The appointment in June 2013 of Canadian Chief Executive Officer, Sophie Galaise, a renowned manager, comes as a reflection of QSO’s international reputation and standing in the international music community. Galaise was the Executive Director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, one of Canada’s leading orchestras. Her five year tenure saw the Orchestra re-establishing itself as a cultural institution of renown.

Adapted from Martin Buzacott © 2007.