Taking 5 with Jenny Hodgson
Jenny Hodgson plays an important part in Queensland Symphony Orchestra's history.
As General Manager of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jenny saw great change, growth, and collaboration for the musicians and the organisation itself. Now as Senior Producer as QPAC, Jenny still has the opportunity to work with the Orchestra on a great number of projects that greatly contribute to the Brisbane arts landscape.
We sat down with Jenny to talk about her most treasured QPO memories, her time working with Chief Conductor Georg Tintner, and what she sees for the future of the Orchestra.
You were the General Manager of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra from 1986 to 1993. What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced as part of your tenure?
QPO was a very lean organisation. We did everything on a shoestring budget, and had to be willing to pitch in whenever and wherever required. At various times, I remember working the box office, calculating the payroll, serving drinks at post-performance receptions, stuffing envelopes, and shifting chairs and stands – we had to be flexible!
One of the greatest challenges for me was to increase the wages for the musicians. At that time, the Orchestra worked a seven-call week, whilst the symphony orchestras were paid for eight calls. Thankfully, the Queensland Government agreed that this disparity was affecting the Orchestra’s viability and increased our base funding. This enabled us to increase the musicians’ number of weekly calls, which was a huge step forward.
Finding suitable premises was also problematic. In the early days, we had a rehearsal studio and office space on the fourth floor of the then Brisbane Community Arts Centre. However, the lift constantly broke down – pretty difficult when moving equipment for concerts, opera, or ballet seasons! We ended up moving to a building in Merivale Street with a ground floor rehearsal studio before finally relocating in 1991 to a custom renovated space at the Thomas Dixon Centre, West End, along with the Queensland Ballet.
Despite the many challenges, though, QPO always had a fantastic culture. It was a wonderful, close-knit musical family … it was such a joy to work there.
At the time of your leadership, there were two separate Queensland orchestras. What was the ecosystem like at that point? How did the two orchestras differ in their offerings?
There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation amongst all of the arts organisations in Brisbane at that time. QSO and QPO co-existed very happily. While the Philharmonic spent much of its time performing with the opera, ballet, and theatre companies, on the concert platform, each orchestra specialised in very different repertoire. QPO focussed on the baroque and early classical, while QSO took on the works of the late classical as well as the great romantic showpieces. Of course, both ensembles also performed the works of twentieth century and contemporary Australian composers.
Occasionally, the two orchestras combined to perform the grand masterworks that required immense orchestral forces. The first-ever Brisbane performance of Mahler’s mighty Resurrection symphony in 1987 under Georg Tintner was an enormous milestone in this city’s musical history.
An important figure of QTO/QPO was Chief Conductor Georg Tintner. There’s so many great stories about him (particularly from Warwick Adeney!). What are some of your recollections of working with Georg?
Mr Tintner (I could never call him Georg) was a musical giant, but humble and unassuming around the office. He was a pacifist having fled the Nazi regime, vegan, and didn’t drive. He was forever leaving scores on trains. After a time, I think Queensland Rail just sent any music they ever found on the Ferny Grove line back to Mr Tintner’s station on the assumption that it was his!
He conducted without baton or score, and could perform an extraordinary 51 operas from memory. I only ever saw him lose his bearings once in a concert. We were performing in the swirling acoustic of St John’s Cathedral, and after the first few bars of the opening work, he gestured for the orchestra to stop, turned to the audience, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry, I have lost my place. I will start again." And he did – this time conducting the piece without incident.
Another memorable moment was when he arrived at the old office on Edward Street in a panic, saying that his wife, Tania, had forgotten to pack his concert shirt. The Orchestra was due to perform at a high-profile outdoor concert in less than an hour. I remember thinking that he couldn’t possibly perform in tails and the old green check shirt that he was wearing. Thankfully, there was a formal hire business across the road – I raced across and explained the situation. In such a rush, I’d turned up without any money, but the manager loved classical music and readily agreed to loan me a white shirt for such a distinguished musician. Of course, the shirt was way too big, so I pinned the sleeves to Mr Tintner’s tail coat using my hair pins. Without those pins, I could just imagine the sleeves shooting out from under his tails on the first downbeat!
What are some of your stand-out memories of your time with the Orchestra?
1991 heralded a period of great change for the QPO. Now based at the Thomas Dixon Centre, we moved our concert series from the small Cultural Centre Auditorium to sell-out performances in the magnificent QPAC Concert Hall, opened the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Sydney Opera House, and toured Japan with new Artistic Advisor, Head of the Conservatorium and oboist, Anthony Camden.
Anthony’s contacts from his time with the London Symphony Orchestra resulted in some wonderful collaborations over the next few years, including performances with flautist James Galway, violinist and conductor John Georgiadis, pianist Howard Shelley and soprano Grace Bumbry.
The most memorable for me, though, was with legendary conductor, Sir Neville Marriner.
The Orchestra was performing Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, with Concertmaster Warwick Adeney playing the solo violin part. At the end, you could hear a pin drop. Sir Neville turned to the audience, put his hands out and shook his head in awe of Warwick’s spine-tingling performance. I’ll never forget it.
Warwick Adeney and Sir Neville Marriner
What do you see for the future of the current Queensland Symphony Orchestra?
There’s so much to celebrate! At 75 years young, QSO goes from strength to strength. There’s the enormous range of concerts presented all over the state, the wonderful education and community programs, and the important collaborations with the opera and ballet companies.
I feel very privileged to have not only played a small part during my QPO days, but to have been a member of the QSO board for many years. In my current role as Senior Producer at QPAC, I often see the musicians backstage and have the pleasure of working with them on shows such as Spirit of Christmas. It’s the music and the musicians that makes QSO what it is today … and what will secure its place well into the future.