Singing and Playing

When the Conservatorium officially opened in 1895 the first cohort of performance students was dominated by pianists and singers—reflecting the early Melbourne musical landscape, where drawing-room performance opportunities were far greater than those for orchestral music-making. However, orchestral enrolments gradually increased, attracted by much-loved instrumental teachers (such as harpist Walter Barker and cellist Louis Hattenbach) the fledgling Conservatorium Orchestra was revamped in 1917 to become the University Symphony Orchestra.

The University Symphony Orchestra was bolstered by smaller performing ensembles including the Conservatorium String Quartet, but it was the appointment of Bernard Heinze—the conductor and soon-to-be Ormond Professor—in 1924 that had the most profound influence on orchestral music at the Con. The orchestral programme was strengthened by the founding then amalgamation with the VCA in the following decades.Both the Con and the VCA have also supported many students in writing new orchestral music, taught by some of Australia’s leading contemporary composers including Stuart Greenbaum, Elliott Gyger and Brenton Broadstock.

Today orchestral music remains central to music-making at Melbourne, with opportunities open to people from any discipline: the official University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Davis, sees orchestral musicians perform traditional and new music by established and student composers, including current PhD students such as Alice Humphries, while the University Staff Orchestra, coordinated by current music students, invites players from all staff areas.

Grainger Museum · Johanna Selleck, ‘Earth’ from Symphony No. 1 for orchestra 1992

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