National Orchestra debuts

6 March 1947

Programme for National Orchestra debut concert
Programme for National Orchestra debut concert (Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-B-MUSIC-NO-1947-01-front)

Classical music lovers packed Wellington’s Town Hall for the debut performance by New Zealand’s first national orchestra. After opening with an obligatory rendition of ‘God save the King’, the orchestra performed works by Dvorak, Brahms, Butterworth, Enesco, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

One reviewer thought the performance ‘magnificent’, while another praised the conductor’s ‘integrity and vigorous command’. A third found the brass section too loud, but noted that this fault had been corrected by the time of the orchestra’s second concert on the 12th,

Attempts to form a permanent national orchestra in New Zealand had begun in the late 1930s. The success of the Centennial Festival Orchestra in 1940 encouraged the government to form a permanent orchestra within the National Broadcasting Service. The Second World War delayed this plan until 1946, when some of New Zealand’s best classical musicians gathered in Wellington for the first rehearsals.

Andersen Tyrer was appointed principal conductor and Vincent Aspey orchestra leader. Various radio orchestras provided a core of players who returned to their home cities after several weeks’ rehearsal before reassembling in Wellington a month before the inaugural concert. 

The National Orchestra became the NZBC Symphony Orchestra in 1963 and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1988.