Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

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Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is an orchestra based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It has 100 permanent musicians. Melbourne has the longest continuous history of orchestral music of any Australian city and the MSO is the oldest professional orchestra in Australia. The MSO performs to more than 250,000 people in Melbourne and regional Victoria in over 150 concerts a year.

Following integration with the Melbourne Chorale in 2008, the Orchestra has responsibility for its own choir, the MSO Chorus.

The orchestra relies on funding by the Victorian State Government through Arts Victoria, Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Federal government through the Australia Council and support from private corporations and donors. It is supported by Symphony Services International.




The MSO’s first concert took place on 11 December 1906 under the baton of Alberto Zelman, founder of the MSO, who later became the first Australian conductor to conduct the London and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. In 1934, the MSO became one of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio orchestras. In 1949, the orchestra took on the new name of the Victorian Symphony Orchestra. In 1965, the orchestra’s name reverted to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

The MSO’s longest serving chief conductor was Hiroyuki Iwaki (1974–1997), who was named Conductor Laureate of the orchestra in 1989 and held the title until his death in 2006. The orchestra’s most recent Chief Conductor and Artistic Director was Oleg Caetani, whose initial four-year contract was from 2005 to the end of 2008. In March 2008, this was extended to the end of 2010.[1] However, his contract was unexpectedly terminated in October 2009, with immediate effect, due to artistic differences.[2] In September 2009, Tadaaki Otaka had been appointed Principal Guest Conductor, to commence in 2010.[3] However, Otaka’s role was accelerated for him to assume the post in late 2009.[2] In June 2012 Sir Andrew Davis’s appointment to the position of Chief Conductor from 2013 was officially announced.[4]

The MSO’s Concertmaster is Wilma Smith and Associate Concertmaster, Roy Theaker. Wilma Smith will be stepping down from the end of the 2014 season.[5] In 1923, Bertha Jorgensen became the first female leader of a professional orchestra in Australia, and she went on to play with the orchestra for 50 years and became the longest-serving female leader of an orchestra on an international scale.

The MSO was the first Australian orchestra to perform overseas (New Zealand, 1965), and the first to play in Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1970.[6] Its overseas tours – the USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Europe (2000, 2007), China (2002), St Petersburg, Russia (2003) and Japan (2005) – have gained it widespread international recognition. In January 2000, under the baton of the then Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Markus Stenz, represented Australasia at the Festival of the Five Continents in the Canary Islands alongside other orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic. In January 2007 the Orchestra embarked on its second European tour, visiting five cities in Spain (Castellon, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Pamplona, Madrid), Paris, Berlin and Milan.

The MSO has crossed over into contemporary pop and rock music on a number of occasions. In 1986 the orchestra teamed with Elton John, culminating in the album Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In 1989 concerts with John Farnham led to the DVD Classic Jack Live. In 2004 they performed with rock musician Meat Loaf; the DVD release of this performance reached the number one position in the UK music DVD charts. Another notable cross-genre performance was with KISS on 28 February 2003, in the so-called Kiss Symphony: Alive IV. The MSO has also performed with Harry Connick, Jr. (2004), Ben Folds (2006) and Burt Bacharach (2008).

Notable recordings by the MSO include music of Alexandre Tansman[7] and of Rudi Stephan,[8] both for Chandos, and live-in-concert performances released under the orchestra’s own label MSO LIVE.

Some of the orchestra’s principal players are notable in their own right as solo performers and recording artists; such as the long-time Principal Trumpet Geoffrey Payne.

In December 2010 the MSO performed two concerts of Disney Classics as part of their ongoing commitment to MSO Pops. These were aimed at both kids and fans of Disney, and were very well received by both MSO fans and Disney fans alike.

Chief Conductors


  • Alberto Zelman (1906–1927)
  • Fritz Hart (1927–1932)
  • Fritz Hart, Bernard Heinze (1932–1937, joint chief conductors)
  • Bernard Heinze (1937–1950; Sir Bernard from 1949)
  • Alceo Galliera (1950–1951)
  • Juan José Castro (1952–1953)
  • Walter Susskind (1953–1955)
  • Kurt Wöss (1956–1959)
  • Georges Tzipine (1960–1965)
  • Willem van Otterloo (1967–1970)
  • Fritz Rieger (1971–1972)
  • Hiroyuki Iwaki (1974–1997)
  • Markus Stenz (1998–2004)
  • Oleg Caetani (2005–2009)
  • Tadaaki Otaka (2009-2012); Principal Guest Conductor
  • Sir Andrew Davis (2013- )


Awards and Nominations


ARIA Awards

  • 2014 Nominated for Best Classical Album (ABC Classics)
  • 2013 Nominated for twice for Best Classical Album (ABC Classics)
  • 1999 Nomiated for Best Classical Album (ABC Classics)

Helpmann Awards

  • 2015 Nominated twice for Best Symphony Orchestra Concert
  • 2011 Nominated twice for Best Symphony Orchestra Concert
  • 2008 Winner of Best Performances in a Classical Concert
  • 2007 Winner of Best Performance in a Classical Concert Presentation
  • 2004 Nominated for Best Performance in a Classical Concert – MSO Chief Conductor Marcus Stenz
  • 2003 Nominated twice for Best Classical Concert Presentation

APRA Awards

  • 2014 Winner of Performance of the Year  and nominated for Orchestral Work of the Year
  • 2009 Nominated for Orchestral Work of the Year
  • 2008 Orchestral Work of the Year APRA Award win for 90 Minutes Circling the Earth, composed by Stuart Greenbaum and performed by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with Brett Kelly (conductor), was presented by Australasian Performing Right Association and Australian Music Centre (AMC). Nominated for same award for performances of Glass Soldier Suite, Musaic and Oboe Concertante.
  • 2008 Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in Education win for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s ArtPlay ensemble touring program and music theatre project Hunger.




  1. “Melbourne’s Chief Conductor Extends Contract” (Press release). Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. 31 March 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  2. Robin Usher (2009-10-14). “Orchestra abruptly ditches chief conductor”. The Age. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
  3. Robin Usher (2009-09-22). “Big names and big changes as MSO looks forward”. The Age. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  4. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
  5. MSO, Wilma Smith to step down as Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster at the end of 2014, 7 June 2013; Retrieved 30 August 2013
  6. Raymond Ericson (1970-11-12). “Australians Give First Concert Here: The Melbourne Symphony Led by van Otterloo”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  7. Tim Ashley (2006-04-14). “Tansman, Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 (Chandos)”. The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  8. Robin Usher (2005-09-19). “MSO’s man for all seasons”. The Age. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  9. “2008 Winners – Classical Music Awards”. Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  10. “2008 Finalists – Classical Music Awards”. Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 29 April 2010.


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