Canberra Symphony Orchestra

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Canberra Symphony Orchestra is the professional orchestra of the Australian Capital Territory based in Canberra, the national capital of Australia.

Officially formed on 14 March 1950 and registered as the "Canberra Orchestral Society" (COS), the orchestra has grown from a small grass-roots organisation to the first-class, fully professional orchestra of today. Rehearsals were originally held in the ante-room of Albert Hall under the baton of conductor Pieter Kruithof, a Dutch migrant with organ and choral background who was being employed as a cleaner. Concerts were held in school halls and the Childers Street Hall of the ANU.

Wilfred Holland from England, with his strong conducting and performance background, led the orchestra for much of the 60’s. He also guided the Canberra Choral Society and the two organisations held joint performances of many early choral masterpieces.

In 1965 Ernest Llewellyn, former concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra arrived in Canberra to take up the position of Director of the newly formed Canberra School of Music. He also was invited to the role of conductor of the Canberra Symphony. Llewellyn’s tremendous reputation made it possible for him to recruit top professional players to teach at the School and to join the orchestra. In no time the CSO was flourishing with sold out performances at the newly opened Canberra Theatre.

Ernest Llewellyn continued to strengthen and extend the orchestra until his retirement in 1980, at which time the new School of Music auditorium was officially named Llewellyn Hall in his honour.

The CSO was lucky to secure Leonard Dommett as the new Conductor and Musical Director in 1982. As the former Concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Dommett brought an impressive network of national and international artists to the CSO stage. Throughout the 80’s the orchestra continued to expand and artistic achievement was continually evolving.

Dommett retired in 1991 and the ensuing decade brought further change to the orchestra, including the implementation of fully professional status in 1994. Large opera gala concerts featured celebrity conductors such as Richard Bonynge and Isaiah Jackson.

When Richard Gill joined the CSO as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director in 2001, the organisation was going through difficult times. He brought much needed consistency and stability to the orchestra – and within a couple of years after his arrival, the CSO was back on a solid financial footing.

Dr Nicholas Milton took up the baton as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director in 2007 and his passion, vision and expertise has inspired players and audiences alike. Milton is a rising Australian conductor now based in Germany who was also a former violinist with the Macquarie Trio. Also in 2007 the CSO received Commonwealth Government funding for the first time which has allowed for additional rehearsals and larger orchestras on stage.

The season of flagship Llewellyn Series concerts is regularly attended by 2,400 patrons per program, while the ACTEW Grand Gala and the Canberra Weekly Matinee Magic concerts are consistently sold-out events. With 5,000 people attending the annual Shell Prom Concert and 12,000 enjoying Symphony in the Park, the CSO is embedded as a favourite among Canberrans of all ages across the entire community.

The CSO maintains strong relationships within government, corporate and diplomatic sectors in the ACT. In 2011, the partnership between the CSO and the Macquarie Group Foundation won gold in the Toyota Community Award category through the Australian Business Arts Foundation (Abaf). This partnership has created the CSO’s Noteworthy music education program which has presented free concerts to over 35,000 school children in the ACT since 2007.

For the Centenary season of 2013, the ACT Government has enlisted the CSO to perform the World Premiere of a commissioned work by Andrew Schultz, Symphony No. 3 – Century as a feature of the official Canberra Day celebrations in March. Centenary flavours permeate the entire CSO 2013 season with several Embassies supporting concerts as a gift to the people of Canberra and themes of the Centenary helping to shape repertoire.

From the early days rehearsing in the anteroom at Albert Hall to a 2013 concert featuring 400 performers on the Llewellyn Hall stage for Carmina Burana, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra has grown with, been inspired by and matured with this city we are proud to call home.

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