Canberra Symphony Orchestra

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Canberra Symphony Orchestra
Former name Canberra Orchestral Society
Founded 14 March 1950
Concert hall Llewellyn Hall
Principal conductor Dr Nicholas Milton

Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) 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), 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 also held in school halls and the Childers Street Hall of the Australian National University.

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.

For the Canberra Centenary season of 2013, the ACT Government 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 2013.

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