Some colleagues are soon to move offices, so this morning I was a gleeful assistant in their attempt to winnow a large collection of books. Also rescued along the way, a period piece in the form of a scrapbook:
Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Launceston – Hobart, 1967
The news clippings from the Launceston Examiner trace a little saga that I suspect wouldn’t make the press today, whether for lack of media interest or orchestras’ desire generally to keep such things under wraps.
It begins on 1 August 1967 with news that a concert in Launceston’s Albert Hall is scheduled for 20 November and that a capacity house of 2000 will cover the expenses of the visit, but that the city must put up a guarantee of $4000 to insure the orchestra [the ABC] against a loss. $860 had been raised so far.
5 August: Further guarantees were promised but the city still needed to raise $2500 to prevent the visit being called off. A five-day reprieve had been granted. As before, various donors and the amounts pledged are named.
8 August: “The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s visit to Launceston will be called off or confirmed this afternoon.” The Mayor has issued a last minute plea and personally solicited about 200 business houses.
9 August: A second reprieve/extension has been granted, with just $600 in pledges left to raise. “Ald. Pryor [the Mayor] said the orchestra expenses for the visit to Launceston would be $5000. A ‘very conservative’ estimate of $1000 was put on ticket sales. Launceston had to guarantee the remaining $4000 before the orchestra would commit itself. He said: ‘But the Albert Hall holds 1600 and at an average of $2 a ticket[!] the guarantors will not lose anywhere near the money they put up.’”
All comes through, and by the end of the month the two programs in Hobart and one in Launceston are confirmed. The freight includes three tonnes of instruments and equipment and the 87 musicians are scheduled to fly out of Sydney on the TAA T-Jet shown above.
Then begin the inevitable mini-features in The Examiner and the Hobart Mercury, mostly about members of the orchestra: the nine women, including Lois Simpson (who, “following her husband’s [John Painter’s] retirement as principal cellist of the orchestra…took his place in it”) and principal harp June Loney, who had spent the previous season studying in Cleveland with the great Alice Chalifoux. One of Lois’s young pupils, Nathan Waks, had recently reached the finals of the ABC Concerto Competition.
Helen Bainton (viola) had just published Facing the Music. Other personalities: Neville Amadio, Gordon Watson (piano soloist), Ronald Cragg (principal viola, pictured in his violin-making workshop), John Robertson (principal trumpet), and the youthful Donald Hazelwood – “top executive of the splendid body of musicians scheduled to play in Tasmania in the third week of next month”. Don is photographed with Anne, Roy (6), Jane (8) and Sooty the kitten in a billy cart made by Don himself (“Concert Master is a Handyman”).
One feature in The Mercury makes the leap from Monteverdi’s scratch band c.1600 to the six Australian symphony orchestras in one fell paragraph break. There’s orchestral history for you. Under the heading “Long queues for vacant seats” we’re told that the SSO’s subscription base of more than 10,000 attend 50 performances (five series of 10 programs each) annually. “This represents five completely sold-out houses for each concert at the Sydney Town Hall, and people queue in hundreds each year for any seats that become vacant.” Furthermore, 6000-plus under 25s were attending the Youth Concerts. Those were the days.
The Mercury profiles Miss June Rees, “Australia’s only woman concert manager”, who had been a foundation member of the Sydney Symphony Youth Concerts Committee and had made her way from copy and script writing in commercial radio to record library work to Hobart’s orchestral manager.
The ABC’s purchase of four Wagner tubas for the SSO makes Hobart news, even though the Tasmanian audiences won’t get to hear them.
The Mercury’s “for Women” tells of the charms of music: mainly to do with SSO musicians finding love within the ranks. Chief among the “family men” must be violinist Tony Bonetti, who is pictured with his family orchestra of wife and six children, ranging in age from 5 to 15 – all string players.
Some of the SSO musicians hail from Tasmania, such as Brian Duke [a cellist who, incidentally, appears to have been as avid a collector of program books as Thomasina, his comprehensive 50-year bound collection having been spotted earlier this year in an estate auction and snaffled for the SSO]. Duke’s story is the finding of a prized early Georgian table piano in a Hobart secondhand shop.
Then the concerts…and the reviews…
Albert Hall, Launceston
John Hopkins | Gordon Watson, piano
Berlioz Roman Carnival – “probably fun to play as well as hear”
Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes – “apt musical equivalents of sensations”
Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No.4 – “apart from a slight lag in time by the soloist…left little room for criticism”
Beethoven Symphony No.7 – “a performance never equalled before in Tasmania…never faltering in the exuberant dance rhythm or failing to catch the distant solemnity of the second movement”
Apparently Albert Hall’s reputation as a cold venue resulted in few women bothering with evening dress “as such an occasion demanded”. But Mrs Andrew Sinclair “teamed a blouse of tomato chiffon with unusual fluted sleeves with a black and white checked hostess skirt”. (The descriptions of attire in The Examiner’s “Women’s World” go on for columns.)
(Two days later the event was declared a “big success”, with the guarantors assured of receiving between 45 and 60 per cent of their pledges back.)
20 and 21 November – free children’s matinees
Albert Hall, Launceston; City Hall, Hobart
Berlioz Roman Carnival
Britten Four Sea Interludes
Sculthorpe Sun Music IV
Beethoven Symphony No.7
Sculthorpe is Launceston-born: a neat choice. Bear in mind, too, that Sun Music IV would have been brand new: Willem van Otterloo and the MSO had premiered it just six months before. How exciting is that? And smart, no doubt, to play it to the open-eared kiddies in a concert where Hopkins could explain what it was all about.
a repeat of the 20 November evening program, in City Hall
The performance of the National Anthem was “a triumph and a brilliant prologue” wrote the staff reporter at The Mercury, and by the end Hopkins was recalled to the stage five times. But Beethoven was at fault, it seems, for not giving his symphony a more attractive title: “It is perhaps a pity that musical tradition dictates that titles of the works of the masters should include reference to the key—titles frightening enough anyone unversed in musical techniques. Here was the presentation of a wealth of orchestral harmony — a fruitful source of material for modern songwriters — that should have been heard by many more Tasmanians because of its sheer quality. A more attractive title might have brought them.”
The Britten was “a sort of formless music dictated by the moods of the sea”, but at least his titles weren’t faulted. “It was a terrific performance in which all sections of the orchestra come together in a tremendous cacophony of the sound and fury of the storm.”
City Hall, Hobart
SSO and TSO combined
Bach orch. Leo Weiner Toccata in C
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Strauss Don Juan
Franck Symphony in D minor
Nice to hear of a string work being performed not by reduced “chamber” forces (as would be most likely for a strings-only work at the SSO nowadays) but by a generously full body of strings.
Another thing to note about these touring programs: a generosity of music (80 to 85 minutes of music in each one). And that’s not counting the national anthem.
Of course, you can’t please all the people all of the time, and there are six signatures at the bottom of a letter to The Mercury (28 November 1967) complaining that – while the Berlioz, Britten and Strauss were appropriate in giving “the Tasmanian public a unique opportunity to hear works…beyond the limited resources of the TSO” – the “magnificent array of orchestral finery” went to waste in the Beethoven and Franck, since neither was scored for a large orchestra and both had been performed by the TSO under Matthews. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with 114 musicians would have been more appropriate, they write. “Surely, if such an opportunity presents itself again, the ABC will overcome the problems of limited rehearsal time and present us with a programme equal to the occasion.”
I’ve documented this at length because ultimately the responsible thing to do with a scrapbook such as this is to entrust it to the appropriate archive, where it will languish until some eager researcher unearths it. But it seems a shame for its charm and historical insight to be completely lost to view.