Listening In

At most Sydney Symphony concerts you'll probably see microphones. Most likely, too, you'll be able to hear the concert, again, in a broadcast. 

The ABC was broadcasting this kind of music before there was a Sydney Symphony, and indeed brought the orchestra into existence for this very purpose. The Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House used to be referred to in ABC radio as 'Studio 227'. But it was a broadcast studio only when there was an audience for public concerts. The ABC's Sydney Symphony Orchestra was, soon after its beginnings in 1932, much more a concert than a broadcasting orchestra. This came as a surprise, to some a nasty one.

Before the formation of the ABC, private entrepreneurs had imported high-flying soloists, and even conductors, in the hope of making money. Now these promoters faced a formidable competitor, subsidised by the public purse. The ABC held a trump card: its new orchestras. At first orchestral resources were traded for broadcast rights to privately promoted concerts. But, frustrated at the limited broadcasts they were obtaining, the ABC soon began to present their own 'Celebrity Concerts', by subscription. Their competitors - especially the Tait Brothers/J.C. Williamson combine - threatened legal action. In 1938 the ABC cleverly bluffed its way out of a court case, deflecting the complainants with the argument that the ABC's concerts were also broadcasts, which enabled them to reach 'listeners in' who would otherwise never be able to hear such concerts. And so it became an – unwritten – law that at least part of every ABC concert was also a broadcast.

It would seem that the first concert broadcast by the new ABC involving their 'Sydney' orchestra was on 1 July 1932, when the 'National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra' was conducted by E.J. Roberts, with Isador Goodman as soloist. The broadcasting of the orchestra by the ABC continues. Sydney would no doubt eventually have acquired a full-time professional symphony orchestra, but – without a public broadcaster that became a major concert promoter – who can say when and how? The audience, then and now, has been formed and shaped by the broadcaster's heavy bias towards the kind of music you have come to hear.

David Garrett ©2007