SSO on Tour

You can't take Sydney out of the title, but you can take the orchestra out of Sydney. Tours are said to be good for orchestras, putting them on their mettle, but there's more to touring than the orchestra's good. 

From 1965 on, when the SSO's touring itinerary included Manila, Tokyo, Hong Kong as well as London and other British cities, there have been overseas tours at intervals: Europe in 1974, USA in 1988, and more since.

But the bread and butter of touring assumes the orchestra is not just for Sydney, but for the bush. In 1938 the ABC approved the proposal that its 'New South Wales Orchestra' should visit Wollongong, Katoomba, Orange and Bathurst. The pretext was the State's 150th Anniversary Celebrations, a gesture to some of the country towns, in this 'opportunity of attending a big Orchestral Concert'. It was an experiment, and the reasoning, according to Dr Keith Barry, the Federal Controller of Programmes, was 'to let country people have in some small measure the same facility granted to the city people of seeing a symphony orchestra in action'.

The small stages allowed only an orchestra of 45 players. And Barry, who lived in Leura, complained that the Katoomba program amounted to 'café music', so a Mozart symphony was added to give substance. All the same, attendance was poor, perhaps partly because much of the potential audience was already attending the orchestra's concerts in the Sydney Town Hall. In Bathurst, the press was excited : 'This will be something unique…the first occasion on which a symphony orchestra has given a recital so far west of Sydney'.In Orange there had been some reluctance to have the orchestra at all, something to do with the date offered being late-shopping night.

The orchestra played under its resident conductor Percy Code, and the soloists included country locals - such as pianist John Hannell and baritone Colin Chapman in Newcastle – as well as concertmaster Lionel Lawson.

Country touring of this kind became a more regular fixture for the Sydney Symphony in the 1950s, and since. (In September the orchestra will play in Tamworth – a special anniversary concert and live broadcast.) Local enthusiasm shines through the press notices. The Newcastle Herald, 4 March 1938: 'appreciative audience' for the 'happy inspiration of sending the Sydney Symphony on a country tour'. If even one light went on in a youthful head, hearing and seeing an orchestra for the first time – perhaps as the Overture to Tannhäuser reached 'a climax of massive brilliance' – then the experiment was surely worthwhile.

David Garrett ©2007