Christchurch has a professional symphony orchestra which is an important part of the city’s cultural life. This is a brief history of the orchestra and a guide to resources about it.
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra had its origins in the John Ritchie Strings formed in 1958. Prior to this Christchurch had temporary orchestras, such as that formed by the Christchurch Orchestral Society in 1872 and the professional orchestra formed for the 1906-7 Exhibition, but the Christchurch Symphony has been our only permanent symphony orchestra.
The John Ritchie String Orchestra was made up of a core of players who had returned to New Zealand after overseas training, or those tutored here by the National Orchestra players. The Orchestra received an enthusiastic response from critics.
Christchurch Civic Orchestra
The John Ritchie String Orchestra soon became the Christchurch Civic Orchestra, which gave its first concert in 1962. They were sometimes joined by chamber music players in residence at the University of Canterbury and were able to start tackling larger orchestral works. A professional leader, Louis Yffer, was appointed in 1966.
In 1967 John Ritchie left the orchestra. At the same time there was an economic downturn. Years of funding difficulties followed and some political controversy arose as the orchestra strove to obtain secure funding and a professional status. During this time Christchurch briefly had two orchestras, but the ultimate result was The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra Incorporated, which was formed in 1975. It is now managed by a trust and governed by a Board of Trustees.
Development to a full orchestra
Since 1958 the orchestra has developed from a small string orchestra to one that can tackle the most demanding repertoire for a full orchestra. It has benefitted from the influence of many talented conductors including Dobbs Franks, Juan Matteucci, John Hopkins, Peter Scholes, Vanco Cadarvski, William Southgate and Brian Law.
Over the years it has developed beyond the presentation of the core classical repertoire and now stages popular concerts with well-known artists in fields such as jazz and pop. It has regular involvement in opera and the yearly Christchurch City Council concerts such as Classical Sparks in Hagley Park. It also tours concerts outside Christchurch and funds an outreach programme.
A professional orchestra
The appointment of Jan van Berg as leader in 1992 began a process of professionalisation which eventually resulted in tenured positions for players and the inclusion of high quality overseas players, both of which contributed to an increasingly high level of performance.
The orchestra currently comprises 39 tenured players, augmented by up to another eighty part-time professionals, who are hired as required for specific performances. Between 25 and 75 players take part in each concert, which typically involves 4 - 5 evening /weekend rehearsals, and a Saturday night performance.
In 2002, the orchestra appointed its first Music Director, Marc Taddei, to oversee programming and artistic development of the orchestra. Tom Woods was appointed Principal Conductor in 2008/2009. New Chief Conductor, Benjamin Northey and new concertmaster Martin Riseley were appointed in 2015.
Both New Zealand and international artists are commissioned as soloists and conductors to augment appearances by the Principal Conductor and Sir William Southgate, Conductor Laureate.
On our website
- Christchurch Symphony Orchestra recordings in our catalogue
- Christchurch Symphony Orchestra streaming music in Naxos Music Library
- Classical Sparks: the Story of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra by Tom Rogers and Simon Tipping