Commemorating 70 years of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Guest blogger: Dr Martin Buzacott – Mittelheuser Scholar-in-Residence, State Library of Queensland.

Ever since I began writing my e-book commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, I’ve been asked one particular question over and over.

‘How come the QSO is only celebrating its 70th birthday when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is already way past its centenary and the Sydney Symphony is now approaching its 85th?’

It’s an understandable question given that for decades, all the Australian orchestras were part of the same ABC structure.

The differing dates are arbitrary, caused by the choice of where you prefer to choose your starting point.

In Melbourne they take the beginnings of their MSO from several decades prior to the creation of the ABC, when various attempts were made to create a Melbourne orchestra.

In Sydney they date their orchestra from the time the ABC began and started setting up studio ensembles.

But here in Queensland, we’re taking our starting point from the date when the ABC first entered into the unprecedented, visionary partnership with state and local governments to create a permanent, full-time symphony orchestra of the type we still enjoy today.

The magical date was 1947, and in that regard, the QSO is actually an older orchestra than the MSO, who only adopted the same structure in the following year.

But in approaching my QSO history project as part of the State Library’s Mittelheuser Scholars-in-Residence program, I too am going back in time, and the website history that you’ll read on the QSO website begins not in 1947, but in 1897.

That’s when the English organist George Sampson was appointed to the still-under-construction St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane.

George Sampson F.R.C.O., 1924. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 110430

George Sampson F.R.C.O., 1924. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 110430

As you can see from the several portraits of him available via the Picture Queensland website, Sampson was a remarkable man of genuine moral integrity, his strength of character written large across his handsome face in portraits that date from throughout his long life.

George Sampson F.R.C.O, ca.1898. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 74946

George Sampson F.R.C.O, ca.1898. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 74946

Sampson arrived in Brisbane during a flood in January 1898 and was greeted by the sight of bloated cattle carcasses and uprooted trees drifting down the raging Brisbane River.

Caricature of George Sampson, ca.1913. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 147896

Caricature of George Sampson, ca.1913. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 147896

He wrote subsequently of that alarming welcome to the sub-tropics, but he remained undaunted, for he’d come on a mission, which was to give Brisbane not just fine music in its churches, but in its concert halls too.

Sampson soon took over the well-established Brisbane Musical Union and turned it first into his own Sampson Orchestra and later it became the Queensland State and Municipal Orchestra.

And after the ABC arrived in the 1930s, George Sampson and his orchestra was still there, Sampson conducting ABC concerts and supplying players to augment the ABC’s core studio ensemble.

Now, when I look at those portraits of him on Picture Queensland, I see his kind, compassionate eyes and obvious community-mindedness forged in the great English Anglican tradition.

George Sampson F.R.C.O., 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 147969

George Sampson F.R.C.O., 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 147969

And I feel happy in the knowledge that George Sampson lived long enough to witness the first two years of the dream that he, more than anyone else, had done so much to create – the establishment of a permanent full-sized symphony orchestra in Queensland.

Dr Martin Buzacott – Mittelheuser Scholar-in-Residence, State Library of Queensland

Immerse yourself in QSO’s 70th anniversary web portal at this link.

Hear more about Martin’s research into the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at ‘A Year As An SLQ Fellow‘ at State Library on March 9, 2017.