Although there were early musical ensembles, development was spasmodic. In the 1840s, a choral society and orchestra in Hobart performed European works and new compositions, and the Hobart Musical Union thrived from 1867 until the 1890s. Several organisations also began in the north, including the Launceston Orchestral Society, established in 1888 (which, apart from a lengthy post-war hiatus, operated until the 1990s). Music played an important part in the Tasmanian International Exhibition of 1894–95 when, for the first time, a symphony orchestra of 42 professional musicians from Sydney and Melbourne, augmented by the best local amateurs, performed the works of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann. However, after the final concert the choir and orchestra disbanded.
String teacher J Glanville Bishop, the focus of orchestral activity in the early 1900s, became conductor of the Hobart Orchestral Society when it was founded in 1923. Orchestras were affected when silent movies were superseded by 'talkies' from 1927, but a small orchestra was established by Ted McCann for Hobart's new radio station, 7ZL. The Australian Broadcasting Commission took over the station in 1932, and in 1936 the ABC Tasmanian Studio Orchestra of eleven players was formed to broadcast live radio programmes, under the baton of Clive Douglas. The Hobart Orchestral Society and the ABC's studio players merged to become the Hobart Symphony Orchestra, which presented its first concert in 1939 with conductor Douglas and pianist Jessie Wakefield (later Luckman).
This grouping formed the core of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO), a permanent professional orchestra established in 1948 through a partnership between the state government, Hobart and Launceston city councils and the ABC. Broadcast live nationally, the gala opening concert at Hobart's City Hall was conducted by Joseph Post and featured Tasmanian-born pianist Eileen Joyce as soloist. But the City Hall was an inappropriate venue: winter audiences needed blankets and hot water bottles, and traffic noise disturbed performances. In 1973 the TSO became the first ABC orchestra with its own studio and orchestra hall when it moved to a converted cinema, the Odeon. It relocated, in 2000, to purpose-built premises at the Federation Concert Hall. The orchestra's development has been shaped by a series of conductors commencing with Kenneth Murison Bourn and since 2003, Sebastian Lang-Lessing.
Acknowledged as a Tasmanian icon, the TSO has a strong local profile through its annual subscription series and community recitals, and performs nationally and internationally. Beginning with radio broadcasts, the orchestra has extended into video clips, film and television soundtracks and CD recordings. It has an enviable reputation as one of the world's great small orchestras and is noted for innovation and flexibility.
The Hobart Amateur Orchestra was formed in 1974, and became the Derwent Symphony Orchestra when Martin Jarvis took over as conductor in 1981. Other orchestras include the Tasmanian Youth Orchestra (1965) and the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra. In Launceston, St Cecilia's School of Music has five orchestras, and there are also the Chamber Orchestra, Sonore String Orchestra, and the Da Capo String Orchestra.
Further reading: W Bebbington (ed), The Oxford companion to Australian music, Melbourne, 1997; J Edwards, A report on the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Hobart, 1980; J Luckman, 'A Tasmanian life', THRAPP 46/1, 1999; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Fifty years of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Hobart, 1998; Music file, Launceston Library.