For 150 years the RMP has regularly presented concerts featuring its own choir and orchestra, and although the RMP Choir has become more established and familiar to Melbourne audiences, it was the RMP Orchestra that introduced to Australian audiences such works as Beethoven’s Fifth and Eighth Symphonies and Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony, as well as numerous symphonies and concertos by the likes of Haydn and Mozart, not to mention many of the great works of the choral repetoire premiered in Australia by the RMP.
As Australia’s oldest continuously existing musical organisation, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic has within its charter the provision for the running of both a choir and an orchestra and it is important to note that much of the earliest orchestral activity in Melbourne was connected to the then Melbourne Philharmonic.
It was indeed partly the orchestra of the Philharmonic that merged with various other ensembles (chiefly the orchestra associated with the University of Melbourne) to form what eventually became the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Under the RMP Chief Conductor of the time, Sir Bernard Heinze, the RMP Choir became the ABC’s preferred choir, and during this period of some forty years the need for an RMP orchestra became less relevant. Throughout this period it was the Melbourne Symphony that almost exclusively accompanied the RMP Choir in concerts of major orchestral and choral works. In more recent years the RMP formed close working relationships with ensembles such as the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Youth Orchestra and the Australian Classical Players until the present Music Director re-established a professional orchestra operated by the RMP.
“Since 1998 its reputation for fine music-making has been entrusted to the inspirational leadership of Music Director and Chief Conductor, Andrew Wailes. Audiences have come to expect uplifting, dynamic performances with carefully nuanced attention to detail. On Sunday evening that is exactly what they got… the orchestra responded to Wailes’ brisk tempi with enthusiastic energy. As with the choir, attention to detail added to the drama and vitality of the entire performance.”
(Handel’s Messiah) Arts Hub Review 2012
To coincide with the RMP’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2003, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra (RMPO) was re-formed to support the RMP choir in its own subscription concerts, as well as other choral organisations, and from time to time, to perform in its own right. RMPO Players are paid professional freelance musicians as well as advanced tertiary and post-graduate students, and entry is by invitation. Quickly the RMPO has developed a reputation for high quality orchestral playing and is now firmly established as one of Melbourne’s leading orchestral ensembles.
In recent times the RMPO under its Chief Conductor Andrew Wailes has given highly praised performances of many major works, ranging from early baroque to contemporary music including masterpieces such as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and King Arthur, J.S. Bach’s St John Passion, Mozart’s Requiem and Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, Haydn’s The Creation and Te Deum for Empress Marie Terese, Handel’s Messiah (including the Mozart transcription), Rutter’s Gloria, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Elgar’s For the Fallen, Sea Pictures and The Music Makers Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem and Toward the Unknown Region, Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Karl Jenkin’s Songs of Sanctuary, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, Pergolesi’s Magnificat, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, numerous classical symphonies by Haydn and Mozart and the world premieres of Stuart Greenbaum’s From the Beginning, Gordon Kerry’s Fronting Eternity, and Nicholas Buc’s Sky Saga.
The RMPO can provide orchestral forces ranging from a baroque chamber ensemble to a full sized symphony orchestra of up to 80 players. The normal strength is around 50 players.
Apart from the RMP Choir, the RMPO has appeared in its own right, and has also accompanied other choral organisations including the Australian Boys Choir, The Vocal Consort, Melbourne University Choral Society, the Australian Catholic University Choir, Box Hill Chorale and has appeared in venues ranging from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne Town Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Deakin Edge at Federation Square, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Costa Hall (Geelong), St Patrick’s Cathedral (Ballarat), the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre (Mt Gambier), Portland Civic Hall and Crown Casino.
“There was a noticeable balance between choir and orchestra for Vaughan Williams’ setting of Walt Whitman’s poems. Dramatic drum rolls, clean attack from the brass and massive waves of choral sound, plus some really lovely playing from the strings, conjured up the same sense of exaltation as much of Elgar’s music had earlier. The bursting forth of glorious melody underpinned by the Town Hall organ made for a thrilling experience that was greeted with cheers from the audience at the end of the work.”
Classic Melbourne (Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region, 2014)
The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra was greatly honoured to be invited by a major music promoter to tour China from 18 December 2007 to 9 January 2008. The tour, which was also sponsored by the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China, was the most extensive by any foreign orchestra in Chinese history. The eighty five musicians in the touring party performed 16 concerts in some of China’s most prestigous venues, beginning with the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. Music performed included works by Beethoven, Schubert, Bizet and Johann Strauss, as well as various Australian and Chinese composers. The tour extended to more than a dozen cities. In many of these, audiences rarely have the opportunity to enjoy live concert performances by a symphony orchestra. Several concerts were filmed for Chinese television and footage from the tour will be used on several Australian educational web sites.
The orchestra has subsequently toured China on two more occasions, in 2010/11 and 2013/14.
With its players representing many of the finest young orchestral musicians in Melbourne, the RMPO consists of both current tertiary music students as well as music postgraduates and young professionals who are well on the way to establishing full time professional careers. Many players have already held important positions within tertiary, youth and community ensembles both here in Australia and internationally, and a considerable proportion of players have already gained performing experience with ensembles such as the MSO, the Australian Youth Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, the Academy of Melbourne, The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, and the Australian National Academy of Music.
“The strong brass playing (a consistent feature throughout the performance) led an impressive opening to the Shostakovich, with Wailes directing a sound that was both spirited and satisfyingly ‘big’ – no mean feat. The Mussorgsky, a gentle contrast, was well articulated with strings and winds to the fore, with some fine individual playing… It was easy to picture the sunrise, to appreciate the strings’ counterpoint to the winds’ melody and to be captivated by the ending of the work. Wailes conducted economically but effectively, with an obvious confidence in his well-rehearsed orchestra.”
Classic Melbourne (Shostakovich Festive Overture, Mussorgsky Dawn over the Moscow River, Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky, 2012)