Open main menu

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music (formerly the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music or ‘The Con’) is one of the oldest and most prestigious music schools in Australia. Located adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens on the eastern fringe of the Sydney central business district, the Conservatorium is a faculty of the University of Sydney, and incorporates the community-based Conservatorium Open Academy and the Conservatorium High School. In addition to its secondary, undergraduate, post-graduate and community education teaching and learning functions, the Conservatorium also undertakes research in various fields of music.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Sydney University Wind Orchestra and Verbrugghen Hall.jpg
The Sydney University Wind Orchestra (SUWO) performing inside the Verbrugghen Hall
Other name
The Con
Former name
New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music
TypePublic university college
Established1915 (1915)
Parent institution
University of Sydney
Academic affiliation
Head of School and DeanProfessor Anna Reid
LocationSydney, New South Wales, Australia
33°51′48″S 151°12′52″E / 33.863455°S 151.214353°E / -33.863455; 151.214353Coordinates: 33°51′48″S 151°12′52″E / 33.863455°S 151.214353°E / -33.863455; 151.214353
Sydney Conservatorium of Music (logo).png
Building details
1 Conservatorium a.JPG
The facade of the Greenway-designed building
Conservatorium of Music is located in Sydney
Conservatorium of Music
Conservatorium of Music
Location in Greater Sydney
Former namesStables for the First Government House
General information
Architectural styleGothic Picturesque
Construction started9 August 1817 (1817-08-09)
ClientColonial Governor
Design and construction
Renovating team
ArchitectChris Johnson anor.
Renovating firmNSW Government Architect with Daryl Jackson, Robin Dyke and Robert Tanner
Official nameConservatorium of Music
Criteriaa., b., c., d., e., f., g.
Designated14 November 2011
Reference no.01849


The Greenway buildingEdit

Originally commissioned in 1815 as the stables for the proposed Government House, the oldest Conservatorium building was designed by the convict architect, Francis Greenway. Listed on the State Heritage Register[1] in the Gothic Picturesque architectural style with turrets, the building was described as a "palace for horses" and is a portrayal of the romantic vision of Governor Lachlan Macquarie and the British architectural trends of the time. It is the only example of a gothic building designed by Greenway still standing. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Macquarie was recalled to Britain.[1] The stables, located close to picturesque Sydney Harbour, reflect the building techniques and the range of materials and skills employed during the early settlement era.[1]

At the time of its listing on the State Heritage Register, the building was given the following statement of significance:[1]

The Conservatorium of Music is of State Heritage Significance because the former Government House Stables is a notable example of Old Colonial Gothick architecture. It is a rare surviving example of the work of noted ex-convict architect Francis Greenway in the Old Colonial Gothick style. Greenway was instrumental in Macquarie accomplishing Macquarie's aim to transforming the fledgling colony into an orderly, well mannered society and environment. It is the only example of a gothic building designed by Greenway still standing. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Macquarie was recalled to Britain.

The Conservatorium building also has strong associations with Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth, an influential figure in moulding the colony into a more ordered and stylish place under her husband and with the assistance of Greenway.

Since the building was converted for use as a Conservatorium in 1916, it has been the core music education institution in NSW and has strong associations with numerous important musicians.

— Statement of significance, New South Wales State Heritage Register.

Origins of the ConservatoriumEdit

In 1915 the NSW Government under William Holman allocated £22,000 to the redevelopment of the stables into a music school. The NSW State Conservatorium of Music opened on 6 March 1916 under the directorship of the Belgian conductor and violinist Henri Verbrugghen, who was the only salaried staff member.[citation needed] The institution's stated aims were "providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums" and to "protect amateurs against the frequent waste of time and money arising from unsystematic tuition".[citation needed] The reference to European standards and the appointment of a European director was not uncontroversial at the time, but criticism soon subsided. By all accounts, Verbrugghen was hugely energetic: Joseph Post, later himself to be director, described him as "a regular dynamo, and the sort of man of whom you had to take notice the moment he entered the room".[citation needed] Enrolments in the first year were healthy with 320 "single-study" students and a small contingent of full-time students, the first diploma graduations occurring four years later. A specialist high school, the Conservatorium High School was established in 1918, establishing a model for music education across the secondary, tertiary, and community sectors which has survived to this day.[citation needed]

Verbrugghen's impact was incisive but briefer than had been hoped. When he put a request to the NSW Government that he be paid separate salaries for his artistic work as conductor of the orchestra (by then the NSW State Orchestra) and educational work as Director of the Conservatorium, the Government withdrew its subsidies for both the orchestra and the string quartet that Verbrugghen had installed. He resigned in 1921 after taking the Conservatorium Orchestra to Melbourne and to New Zealand.

The Conservatorium was home to Australia's first full-time orchestra, composed of both professional musicians and Conservatorium students. The orchestra remained Sydney's main orchestra for much of the 1920s, accompanying many artists brought to Australia by producer J. C. Williamson, including the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz, who donated money to the Conservatorium library for orchestral parts. However, during the later part of the stewardship of Verbrugghen's successor, Dr W. Arundel Orchard (Director 1923–34), there were tensions with another emerging professional body, the "ABC Symphony Orchestra", later to become the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, driven by the young, ambitious and energetic Bernard Heinze, Director-General of Music for the Federal Government's new Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Conservatorium of Music during Macquarie Night Lights from 23 November to 25 December 2006

In 1935, under Edgar Bainton (Director 1934–48), the Conservatorium Opera School was founded, later performing works such as Verdi's Falstaff and Otello, Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Die Walküre, and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, among others. Under Sir Eugene Goossens (Director 1948–55), opera at the Conservatorium made a major contribution to what researcher Roger Covell has described as " the most seminal years in the history of locally produced opera...". Although the most prominent musician to have held the post of Director, Goossens' tenure was not without controversy. Apart from the international scandal surrounding his departure in 1956, Goossens was said during his directorship to have channelled the best players in the Conservatorium Orchestra into the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (of which he was concurrently Chief Conductor),[citation needed] leaving only a student group for the Conservatorium. He disbanded the choir and several chamber ensembles and, some claimed, tended to ignore administrative matters.[citation needed] Richard Bonynge, however, who graduated in 1950, felt that it was Goossens who turned the Conservatorium into a world-class institution, lifting standards and exposing students to sophisticated 20th-century scores (particularly those of Debussy and Ravel).[citation needed]

Expansion and reformsEdit

Verbrugghen Hall, named after the first director of the Conservatorium

Under the direction of Rex Hobcroft (1972–82), the Conservatorium adopted the modern educational profile recognised today. Hobcroft’s vision of a "Music University" was realised, in which specialised musical disciplines including both classical and jazz performance, music education, composition and musicology enriched each other.

In 1990, as part of the Dawkins Reforms, the Conservatorium amalgamated with the University of Sydney, and was renamed the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

A 1994 review of the Sydney Conservatorium by the University of Sydney resulted in a recommendation that "negotiations with the NSW State Government about permanent suitable accommodation for the Conservatorium be pursued as a matter of urgency."

As in 1916, a wide range of sites were considered, many of them controversial. In May 1997, 180 years after Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the Greenway Building, State Premier Bob Carr announced a major upgrade of the Conservatorium, with the ultimate goal of creating a music education facility equal to or better than anything in the world. A team was assembled to work to that brief, resulting in a complex collaboration between various government departments (notably the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Public Works and Services), the Government Architect, US-based acoustic consultants Kirkegaard Associates, Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke Architects, the key users represented by the Principal and Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and the Principal of the Conservatorium High School, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and many others.[1][2]

Centenary commissionsEdit

To mark the centenary of the Conservatorium in 2015, it commissioned 101 new works, the spread designed to represent those who have shaped music over the past 100 years. The first work in the series was John Corigliano's Mr Tambourine Man, based on the poetry of Bob Dylan, which was presented on 11 September 2009.[3]

Heads of the ConservatoriumEdit

The past directors, principals and deans were:[4]

Name Title Term start Term end Time in office Notes
Henri Verbrugghen Director 1916 1921
W. Arundel Orchard 1923 1934
Edgar Bainton 1934 1948
Sir Eugene Goossens 1948 1955
Sir Bernard Heinze 1957 1966
Joseph Post 1966 1971
Rex Hobcroft 1972 1982
John Painter 1982 1985
John Hopkins 1986 1991
Ronald Smart Principal 1992 1994
Ros Pesman Acting Principal 1994 1995
Sharman Pretty Principal and Dean 1995 2003
Professor Kim Walker Dean & Principal 2004 2011
Karl Kramer 2012 2015
Professor Anna Reid Head of School and Dean 2015 incumbent

Notable alumniEdit

Notable teachersEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Conservatorium of Music". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Conservatorium of Music Including Interior and Grounds". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  3. ^ Limelight, August 2009, p. 9
  4. ^ History of the Con
  5. ^ Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years : A History of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland: Reed Methuen. p. 348. ISBN 0-474-00177-6.


  This article incorporates text by New South Wales State Heritage Register available under the CC BY 3.0 AU licence.

External linksEdit