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Alberto Zelman (1874-1927)

Alberto Zelman, in whose memory the Orchestra was formed and named, was born in Melbourne in 1874. He was the son of Signor Alberto Zelman, born in Trieste, operatic conductor, organist, pianist, composer and teacher and his English-born wife, Emily, a gifted singer. Alberto (junior) proved to be an extraordinarily gifted all-round musician: possibly Australia's best violinist, leader of a string quartet, a good pianist, a highly talented orchestral and choral conductor and a fine teacher of violin. He was beloved by his players, singers and pupils and popular with his audiences. He died prematurely in 1927, aged 52.

Alberto Zelman founded the original Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1906. It was mainly amateur with a core of professional players, and Alberto conducted it over the years, giving many memorable performances. His last appearance was to conduct the Messiah on Christmas night 1926; such world famous singers as John McCormack and Dame Clara Butt had been soloists in his Messiah.

Zelman Memorial Symphony Orchestra (1933-)

The MSO continued to perform after his death until 1932 when it was taken over by Professor (later Sir) Bernard Heinze who converted it to an all-professional orchestra. The amateur players then, in 1933, formed their own orchestra, naming it the Zelman Memorial Symphony Orchestra after their beloved Alberto Zelman. It has given at least three concerts each year since that time.

Herbert Davis was the founding conductor (1933-59). He was followed by Paul McDermott (1960-73), then Leon La Gruta (1974-77). Short-term guest conductors covered the next two years until Philip Carrington was appointed. Philip, a fine violinist and teacher, was the last long-term appointee, serving from 1980 until 1999. Since 2000, the orchestra has worked under a number of conductors well known in Melbourne's amateur and professional music circles, including Philip Carrington who has returned on a couple of occasions, plus Gyula Cseszkó, Phillip Green, Peter Handsworth, Gerald Keuneman, Rick Prakhoff, Tom Pugh, Joannes Roose and Mark Shiell. Most recently, Mark Shiell was appointed Artistic Director & Principal Conductor in 2009.

There have been only five appointed concertmasters of the orchestra: Bertha Jorgensen (1933-45), Connie Ziebell (1946-82), Donald Hancock (1982-2001), and Yik Ming (Jim) Chim (2001-2004). After a period of guest concertmasters, Mary Johnston was appointed concertmaster in 2009.

Today the Zelman Memorial Symphony Orchestra comprises some 60 players in a full symphonic ensemble, performing classical, romantic and twentieth century symphonies and concertos with fine guest soloists. The orchestra performs four concerts a year in Melbourne, and some concerts are taken to country centres such as Daylesford and Yea.

"Your Friend, Alberto Zelman"

This is the title of a book written by Don Fairweather to commemorate the orchestra's 50th anniversary. Foreworded by Geoffrey Blainey, the book traces the life of Alberto Zelman and his father within Melbourne's embryonic serious musical scene. The book concludes with a brief account of the orchestra's performances, conductors and leaders over its first fifty years. The orchestra has recently reprinted the book, with a few corrections. You can buy a copy online from the orchestra for $25 including postage in Australia.

Your Friend, Alberto Zelman, Don Fairweather, ISBN 0 9591411 0 3 (1984) 780'.92'4

We regret to announce that Donald Fairweather passed away late in 2006. Donald played Viola with the Zelman Symphony for over twenty years, and we are in debt to Donald for uncovering the history of our orchestra, the original Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the life and times of Albert Zelman Jnr.

Historical extract prepared by Don Fairweather, Gary Kirby and Daniel Kirkham.

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Page last modified on December 22, 2014, at 06:59 PM