About Us

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra – A History

When Peter Williams took up the position as HOD Music at Napier Boys’ High School in May 1966, he reformed the Napier Evening Orchestra, an evening class activity, which had been in recess for some years. The orchestra gave regular concerts until 1975, two or three a year and often in conjunction with the Napier Civic Choir which he also directed.

In 1975 Mr. Williams was appointed as Tutor in Music as part of the Community Education Department at the newly established Hawke’s Bay Community College (later the Hawke’s Bay Polytechnic and now the Eastern Institute of Technology) and he then formed and directed the Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra with newly arrived English violinist Hilary Drake as leader. Five additional section leaders were appointed—violinist Enid Dunn, violist Peter van Drimmelen, cellist Alison Hansen, clarinettist Ronald Sinclair and horn player Michael Winter—who were responsible for conducting sectional rehearsals and auditioning new players.

The first concert was presented in May 1976, in association with the Schola Musica of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with Ashley Heenan as guest conductor and Adrienne Norris as soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

The Orchestra was administered by Mr. Williams as part of his work at the Community College which supported the orchestra financially, with office and financial administration, by the provision of rehearsal facilities and by master classes with visiting instrumentalists such as English cellist Christopher Bunting and the members of the music staff from Cornell University.

Weekly rehearsal sessions were held in two ten week blocks each year, culminating in a concert presented both in Napier and Hastings with large and enthusiastic audience support. The orchestra regularly numbered up to 45 players in each concert during this period. Major national soloists appeared with the orchestra – pianists Diedre Irons, Rae de Lisle, Maurice Till and Tamas Vesmas, violinists Edward Pople, David Nalden and Gillian Ansell, cellists Walter Goede and Euan Murdoch, tuba player Kenneth Young, and on several occasions the winners of the Mobil Song Quest. Soloists also included members of the orchestra as well as other Hawke’s Bay musicians, including clarinettist Frances Morgan, trumpeter Jonathan Krebs, soprano Judith Howlett and bass Robert Houston. Family concerts were especially popular with capacity audiences attending performances which included Carnival of the Animals, Barbar the Elephant and Tubby the Tuba.

Peter Williams conducted the orchestra until his retirement from Hawke’s Bay Polytechnic at the end of 1989. For the next two years the Orchestra was directed by Bruce Cash who was appointed as to the Polytechnic, and then for a short period by Barry Fell.

Vincent James conducted the Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra from 1995 to 2000. In that time he brought a wide variety of pieces into the repertoire from Bach to the present, and honed the players’ interpretative and ensemble skills. The orchestra was blessed with a succession of excellent leaders such as Sonya Hockey, Jose McGoverne, Raewyn Newcomb, and Norma Smith, and importantly a stable core membership.

Among the memorable concerts of that time was the orchestra’s 21st birthday programme in September 1997 which featured New Zealand composer John Ritchie’s Concertino for clarinet and strings with Karen Edwards as soloist. During the next year John Wells came to perform, among other things, his own organ concerto on St. John’s Cathedral organ.

The next few years demonstrated the maturity of HBRO as they were able to combine forces with other regional performing arts groups. In 1999 there was a combined concert with Hawke’s Bay Youth Orchestra and EIT singing students. In May 2000 there was a concert that included the first performance of Anthony Ritchie’s (son of the above) Concerto for cello and bass clarinet played by Katherine Hebley and Andrew Uren. In August of that year, there was a concert in the cathedral to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death, with Douglas Mews as harpsichordist and organist.

Other soloists during these years were Kate Candy (violin), Ingrid Culliford (flute), Jan Beck and Colleen Gahagan (duo pianists), Phillipa Reade (soprano) and Maurice Reid (trumpet). From the foregoing it can be appreciated that this was a fruitful and enjoyable period artistically for the Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra.

The last few years have included the development of the Classics At Sunset concert as an iconic event for HBRO. Inviting internationally recognized conductors such as David Taylor and Gregory Squire has once again assisted HBRO to raise the standard of artistry and performance. Focused on featuring world class talents that live in our region, the soloists and performers reflect the very best we have to offer. Developing our training programme or-ches-trate!! for advanced secondary school musicians insures our vitality and our future.

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Photo courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Today

CLASSICS AT SUNSET – how it happened

The seed was sown during the first concert at the Black Barn Amphitheatre in 1997 featuring Renee Geyer. Kate Holden, then President of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Orchestra (HBRO), was in the audience and knew immediately it was an ideal venue for the HBRO. HBRO hosted their first concert in 2000 featuring Patrick Power and conductor Dr Nancy Johnson. By all measures, it was a huge success. 2001 saw Dame Malvina Major as the featured guest artist.

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Photo courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Today

In 2002 the concert was named Classic Christmas at Sunset and featured local artists including Jackson McPharlane and mime artist, Stephen Aitken. 2003 brought the talented 17-year-old violinist, Ben Morrison from Christchurch, with his musical director, professional jazz pianist David Selfe as our guests.

Dr Johnson continued to work with the orchestra for a number of years, bringing to Hawke’s Bay a wealth of experience both as a musician, and as a conductor of youth and amateur orchestras.

The intention of the orchestra was to make the venue accessible to a wide audience. This was achieved by generous sponsorship from The National Bank over the years, as well as by inviting the audience to enjoy a casual dinner on the amphitheatre’s grass terraces while watching the sun set.

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                   Anton Wuts                            &                       Margot Pierard
Photos courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Today

Classics at Sunset was held annually for 5 years – its success was a tribute to the increasingly appreciative art and music lovers of Hawke’s Bay. The event was a happy collaboration between a stunning venue and an increasingly renowned local orchestra.

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Photo courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Today

The orchestra then moved indoors to the Napier Municipal Theatre with a stunning performance of ‘Last Night at the Proms’ – Art Deco Style! Guest conductor Mr. Gregory Squire and soloists Helen Medlyn, Anton Wuts and the childrens choir of Heretaunga Intermediate ( led by Carol della Barca ) presented a programme that totally delighted the audience.

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Photo courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Today

In more recent years the orchestra has worked intensely with the Napier Civic Choir, Opera Hawke’s Bay and Festival Opera, as well as continuing to develop its youth programme Orchestrate.

Members and Friends of the HBRO

The health, strength and stability of HBRO, indeed any orchestra, is a direct function of the support of local sponsors, businesses, and friends. HBRO is a completely volunteer orchestra—all HBO musicians volunteer significant amounts of time and talents playing, organizing and administering. They play for enjoyment, personal development, artistic expression and community enrichment. The HBO is a cultural jewel and serves as the backbone of the performing arts in Hawke’s Bay. HBO leadership is energetically pursuing avenues to

  • strengthen the orchestra,
  • grow as an asset to the Hawke’s Bay region,
  • develop our young, emerging musicians, and
  • participate in and influence the growth and direction of Hawke’s Bay.

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Creating synergistic events among the food, wine, visual and performing arts, and the outdoor beauties of Hawke’s Bay is vital to securing the orchestra’s future and assist in sustaining the desirable growth of the region. This requires a variety of partnerships between the arts, commerce and government. HBO is assuming a leadership role in forming these important partnerships.

Join the HBO

Want to come join the fun and play with us? For musicians interested in playing with the HBO, please contact newmembers@hbo.org.nz