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The British-born conductor, musicologist and for ten years a visionary Federal Director of Music at the ABC from 1963 has died.
John Raymond Hopkins was born in Yorkshire in 1927. He showed his musical brilliance early becoming assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra in 1949 at the tender age of 22. In 1952 he was appointed conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra, a post he held for five years before moving to New Zealand in 1957 to succeed James Robertson as conductor of what became the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. During his time in the country he founded the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra, an organization with which he maintained strong ties throughout his life,
He crossed the ocean to Australia in 1963 to take up the post of Federal Director of Music for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, a job he held for ten years. While at the ABC he was known as a keen innovator, starting an Australian Proms series in Sydney in and taking a lead role in programming international avant-garde classical music by the likes of Messiaen and Lutoslawski. He also brought the music of Australian composers such as Peter Sculthorpe, Nigel Butterley and Richard Meale to national attention, notably commissioning 23 new Australian works for the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 and premiering Sculthorpe’s opera Rites of Passage in 1974. “He was a real visionary,” Peter Sculthorpe told The Australian. “He began to create a climate for Australian music with the sensational Proms concerts... He was crucial to my life and career, and to me getting a hearing as a composer.”
Groups and composers that he championed included Winsome Evans’ Renaissance Players (at a time when there was little early music on the schedules) and the then rarely performed music of Berlioz, Mahler and Elgar.
He departed the ABC in 1974 amidst claims of internal tensions and became the inaugural Dean of the School of Music at the newly formed Victorian College of the Arts. He went on to become the Director of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music from 1986 to 1991.
During his later years he was professor of conducting at the University of Melbourne and was still guest conducting with community and youth orchestras up until his death.
John Hopkins OBE AM (July 19, 1927-October 1, 2013)