Australia mourns a formative music director

Australia mourns a formative music director


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2013

John Hopkins, director of music at the ABC from the late 1960s, has died in Melbourne, aged 86.

A musician who got his way by gentle persuasion, he maintained the high standards he had learned as one of the youngest conductors at the BBC. He was assistant conductor at BBC Scotland immediately before Colin Davis, principal conductor at BBC Northern immediately before George Hurst.

john hopkins


  • Lady Galway says:

    Very gentle special musician & friend. John did so much for the Arts in Australia. Sad to hear of John’s passing. Many memories together.

  • holly mathieson says:

    Hoppy also did an enormous amount for music in NZ. He left the BBC in 1957 to take over from James Robertson as conductor of the National Orchestra (now the NZSO), and In 1959 he founded the NZ National Youth Orchestra. He was a marvelous teacher to many Australian and NZ conductors now spread around the globe.

  • Mr Hopkins was one of the conductors that shaped my decision to leave the military and enter the world of music when I was a young man.

    In the NZYO and the Chch Symphony, his calm mien and easy manner was forever a pleasure to work with and he remains one of the many hundreds of conductors I’ve known that I can quickly recall an anecdote or memory about.

    One of our greats.

  • tommo2 says:

    I am indebted to John Hopkins and the New Zealand SO for giving a teenager the chance to listen to classical music in his home town which otherwise was a cultural dessert. The concerts were always well planned and I particularly remember the leader of the NZSO, Vincent Aspey, taking the solo in Rimsky’s Sherazade. Medelssohn’s Fair Melsina and Calm Sea overtures have remaind my favourites ever since and first heard in Dunedin’s town hall in the 50’s with John Hopkins conducting.

    John Hopkins bought the NZSO to Dunedin where, as a teenager, I went to every concert.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    As a young music lover in NZ I remember his great contributions to NZ music. We held him in high esteem. I recognise him too for helping the great Russian violinist Nellie Schkolnikova defect to the West and live in Australia. RIP

  • Helen Tuckey says:

    Amongst his many contributions to music, John Hopkins held great influence in the life of young musicians in Australia, in his roles in the Australian Youth Orchestra, Melbourne Youth Orchestra and as Dean of the Victorian College of the Arts. He also was a tireless advocate for Australian composers and quality musical engagement for the whole community. RIP.

  • Shirley Pitcher says:

    John’s generosity and skill meant – he wrote “Open Strings” parts for Haydn and Handel Minuets so that all the children coming to the Saturday morning Junior Strings programme of the Melbourne Youth Council could be in the Orchestra and play in The Concert – he patiently helped to tune the 50 or so instruments (in some cases untuned since “you did it yourself last week”) – he worked with and advised the Victorian College of the Arts students to prepare them, not only for achievement as soloists, but also for the realities of working life as musicians – and for all that many parents and volunteers will continue to think of him with gratitude, admiration and respect.

  • I had the pleasure of working with Hoppy a few times. He was always pleasant, calm, well-prepared, (always did his ‘home-work’) and efficiently articulate.



    Yesterday I received the very sad news of his passing away. The Australian Music Industry owes him much more than it gave him credit for especially in the last few years! He helped launch many successful careers and for me personally he was the maker of my success as flute teacher and performer and ultimately responsible for the success of my own students and “grand-students” many of whom are now in leading positions in Australia and in many other countries. He started a brilliant institution from scratch (The Victorian College of the Arts) which has produced a very large proportion of the musicians of several generations. It was his great talent to allow his staff to do what they were best at and used this with great wisdom to the ultimate success of all involved. It is a great pity that those who succeeded him did not have any such wisdom and managed (with the help of the politicians and musically illiterate papershufflers) to practically destroy the brick and mortar part of his achievement. Yet the effects of his educational genius are all around us in those who were lucky enough to have worked with him or studied under his guidance. We, who lovingly call him “Hopi”, are mourning one the most important drivers of Australias musical culture since Nelly Melba. Let us try to save as much of his legacy as possible and make Australia a nation of culture with more great music, less noise but full of artistic excellence and innovation!