100 years of the Sydney Con!

In 2015 the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, one of the oldest and most prestigious music schools in Australia, celebrated our 100th birthday. To mark this historic milestone and 100 years of music teaching and performance, the Conservatorium and the University of Sydney presented a number of special fanfare events featuring concerts, music premieres and exceptional guest musicians.

The decision at the beginning of the last century to convert the former first bakery of Farm Cove (remnants of the bakery are still under Verbrugghen Hall) and subsequent old Government House stables into a music school was not without its politics. Some Sydneysiders wanted the horse stables turned into a restaurant – a dispute that became known as the ‘battle between the sausage and sonata’. In 1912 Ambrose Campbell Carmichael, Minister of Public Instruction and an impressive reformer who had reformed the University of Sydney’s governance – rallied the support needed to overcome much opposition. Today ‘the Con’, as it is affectionately known, is home to the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Music, the Conservatorium Open Academy and the Conservatorium High School, where more than 2000 students receive specialist music training through the school, tertiary studies and private tuition each year.


  • 1915 – Official opening State Conservatorium of Music officially opens with the stated aims of ‘providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums’.
  • 1916 – Henri Verbrugghen – First year of teaching under directorship of Belgian conductor and violinist Henri Verbrugghen, who also establishes the Conservatorium Orchestra, Australia’s first full-time orchestra made up of staff and students of the Conservatorium.
  • 1918 – Con High School opens – The Conservatorium High School is the secondary arm of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the State’s only specialist music high school. Established by Henri Verbrugghen, the school enrolled its first students in 1918.
  • 1923 – Dr Arundel Orchard – Verbrugghen resigns and Dr Arundel Orchard, second Director of the Conservatorium, goes head-to-head with the new ABC Symphony Orchestra, predecessor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
  • 1934 – Opera School launched – Dr Edgar Bainton, third Director of the Conservatorium, launches the Conservatorium Opera School.
  • 1948 – Sir Eugene Goossens – Sir Eugene Goossens begins as fourth Director of the Conservatorium producing major works such as Judith, starring a young Joan Sutherland.
  •  1950 – Dr Richard Bonynge AC CBE – Dr Richard Bonynge graduates from the Conservatorium stating that ‘Goossens turned the Conservatorium into a genuine world-class institution, lifting standards and exposing students to sophisticated twentieth century scores’.
  • 1957 – Sir Bernard Heinze – Sir Bernard Heinze begins as fifth Director and finds the Conservatorium dilapidated and the concert hall crumbling, so starts building expansion on the northern and eastern sides of the Greenway building.
  • 1972 – Rex Hobcroft – Rex Hobcroft, seventh Director, leads the Conservatorium to have the modern educational profile recognisable today – a music university with tertiary degree programs and a flourishing visiting artists program.
  • 1990 – Amalgamation – NSW State Conservatorium of Music amalgamates with the University of Sydney as part of the Dawkins higher education reforms, and renamed the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, led by Associate Professor Ronald Smart, tenth Director of the Conservatorium from 1992.
  • 1995 – Prof. Sharman Pretty – Professor Sharman Pretty, eleventh Director of the Conservatorium, oversees the longstanding accommodation problems, and in a re-enactment of the ‘sonata and sausage’ battle 90 years earlier, begins negotiations to upgrade the existing site, realising Goossens’s vision of a music precinct from the Conservatorium to an opera house on Bennelong Point.
  • 1997 – Major upgrade – NSW State Premier Bob Carr announces major upgrade of the Conservatorium, with the ultimate goal of creating a music education facility equal to or better than anything in the world. View a birthday message from the Hon. Bob Carr.
  • 2001 – Renovations complete – Following four years of renovations, the new Conservatorium opens with three new concert halls, major library facilities, sound-proofed studios, practice rooms and offices, while removing 1960s additions to allow the castellated Gothic style of Greenway’s building to be seen from a distance.
  • 2012 – Dr Karl Kramer – Dr Karl Kramer, thirteenth Dean of the Conservatorium, consolidates and expands the conducting program, and founds the Association of Asia-Pacific Music Institutions.