Abstract from the Australian Directory of Biography


Jan William van Otterloo (1907–1978)

From 1949 until 1973 Willem van Otterloo was chief conductor of The Hague Residentie-Orkest.

After successful tours of Australia for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1962 and 1965, van Otterloo was chief conductor (1967-68) of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In 1967 he took the orchestra on its first overseas tour, to North America, where it performed twice at the World Exhibition (Expo 67) at Montreal. As principal guest conductor, in 1970 he again toured with the orchestra. The quality of its thirty performances in Washington, New York and other cities of the U.S.A. established Australia’s musical reputation. In 1973 van Otterloo became chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (while remaining conductor of the Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra, Germany). He led the S.S.O. on its 1974 tour of Britain and Europe. Sympathetic to contemporary music, he incorporated new works of such Australian composers as Peter Sculthorpe, Don Banks, John Anthill and Robert Hughes into the concerts overseas.

Australian musicians revered van Otterloo for his vast musical knowledge, genuineness, empathetic musicality and strong discipline. His ability to train orchestras to professional standards and to aspire to world-class performance was a special gift. As a conductor he was one of the ‘dry-stick’ school, but his reputation in Australia was as a musician capable of great emotion, who elicited the best from his players, even if he was reserved and punctilious. His style exacted a fine orchestral sound which avoided the spectacular.