The founding director of the UTAS Conservatorium of Music, and a tireless champion of Australian music and performers, Dr Rex Hobcroft, has died.
Born in Renmark, South Australia, Dr Hobcroft studied at the Adelaide and Melbourne University Conservatoriums and the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.
He was a RAAF pilot during World War II and later a commercial pilot with Ansett Airways before resuming musical studies.
In an Alumni News article published after he was admitted as a Doctor of Letters in 2004, his early years at UTAS are vividly recalled:
“In 1961, as a newly appointed lecturer at the University of Tasmania, he found himself on the Domain in an office that was a partly converted garage and with equipment that consisted of an upright piano, an old record player, a few recordings and a very small collection of music books. He could have been forgiven for finding the task ahead of him just too daunting.
“He knew, however, how to motivate support in the community – by bringing together enthusiasts, stakeholders and performers, by giving performances, by setting up ensembles – to consolidate the many parts of the whole into a vision for music and music education in this State.”
Dr Hobcroft gave weekly performances with commentary, working through the complete Beethoven cycle of piano sonatas – the first such presentation in Australia by an Australian pianist. He also instituted weekly lunch-hour concerts.
He organised, in Hobart in 1963, the First Australian Composers’ Seminar, and he showcased the work of contemporary Australian composers. The 1963 gathering, which attracted many of Australia’s recognised composers, is remembered as a watershed in Australian composition.
Asked by an interviewer in 2007 about the professional achievements that mattered most of all, Dr Hobcroft cited the “treasured moments” around the founding of the Conservatorium in 1964.
“When it seemed as though it would take many years to set up a conservatorium in Hobart everything suddenly fell into place,” he said. “Within days from being suddenly a possibility, and one short meeting between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Education Department the go ahead to set it up and open it in under three months was given. It happened, and the Con quickly gained wide recognition.”
In March 1964 as honorary director, Dr Hobcroft welcomed the initial seven students. The School, housed in the music block of the Hobart Matriculation College, offered two three-year diploma courses. Such was the standard of teaching at the new institution that the programs were recognised as being as comprehensive and demanding as those provided by conservatoria of music in other states. To bring the School into line with those institutions the name was changed, by the end of the second year of operation, to the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music.
In 1972 Dr Hobcroft succeeded Joseph Post as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. He enunciated a vision of the Conservatorium as a “Music University” in which a range of specialised musical disciplines—performance (both classical and jazz), music education, composition and musicology—enriched each other.
He held this post for a decade and later, on retirement in Perth, chaired the Western Australian Government’s Conservatorium Committee, which led to the establishment of that State’s conservatorium in 1985.
In 1976 he initiated and co-founded the Sydney International Piano Competition.
He died in Perth on Monday.