Australian Classical Chamber Music Data

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The statistics were derived from the lists in Australian Classical Chamber Music Ensembles and are updated on an occasional basis.

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Alt=Table 1

Table 1 summarises the state and territory distribution for each of five ensemble categories. There are no known locations in Tasmania or the Northern Territory. Indeed there may be none, but Hobart and other locations may have performances from Musica Viva or in festivals, by foreign classical ensembles. Our aim, however, is to identify ensembles resident in Australia — we expect these lists to grow. New entries will be added as they come to hand; statistics will be updated on a regular basis, depending on the tempo at which new ensembles are discovered.

As stated in the heading for the lists themselves, everyone is invited to propose additions. We rely on this to build up a comprehensive record.

Currently (what we have compiled by mid-October 2015), Sydney accounts for 37% of all entries, with similar proportions of string quartets (36%), ensembles made up of single instrument families (38%), and mixed instrument groups (37%). Melbourne, however, is home for four of the 10 piano trios and quartets, Sydney only two which is the same number that is on the current Brisbane list. But three-quarters of the a cappella and accompanied vocal ensembles (at four entries the smallest group) are based in Sydney.

Melbourne's ensembles represent 32% of the national total (including one in Woodend 70 km into the metropolitan hinterland). Melbourne is relatively strongly represented in the piano section and also accounts for 36% of string quartets (out of a smallish national total of 11). Single-instrument family groups (31%) are close to its national share of 32% and the mixed instrumental family group (26%) is below that share. Brisbane is home for 15% of all ensembles on the list to date, and Adelaide for 10%, but Perth is the base for only 4% and we may be missing out on ensembles that actually exist. Canberra may also have more than two chamber ensembles in view of its special national status, and its lack of piano and string ensembles on the current list.

Relative to Population Data

Comparing the number of ensembles in each capital city with the population in that city, the ratio varies but not dramatically among the five eastern mainland capitals. Sydney has the highest coverage relative to the population in the Greater Sydney statistical area as defined in Table 2. According to this, there is one ensemble per 165,000 inhabitants, but the statistical definition of Sydney that we used includes the Blue Mountains to the west as far as Katoomba and Leura, but not the Central Coast north of Sydney where the main centres of Gosford and Wyong are at a similar distance. This omission is surprising as this area is customarily included when defining Sydney as a core urban area.

Including the Central Coast, the footnote to Table 2 shows that this extension of the core city of Sydney still has the best coverage (177,000 persons per ensemble). The ratio in the other south-eastern capitals varies between one ensemble per 182,000 in Adelaide, one per 186,000 in Melbourne, and one per 191,000 in Canberra. Brisbane brings up the rear — one per 198,000 persons which is not that far behind.

Taking account of additional hinterland markets, however, Brisbane's position deteriorates to some extent, as does Sydney's though relatively less (see Table 3 below). We note in passing that if we give the same weight to all the core and hinterland populations, regardless of travel time to venues, the number of persons per ensemble increases to 206,000 in Sydney, 202,000 in Melbourne, 210,000 in Canberra, and a significantly higher 281,000 in Brisbane. Adelaide remains unchanged at 182,000, with no identified hinterland. This may be unduly "harsh" on Queensland but special attention should be directed towards Brisbane which loses most in the comparison with other eastern mainland capitals when the extended area is applied instead of the core city.

All these areas, however, appear to be considerably better served with classical and contemporary art music ensembles than Perth, where we have identified only three groups to date. According to Table 2, there is one ensemble per 648,000 persons — to be on a par with "the east", Perth needs 10 or 11 ensembles rather than just three. Maybe there are that many, implying that the current Perth list is less complete than is the case for the eastern mainland states.

We are quite aware that the current lists of ensembles are almost certain to be incomplete, but they are starting to make statistical sense. Referring back to Table 1, not all of the five ensemble categories are represented in each area, which may be partly due to delays in building up the information where we need advice from other people. There may be other, real, factors including market size limiting the development of particular ensemble groups, and local availability of sponsoring organisations including universities, performing venues, churches and others.

Alt=Table 3

Access to quality cultural and educational facilities must be a key issue. It is part of the wider concerns with the impact of inequality in Australia. Regional inequality is recognised as an important issue in school education[1] and needs better recognition in cultural matters.

Table 3 attempts to show which areas benefit from access to local ensemble performances. The population in each mainland state and the ACT are split into three parts: the defined core metropolitan area proper, adjacent urban hinterlands defined as "adjacent statistical areas", and the rest of the state. The hinterlands may be considered secondary "markets" for the capital city ensemble, with the proviso that the market shrinks with travel time and distance and some urban areas like Newcastle are 100 km north of the venues in Sydney.

Sydney and Brisbane have more populous hinterlands than Melbourne (though they are significant there too), Adelaide has none and Perth has only a small hinterland called Ellenbrook, which is actually much closer to central Perth than some of the southern part of the core city. Canberra is 90% core metropolitan and another 9% are in the adjacent NSW town of Queanbeyan.

A focus is needed on those areas that have no access to live chamber music performances. What proportion of the state populations fall outside the metropolitan core and hinterland? The non-metropolitan population in Queensland is worst off — 35.6% of the population cannot benefit from attending local ensemble performances except when ensembles visit coastal cities like Townsville and Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton, and inland Toowoomba. In NSW, 25% live outside the "extended local area", in Victoria 20.6%, in WA 22.9%, and in SA 24.3%. Local ensembles apparently don't exist in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In total, 6.53m or 27.7% of Australian residents have no access to local live chamber music performances, and another 10.5% limited access if willing to travel up to 100 km to attend. One-third od Australian residents is a good "guesstimate" for those without reasonable access to locally based chamber music performances.

When Were the Ensembles Formed

Alt=Table 4

More than half the listed ensembles are under 10 years old (Table 4) — 26% formed in 2006-10 and 29% in 2011-15. Piano trios and quartets were the most recent (70% last decade) followed by mixed instrument family ensembles (55%) and the small vocal category (50%, two of four). String quartets tend to be slightly older with five (45%) formed in 2006-2015, and only one of these five in the 2010s. Single instrument family ensembles have also persisted for relatively long time (a below-average proportion of 39% formed since 2006).[2]

At the other extreme only 10% of all the ensembles were formed before 1991. The oldest ensemble listed is from 1955; two more are from the 1970s and one from 1980. In the middle range, 1991-2005, we find 27 ensembles or 37% of the total with a range from 25% for the vocal category (one of four, a very small sample), to 46% for the single instrument family groups.

One may speculate about these age distributions. To some extent they may merely reflect difficulties remaining in existence when founders decide to call it a day, perhaps due to lack of opportunities to replace departing talent in a limited local market. But it could also reflect increasing demand as classical ensembles diversify into new music inspired by other genres, and/or it may reflect increasing sponsorships from universities and other institutions. It is unlikely to be associated with increased government funding as this has been largely declining.

Where Are Concerts Performed?

Alt=Table 5
Alt=Obs for Table 5

Table 5 is based on soft data but tells a significant story within its limitations. It is based on all the descriptions that could be extracted from the websites of the 68 ensembles currently known to be based in the four eastern mainland state capital cities — the main limitation is that some sites show up to several annual seasons but some don't (mainly smaller organisations). Box 1 shows the number of observations resulting from the analysis in each city. The number of geographically classified performances is clearly smaller for Adelaide, in the middle range for Brisbane and Melbourne, and highest for Sydney.

The overall median number of performances is eight, but only three for Adelaide and as much as 11 for Sydney (medians show the central observation when ranked by size). The detailed worksheets for the review show that Sydney has by far the greatest number of ensembles with multiple performance venues, usually spread over a wide geographic area and often with an overseas component. This is a plausible finding. The average number of listed performances for Sydney ensembles was twice as high (17) than for the three other cities (all with an average of eight, including Adelaide).

Based on this, the most remarkable finding it that in all four cases local capital city venues accounted for up to almost two-thirds of all performances: an estimated 57.5% of performances by Adelaide-based ensembles, 60.6% for those based in Brisbane, and 64-65% for ensembles in Melbourne and Sydney (red figures going diagonally down the top part of Table 5). Clearly, the main market for chamber music ensembles is the core metropolitan area where they reside mdash; touring takes place but only to a limited extent. The statistics have been adjusted for different coverage by using arithmetic averages to calculate totals for each city.

As far as touring is concerned, it is consistent with the analysis in previous tables that there is a complete lack of performances in non-metropolitan South Australia. It reflects the lack of hinterland for Adelaide ensembles to perform in, though some touring might have been expected in some significant provincial areas where performances might have been expected, such as the Barossa and Mount Gambier. Perhaps more surprisingly, performing in non-metropolitan Queensland which accounts for only 3.9% of Brisbane ensemble concerts (red diagonal further down Table 5). This small proportion includes adjacent locations on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, as well as the major provincial cities in the state.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Latest update, with statistics (total 73 items), 16 October 2015.


  1. One of the most useful results of the NAPLAN surveys is to measure the different results achieved in metropolitan, provincial and remote schools in Australia.
  2. Note that groups were formed in earlier years that no longer exist and so are not included here.
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