Until the 1940 Centennial celebrations, symphonic music in New Zealand was provided by various orchestras in the cities and larger towns. The success of the Centennial Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Andersen Tyrer, encouraged the government to form a permanent national orchestra. The decision was made to place this orchestra under the administration of the National Broadcasting Service, but the Second World War delayed its creation.
In 1946 leading musicians were brought together for the first rehearsals of the newly constituted National Orchestra. Andersen Tyrer was appointed the first conductor and Vincent Aspey the orchestra leader.
The debut performance at Wellington’s Town Hall opened with the obligatory performance of ‘God Save the King’. Then the orchestra performed works by Dvorak, Brahms, Butterworth, Enesco, Wagner and Richard Strauss.