Halifax Symphony Orchestras

Halifax Symphony Orchestra (1897-1908)Two distinct eras of symphony orchestra activity in Halifax, 40 years apart, preceded the incorporation in 1968 of the second Halifax SO into the newly formed Atlantic Symphony Orchestra.

Halifax Symphony Orchestras

Halifax Symphony Orchestra (1897-1908)
Two distinct eras of symphony orchestra activity in Halifax, 40 years apart, preceded the incorporation in 1968 of the second Halifax SO into the newly formed Atlantic Symphony Orchestra.

Formed by its conductor, Max Weil, the first HSO gave its inaugural concert 24 Apr 1897 at the Academy of Music. Sponsored by the Local Council of Women, the program, a Schubert Memorial, included the Unfinished Symphony. Works by Weil also were performed. The 18 strings (11 women), 8 woodwinds, 8 brass, and 2 percussion in 1897 included 8 bandsmen from British regiments stationed in Halifax. In 1900 the orchestra had 39 members, including 22 string-players. On 26 Feb 1901 it was joined by an 85-voice choir to present a 'Grand Wagner Concert'. The HSO gave four or five concerts each season with important soloists (on one occasion, Leopold Godowsky), and in 1906, 1907, and 1908 it presented series of four pop concerts at a season-ticket price of $1.50. Weil emphasized the classical repertoire and achieved a good standard of performance. The orchestra disbanded with Weil's departure.

Halifax Symphony Orchestra (1949-68)

Initially formed in 1949 by Alfred Strombergs under the auspices of the Nova Scotia Opera Association to accompany opera and ballet presentations, the unnamed orchestra also performed in 1950 for CBC radio prior to reorganization in 1951 as the Halifax Symphonette. The 13 professional musicians continued under Strombergs' direction until 1955, with Julius Silverman as concertmaster. In 1955 the group became the Halifax SO with Thomas Mayer as music director and Francis Chaplin as concertmaster, and made its TV debut 28 October. Employing 17 full-time musicians, it was augmented by local music teachers and bandsmen from the Royal Canadian Artillery Band and the Stadacona Navy Band. With these forces it was able to give a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 on 4 Mar 1957. By 1966 the orchestra had 35 full-time members. Other conductors were Jonathan Sternberg 1957-8, Leo Mueller (a native Viennese, b 19 Sep 1906, who had conducted at the Baltimore Opera, the NBC TV Opera Theater, and the Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas) 1958-64, John Fenwick 1964-7, and various guests 1967-8, with Kenneth Elloway as associate conductor.

Presenting about 70 concerts annually, the orchestra performed in high schools, toured the Atlantic provinces, and gave many CBC broadcasts. It accompanied the COC's 1966 eastern Canadian tour of Carmen. In the 1960s conductors Mueller and Fenwick introduced many modern works into a previously traditional repertoire. The Halifax SO performed works by Murray Adaskin, John Beckwith, Sir Ernest MacMillan, François Morel, Harry Somers, and John Weinzweig, and gave the premieres of Oskar Morawetz' Overture to a Fairy Tale (8 Feb 1957), Eldon Rathburn'sGray City (5 Jan 1961, commissioned by the orchestra) and Edward Laufer'sVariations (12 Mar 1967). After army bands in Halifax and Fredericton were abolished by federal government decree and bandsmen prevented from supplementing local orchestras, the Halifax SO and the New Brunswick SO were supplanted by the Atlantic SO.


Further Reading

  • Blakeley, Phyllis R. 'The theatre and music in Halifax,' Dalhousie R, vol 29, Apr 1949

    Public Archives of NS. MG20 no. 188, Halifax Symphony programs and notes

    Blakeley, Phyllis R. 'History of music teaching in Nova Scotia,' unpublished manuscript (1966)