A community orchestra of about 45 players, founded in 1939 in Sherbrooke, Que, by Sylvio Lacharité, its first director, Horace Boux, a violin teacher, and some interested citizens. It began modestly, performing in parish halls or in the hall of the St Charles seminary. The repertoire comprised such works as Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Grieg's Peer Gynt suite, overtures, Strauss waltzes, and Brahms's Hungarian dances. The decision to use the Granada cinema, with its excellent acoustics, as a concert hall allowed the orchestra to become more ambitious. The first concert there took place 13 Feb 1945.
The practice of augmenting the orchestra with musicians from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra or the Quebec Symphony Orchestra began at this time and provided a stimulus for local players, among whom in the 1940s was Serge Garant, at that time a clarinetist. The concerts (three to six each year) were enhanced by noted soloists such as the pianists Leon Fleisher, Glenn Gould, Paul Loyonnet, and Witold Malcuzynski, the violinists Albert Brusilow, Henryk Szeryng, and Joseph Szigeti, and the contralto Maureen Forrester.
The orchestra played 1960-4 in the auditorium of the St Charles seminary and in the cathedral, presenting such works as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Honegger's Le Roi David, and Handel's Messiah; it moved in 1964 to the large hall of the University of Sherbrooke's Centre culturel. For its 25th anniversary (1964), the orchestra commissioned Serge Garant to write Ennéade and premiered it 18 February under Lacharité. After the latter's departure in 1969 Claude Paradis - founder of the Choeur Pie X of Sherbrooke, choirmaster at the cathedral, and music teacher at the Collège de Sherbrooke - took over the duties temporarily. He conducted Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ and Bach's St. John Passion and Magnificat and organized Beethoven and Mozart festivals and numerous concerts of Baroque music.
Czeslaw Gladyszewski, a graduate (MA) of the École supérieure de musique of Poznan, Poland, was invited to the Jeunesses Musicales of Canadas Orford Arts Centre in June 1972 and agreed to direct the orchestra as regular guest conductor 1972-6. Guy Robitaille, Raymond Dessaints, and Pierre Rolland shared conducting duties 1976-7, and Roland Leduc took over the position from 1977-80. During the 1977-8 season the orchestra made a tour of the Eastern Townships under the aegis of the regional touring organization, the Tournestrie, visiting the towns of Cookshire, Disraeli, La Guadeloupe, Magog, Plessisville, Richmond, St-Hyacinthe, and Stanstead. On 8 Dec 1979, to mark the 40th anniversary of the orchestra, Serge Garant conducted a concert featuring works by Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, and Debussy.
Brian Ellard, guest conductor at the last concert of the 1979-80 season, became regular conductor 1980-3, introducing pop concerts and conducting memorable performances of such choral works as Vivaldi's Gloria and Dubois' Les Sept Paroles du Christ. With the exception of the 1985-6 season, during which Jean-François Sénart held office, the orchestra then saw a succession of guest conductors, including Alexander Brott and Louis Lavigueur, until the arrival of Marc David as musical director in 1988 and regular conductor in 1989. In 1989-90, the 50th anniversary season, David increased the number of concerts to five, including a tribute to Garant that featured Ennéade, 25 years after its premiere by the same orchestra.
In 1995 Marc David left the OSS to lead the Newfoundland Symphony; the vacancy was filled by Sorel-born conductor Stphane Laforest. At the time, the OSS faced a deficit of over $300,000. Under Laforests leadership there began a period of considerably greater stability, and the orchestra is now regarded as one of Canadas finest regional ensembles. Laforest increased the number of concerts to 15 per season, and the number of concert attendees increased from a previous average of 700 to over 1,000, with a similar increase in subscribers. Laforest continued many of his predecessors artistic policies, among them the premiering of new works by Canadian composers, eg Andrew Paul MacDonalds The Odyssey in 2004. In April 2004, the OSS celebrated its 65th anniversary; the ensemble joined the Montreal Symphony in a gala concert featuring music by Bernstein, Weber, Gershwin, and Dvorak.
Laforest also continued to program music of a more popular nature. The OSS has been a frequent guest at the Orford Festival, and in August 2000 presented a pops concert that was described as a symphonic picnic in seventh heaven (Sherbrooke Record, 28 Jul 2000). In August 2008 a concert featured pop singer Gino Vannelli as guest artist. The OSS has also continued to engage important classical guest artists such as pianist Jimmy Brière and flutist Robert Langevin.
There continues to be a strong relationship between the OSS and the University of Sherbrooke, as many of the ensembles musicians are drawn from the universitys music department.