Victoria Symphony | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Victoria Symphony

Victoria Symphony. Orchestra based in Victoria, B.C.; at one time British Columbia's largest community orchestra and, beginning in the mid-1970s, a fully professional ensemble.

Victoria Symphony

Victoria Symphony. Orchestra based in Victoria, B.C.; at one time British Columbia's largest community orchestra and, beginning in the mid-1970s, a fully professional ensemble. Several predecessors (see Victoria) had been short-lived, and the new orchestra was founded in 1941 as a 32-piece ensemble with members drawn from the Royal Canadian Navy. The Victoria Symphonys first performance was 18 May 1942 at the Empress Hotels Crystal Ballroom, in a program of Mozart, Boccherini, and Elgar. Its first conductor was Melvin Knudsen (flutist, b New Westminister, BC, 4 Aug 1908, d Victoria 26 Oct 1990, a conducting pupil in 1935 of Felix Weingartner in Basel). Knudsen was succeeded in 1948 by Hans Gruber (b Vienna 11 Jul 1925, d Newmarket, On, 6 Aug 2001; naturalized Canadian 1944, a Royal Conservatory of Music conducting student who took summer courses 1943-7 with Fritz Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, and Pierre Monteux).

The orchestra moved to the Royal Theatre in 1943, performing three to four concerts each season. The Victoria Symphony Society was incorporated 12 May 1948. By 1951 eight concerts were being presented annually, and in 1953 the orchestra made its first tour of Vancouver Island. Gruber was succeeded in 1963 by Otto-Werner Mueller; Mueller in 1967 by Laszlo Gati; Gati in 1979 (after a season of guest conductors 1978-9) by Paul Freeman (b Richmond, Va, 2 Jan 1935), former conductor-in-residence of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Glen Fast (b Regina 25 Aug 1950), the orchestra's associate conductor beginning in 1983, became its artistic advisor and resident conductor in 1988 and its associate music director in 1989. Freeman became music director emeritus in 1988. After another season of guest conductors 1988-9, Peter McCoppin became music director and principal conductor in 1989. Under McCoppins leadership, the Victoria Symphony became one of the most successful and popular ensembles in Canada.

The orchestra had experienced great expansion under Gati's direction, increasing its subscription series to 12 pairs of concerts at the Royal Theatre and the McPherson Playhouse. By the late 1970s it was fully unionized and employed a professional nucleus of 36-38 players, adding 35-50 musicians as required. A financial deficit in 1982 caused several financial problems. By 1991 the orchestra was reduced slightly in numbers, employing 33 full-time and 30 part-time professional players for a 33-week winter season and a 5-concert summer season. By 1993 the orchestra was deficit-free, the only Canadian orchestra in that position.

In 1991 concerts were held at the Royal Theatre and the University of Victoria Centre (Farquhar) Auditorium, a practice continued after 2000.

Festivals, Tours, Series
The Victoria Symphony made its first tour of Vancouver Island in 1953, performing in Nanaimo, Duncan, and Campbell River. The same year it initiated a popular summer concert series at Butchart Gardens. An annual six-week summer festival in Victoria parks was held in the mid-1970s, and summer and winter series have been given elsewhere on the island. In 1977 a tour was made in inland British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alberta, and in 1980 a tour of Alaska. The orchestra made a 10-concert tour to west-coast US cities in 1983 and played for the touring Canadian Opera Company production of The Tales of Hoffmann in British Columbia and Alberta in November 1988. A program of concerts and recitals for school children was started in 1973. The orchestra presented over 100 concerts annually by 1991 (maintaining the same number in the early 2000s), including 23 pairs of subscription concerts and 3 children's programs. It has also performed operas annually with Pacific Opera Victoria and, beginning in the early 1980s, annually performs The Nutcracker.

Conducting Appointments, Highlights, 1994 - Present

In 1994, Dutch-born Kees Bakels was appointed principal guest conductor, and Brian Jackson principal pops conductor. Bakels was music director 1998-2002, followed by Timothy Vernon as interim music director. Following the 2002-03 season, which saw several guest conductors, Tania Miller one of the few female conductors in North America was named music director. Principal guest conductors have been Yannick Nézet-Séguin (2003-06) and Alain Trudel (2008- ). Giuseppe Pietraroia became conductor-in-residence in 2003.

Concertmasters have included Clifford Evens (1951-61); Derry Deane Drinkall (1977-82); Pablo Diemecke (1987-2006), replaced by Sydney Humphreys for the 1991-1992 season; and Terence Tam (2008- ).

In 2009 the Victoria Symphony comprised 34 full-time and 12 part-time contract musicians and offered a 37-week season. Among the highlights is the annual Symphony Splash fundraising concert held on the long weekend in August. The orchestra performs on a barge in the inner harbour, with many spectators in canoes, kayaks, or dragon-boats. Other highlights have included a 1994 fundraising concert with David Foster, and a 1996 concert to honour poet P.K. Pages 90th birthday.

Commissions and Contemporary Music

The Victoria Symphony introduced an annual 3-concert contemporary music series in 1986, and has regularly included a generous number of 20th-century and new works in the orchestra's main subscription series. Over the years the orchestra has commissioned works by Canadians including John Beckwith'sFlower Variations and Wheels (1962), Michel Perrault'sCentennial Homage (1967), Harry Freedman'sKlee Wyck (1971), and Srul Irving Glick'sConcerto for violin, premiered in 1976 by the orchestra and Steven Staryk. The orchestra has also premiered Murray Adaskin'sThe Travelling Musicians (1984; Catherine Lewis, soprano soloist); Divertimento No. 6 for percussion and orchestra (1985; Salvador Ferreras, soloist); and Concerto for Orchestra (1990) - commissioned for the orchestra's 50th anniversary. Among its other premieres have been works by Gordon Lucas (Scherzo, 1985; Overture to Telemakis, 1988; and Symphony No. 2, 1989); Richard Payne's Pacific Lines (1991); Harry Freedman's A Garland for Terry (1986); Robert Rosen's"...sans bruit..." (1988); Rodney Sharman'sPhantom Screen (the last three works commissioned with Canada Council assistance); John Oliver's La Abuela (2006); and Tobin Stokes's Mind Over Mountain (2006). Under Paul Freeman the orchestra performed Oskar Morawetz'sMemorial to Martin Luther King and other works 24 Jan 1985 for national broadcast on CBC TV; Anthony Elliott was cello soloist. Three concerts in tribute to composer Robert Farnon were given in 2007. The orchestra has also performed music by Linda Bouchard, Rudolf Komorous and Ann Southam, among other Canadians.

Composers-in-residence have been Anna Hstman and Tobin Stokes (both 2005-08), and Rodney Sharman (2008-11). 2006 saw the first of the New Currents festivals, an annual event exploring new music while often utilizing local artists and composers. Tania Miller has a marked commitment to the presentation of contemporary music.

Guest Soloists and Conductors

Guest artists appearing with the orchestra have included the conductors Kazuyoshi Akiyama, John Avison, Kees Bakels, Clifford Evens, Victor Feldbrill, Arthur Fiedler, Brian Jackson, Jeanne Lamon, Uri Mayer, Glenn Mossop, and Bramwell Tovey, and the solo performers Robert Aitken, Paul Badura-Skoda, Liona Boyd, Helmut Brauss, Katja and Corey Cerovsek, Angela Cheng, Anna Chornodolska, Van Cliburn, Jane Coop, Philippe Entremont, Mary Lou Fallis, Janina Fialkowska, Eugene Fodor, Maureen Forrester, Rivka Golani, Moshe Hammer, Desmond Hoebig, Marek Jablonski, Anton Kuerti, Louis Lortie, Ian Parker, Marina Piccinini, Leonard Rose, Catherine Robbin, Gerald Stanick, Giorgio Tozzi, Riki Turofsky, Valdy, and Narciso Yepes.


Tchaikovsky - Freedman Klee Wyck - Ginastera. Freeman conductor. 1983. Total TRC-1060

Saint-Saëns - Tchaikovsky. Harnoy, violoncello. Freeman conductor. 1984. Fanfare DFL-7009/Pro Arte CDD-399/(Saint-Saëns) RCA RL-71004

Symphony Splash. McCoppin conductor. 1999. GSP Records GSPR01

Further Reading