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A standing ovation for Ottawa’s largest orchestra

By Alejandro Bustos on May 26, 2015

Let’s start with some musical trivia: What is the oldest and largest musical ensemble in the Ottawa-Gatineau region?  The National Arts Centre Orchestra you say?  Sorry, try again.

How about one of the numerous choral groups in the city, or an organisation like Opera Lyra, which has been performing for more than three decades?  No and no.

The answer (drum roll please) is the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.  While the present-day orchestra was founded in 1965, it has roots that go back over 115 years.  To put that in perspective, this is more than a decade before World War I, or around the time that the ice cream cone was being invented.

“We are the largest orchestra [in the region] with more than 100 musicians,” says OSO general manager Vanessa Sutton in a phone interview.  “We specialise in larger works.”

As the only full-size symphony orchestra in the National Capital Region, the OSO is a vital part of the classical music community in Ottawa.  In addition to their various performances (more of that in a moment), they also do a fantastic job in promoting music education.

For instance, David Currie, the orchestra’s music director and conductor, is a professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Music.  It’s no surprise, then, to find that the OSO has a longstanding mentorship program that allows U. of O students the opportunity to play in the orchestra.

“This is a really unique relationship that is different from other orchestras in the region,” says Sutton, who tells Apartment613 that around 19 to 25 students play each year with the OSO.  The rest of the ensemble is made up of professional-level musicians.

Photo of David Currie courtesy of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Photo of David Currie courtesy of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra also offers free concerts each year to students in Grades 5 and 6 in the greater Ottawa region, which allow thousands of students the opportunity to be exposed to classical music, as well as learning about string, wind and brass instruments.

Since 2001, meanwhile, the OSO has offered thousands of young people in Grades 7, 8 and 9 the chance to see for free the orchestra’s main concerts.  This is in addition to other special programming, such as allowing audience members to meet musicians backstage, or engaging in discussion in pre-concert chats.

Then there is the orchestra’s excellent main programming.  The 2015-16 season, which starts on October 5, will be comprised of a total of four concerts.  (The other performances are in November, February 2016 and May 2016).

Audience members will be able to hear the highly-talented Ottawa violinist Kerson Leong, who will perform in the opening concert.  In future performances, the orchestra will play such composition as the lovely Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky and Shostakovich’s powerful Symphony No. 10. Joining the orchestra this upcoming season as a guest conductor is Alain Trudel.

All of the main concerts will take place at Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre, with ticket prices among the most reasonable in the city.

For regular adult subscriptions, there is an early bird special until June 30 in which the senior price will apply.  This means that a regular subscription for all four concerts will range from $96 to $212. (Seniors will continue to pay this price after June 30).  A student package for all four concerts, meanwhile, costs from $60 to $100.

Finally, if you are looking for a special treat, the orchestra’s 27th annual garden party will be hosted by the Ambassador of Germany on June 11 at his official Rockcliffe Residency.