Celebrating over 55 years of music!
Founded in 1967 by local musician and educator Kenneth Hollier, with its original mission statement to “make music for the pleasure of its members and the enjoyment of its audience”, the Oakville Symphony has certainly achieved this goal.
“Who knows, but within a few short years we might have established our own symphony orchestra, our own concerts with local talent, and maybe, just maybe, our own auditorium.”
Although the first few years were reportedly challenging, the newly-formed orchestra thrived under the leadership of Hollier. Their first concert was held at the YMCA on June 24, 1968, and consisted of a well-received selection of popular classics. From here the orchestra rapidly grew, presenting collaborations with the Clarkson Opera Society and the White Oaks Choral Society. Soon mini-concerts of chamber groups comprised of orchestra members were performing in various venues around the area. Concerts moved to churches and high school auditoriums as the dream of a real theatre was still unfulfilled.
The year 1973 saw the untimely death of Ken Hollier. New conductor David Gray succeeded Hollier, performing more challenging repertoire, continuing a series of children’s concerts and initiating a pops concert in memory of its founder. The well-loved local composer and educator Anthony (Tony) Royse rose from the bassoon section to conduct the orchestra from 1976-1983. In 1977, the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts was finally completed, providing a new venue for the Oakville Symphony. These years saw more collaboration with other arts organizations, including the Oakville School of Ballet for which Tony wrote three original ballets performed with the Oakville Symphony. Musicians from Tony’s regime remember fondly his wit, his talent and his enthusiasm.
Music teacher Syd Read stepped up to the podium after Royse’s departure, followed by David Miller who conducted from 1987 until 1996. Miller began the practice of hiring professional section leaders to assist the orchestra in achieving a higher level of skill and musicality. A board of directors was officially formed. Performing at the Oakville Waterfront Festival enabled the orchestra to introduce symphonic music to hundreds of Oakville residents. The ensuing years saw enormous support grow from the community of Oakville for its orchestra.
Under the inspired leadership of Maestro Roberto De Clara (1997-2021) the Symphony continued to present exciting and challenging programs for its audiences each season. Highlights included the first performance by the OS of Shostakovitch Symphony #5 in the centennial year of the composer and the introduction of a choral series featuring performances of the Brahms and Mozart Requiems. The orchestra grew to over eighty volunteer musicians plus eleven professionals who provided leadership and inspiration. Performances by talented young soloists as well as established guest artists featured in each concert. All this, combined with the work of its dedicated board of directors, resulted in an unprecedented number of loyal repeat subscription sales for over a decade, leaving only a handful of empty seats.
In 2015, the Symphony awarded 10 Young Artists with $1500 scholarships. Those, coupled with the $500 Kenneth Hollier Award has made the OS very attractive to Oakville’s youth, stimulating the interest of young people in the community with symphonic music.
The Oakville Symphony’s Outreach Committee initiated a series of mini-concerts introducing young children to instruments of the orchestra. In the fall of 2006 the first Young People’s Concert featuring the full orchestra was performed.
Thanks to the sponsorship of many local businesses, the Oakville Symphony flourished. Outstanding financial support from the Friends of the Oakville Symphony program initiated by Janet Jones, enabled the symphony to present outstanding guest artists and a thrilling musical repertoire while keeping ticket prices affordable. The dream of a real community orchestra in Oakville envisioned over fifty years ago had become a reality. The Oakville Symphony celebrated its 50th Anniversary season in 2017-18 having earned the reputation of one of the finest community orchestras in the country. We captured some of the best moments in the video you can watch by clicking here.
The orchestra continued to grow in skill and musicality under Roberto De Clara, performing challenging repertoire such as Bruch’s Scottish Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Symphony #3. Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony was planned for the spring of 2020 along with some very distinguished young soloists.
In early 2020 orchestra members were sad to hear that, after 23 years with the OS, Roberto was announcing his retirement. A glorious year of celebratory music was planned to send him off in style but COVID struck and there were no concerts for two years.
It was a disappointing way to end Roberto’s time with the Oakville Symphony. Under his leadership the orchestra improved and grew significantly. His rapport with audiences, his willingness to tackle increasingly more complex works, his nurturing of young artists and the joy he expressed in making music will always be remembered.
Playing music together during the COVID pandemic was a challenge but the 2020/2021 season saw the OS present some excellent online recitals featuring orchestra members Sharlene Wallace (Principal Harp), Maté Szigeti (Principal Flute), Joseph Peleg (Concertmaster), and Kendra and Maya Grittani (cellists and participants in the OS Young Artist program).
Throughout the COVID shutdown, the Music Director Search Committee, headed by Principal Horn Heath Allen, was hard at work sorting through the many applicants for the position.
The 2021/2022 season was an exciting opportunity for the orchestra to work with the four short-listed guest conductors, which allowed the musicians to experience different styles and approaches to the rehearsal process. Initially the concerts were restricted to smaller groups (due to Public Health restrictions), which gave the orchestra the chance to play a different type of repertoire. Brass, strings and woodwind repertoire were featured as well as small chamber orchestra pieces including Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, The Mendelssohn Symphonia, and the Gounod Petite Symphonie. By the beginning of 2022 we were able to present larger works again, and the entire orchestra could participate.
Heath Allen shared the following: “Working through the music director search was quite a process! We had over 50 applicants for the position. Each candidate’s résumé had to be reviewed, a shortlist was created, and two sets of interviews were conducted. All of this during a global pandemic! We were finally able to create a shortlist of four candidates who performed for us during the 2021/2022 season. In the end, surveys from the audience and the orchestra members really cemented our choice in Lorenzo Guggenheim.”
Orchestra members were impressed by Lorenzo’s vast musical knowledge, his passion for music and his ability to convey that as a conductor, as well as his warmth in dealing personally with the musicians. It was a good match, and the 55th season of the Oakville Symphony opened with Lorenzo Guggenheim as the new Music Director in November 2022.
Much has changed, but the most important thing remains the same. Every Monday evening local musicians gather from all walks of life in an Oakville community centre for the pure joy of making music together. I know this for a fact because I am one of them.
Originally written in 2007 by Jenny Peace. Updated in February 2023.