The Kiwanis Club of London marshalled financial support and a re-organization proposal which led to the establishment of a Symphony Association and board of directors. The orchestra appointed its first professional conductor, Martin Boundy. The board undertook an ambitious program of promotion including Symphony Week, and the inaugural performance of the reorganized London Civic Symphony Orchestra took place 24 Feb 1950 under guest conductor, Sir Ernest MacMillan.During Boundy's tenure (1949-69), there were few professional musicians in the orchestra. However it did perform concerts in regional centres and began to offer children's concerts. In 1959 Boundy conducted the orchestra's first pop concert.
The orchestra was incorporated 25 Jun 1957 and renamed the London SO. The season had expanded from 4 to 10 concerts a year. Although Boundy failed to secure semi-professional status for the orchestra, he did secure grants from the Canada Council for children's concerts. He also developed a core of young players from which the orchestra could draw. In 1952 the London Police Boys' Band had supplied 5 out of 9 woodwind players and 3 brass players in the orchestra. Well-trained young string players posed a greater problem, and in 1960 the London Youth Symphony was founded with the senior orchestra as its sponsor. Its first conductor was Donald A. McKellar; the second James White. For most of the 1980s it was conducted by Jerome Summers. Edit Haboczki conducted it 1988-91 and Summers resumed the position in 1991. From 1967, principal sources of players were staff from the public and separate school music programs, the music faculty of the University of Western Ontario, and the Royal Canadian Regiment Band.
The orchestra's first home was the H.B. Beal Auditorium until 1962, when it moved to the Grand Theatre. Large choral-orchestral works were performed at the London Arena. In 1967 it moved to Centennial Hall, opening with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, performed with Earle Terry's Conservatory Choir.
During Clifford Evens' tenure as it's first full-time conductor, 1969-79, the orchestra achieved professional status. New demands initially thinned the ranks of those who could not put in the longer hours required, leaving Evens free to build and strengthen the orchestra, and in particular to appoint string players capable of a performing standard such as the winds had developed under Boundy. In 1971 the violinist Gwen Thompson was engaged as concertmaster. During the early part of his tenure, Evens strengthened ties with the University of Western Ontario, making use of the OAC's Resident Artists' Plan. He increased the orchestra's audience base and by 1973 had developed two main concert series, Pops and Symphony.
In 1975 the Richard and Jean Ivey Fund awarded a grant of $100,000 to enable the orchestra to hire 30 full-time musicians. This professional base (occasionally performing separately under the name Sinfonia) made the orchestra eligible for Canada Council grants; the municipal government and OAC also increased their support. During the 1975-6 season 40 subscription and ensemble concerts were given; the orchestra also did 37 runout concerts, at that time perhaps more than any other orchestra in Canada. Sixty runouts were undertaken for the following season. The Swiss violinist Jean Piguet replaced Gwen Thompson as concertmaster for one year; then Eduard Minevich, an emigré from Leningrad, followed 1976-87.
Sinfonia first toured in March 1977, to northern Ontario, Manitoba, and Michigan, and that season began its CBC contracts.(the later ones involved the full orchestra).
During the 1970s the orchestra commissioned and performed works by Peter Clements (Suite grotesque), Peter Paul Koprowski (In memoriam Karol Szymanowski), William Miller (Au bord de la forêt), André Prévost (Chorégraphie IV), Alfred Rosé (Adagio for cello and orchestra), and Jerome Summers (Images). In that same period it programmed 25 other works by Canadians, including those of Betts, Champagne, Freedman, Alain Gagnon, Hétu, Healey, Schafer, two by Prévost, two by Somers, and three by Symonds. Brian Jackson was assistant conductor 1977-81. Among some 60 solo performers in that period, about two-thirds were Canadian.
In 1979 Evens and the orchestra manager, Mark Warren (appointed the first full-time manager in 1974), both resigned after the orchestra had again suffered a financial crisis resulting from rapid growth and uncertain government subsidies. To cut costs, Sinfonia was cut from 30 to 25 players (whose salaries were reduced), and the season cut from 36 to 32 weeks. The orchestra was conducted for an interim period by Victor Feldbrill.
In 1981 the Viennese-born cellist, composer, and conductor Alexis Hauser was appointed conductor of an orchestra he renamed Orchestra London Canada. His programming included large-scale works by Mahler and Bruckner, in addition to the accustomed repertoire, sometimes performed in conjunction with neighboring organizations such as the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. Hauser restored salary levels and increased Sinfonia to 29 players. In August 1982 Sinfonia and Hauser, with the Ottawa Choral Society, represented Canada at the International Festival of Music and Architecture in L'Aquila, Italy. On 6 Feb 1986 the orchestra performed Mahler's Eighth Symphony together with six choirs from London and Kitchener at a Mahler Symposium. During the 1986-7 season, Orchestra London offered 9 subscription series, special concerts, and a Beethoven Festival. Financial strain resurfaced during Hauser's final season, 1987-8, and the orchestra once again had to trim the players' ranks. Hauser had programmed works by 18 Canadians, and in addition works were commissioned from Jack Behrens, Ka Nin Chan, D'Arcy Gray, Gary Kulesha, and Alexina Louie.
In 1987 the orchestra acquired a new concertmaster, US-born Joseph Lanza, formerly concertmaster of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. Uri Mayer was chosen to succeed Hauser as conductor; his term began in the 1988-9 season.
Author Jane Baldwin
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The Orchestra London website features a concert calendar and profiles of the music director and orchestra musicians.
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