Windsor Symphony Orchestra

Windsor Symphony Orchestra. Founded as an amateur orchestra in 1947 in Windsor, Ont by Matti Holli. Predecessors included the Windsor Federation of Musicians Philharmonic, conducted by Ernest Rennie, which performed during the latter years of World War II at the Tivoli and Capitol theatres for patriotic and fund-raising concerts. After the war the orchestra received financial support from private citizens, the city of Windsor, and the Windsor Star newspaper and changed its name to the Windsor Federation of Musicians Orchestra. Its 40 players, conducted by Holli, presented standard and light classical repertoire. This orchestra was active ca 1945-7, after which it was reorganized and took the name Windsor Symphony Orchestra. The new entity gave its first concert 16 Nov 1947 at Patterson Collegiate. Broadcasts on CKLW-FM began in 1948; the Windsor Symphony Society was formed in 1949. After performing at Walkerville Collegiate and at the Tivoli Theatre, the orchestra made Cleary Auditorium its permanent home in 1961.

Membership grew from about 45 musicians presenting 10 concerts annually in the 1950s to some 65 players (each of whom received some remuneration) giving 15 concerts annually in the 1970s. In 1977 a concertmaster and principal second violin, viola, and cello were employed on a full-time basis. The orchestra gave annual concerts with the Leamington Choral Society in the 1970s, and performed with the Windsor Classic Chorale (32 singers, established in 1977 and directed by Richard Householder) and the Windsor Symphony Chorus (an 80 to 100-voice community group formed in 1988 and directed first by Householder, then by Katherine Fitzgibbons, and Ronald Bemrich 2000-5).

Growth Under Various Conductors

The orchestra's regular conductor until his death was Matti Holli - b Tampere, Finland, 12 Dec 1916, d Windsor 11 Nov 1977; ATCM 1932, M MUS (Detroit Conservatory) 1948. After Holli's death, Clifford Evens served 1977-9 as interim conductor and artistic adviser; guest conductors also appeared. Lászlo Gati was conductor and music director 1979-85 and was credited with raising the orchestra's performance standard and consolidating community support. The orchestra presented six pairs of subscription concerts and three pops concerts in its 1983-4 season. Under Gati the 65-member orchestra performed in Detroit's Orchestra Hall in 1982 and 1984. Members of the orchestra often performed in the 'Largely Canadian' chamber music series, organized by Paul McIntyre in collaboration with Edward Kovarik 1984-7. Timothy Vernon was acting music director and principal conductor for the 1985-6 season.

Under Dwight Bennett, appointed in 1986, the orchestra employed professional players entirely: in 1987 it doubled its resident core of 10 players to 20, regularly employed some 25 extra musicians, and increased its total number of performances to 46. However, unrealized revenue expectations precipitated financial crises 1987-90 and culminated in pay cuts to the musicians, a musicians' strike in 1988, and Bennett's resignation. Following guest conductors 1990-1, Susan Haig - pianist, violist, b Summit, NJ, 14 Apr 1954; BA (Princeton) 1976, MM piano (State U of New York at Stonybrook) 1979, MM orchestral conducting (SUNY) 1980, DMA (SUNY) 1983 - became the orchestra's principal conductor and music director in 1991. The orchestra gave a 32-week season 1990-1, performed 24 series concerts and gave several educational concerts annually. Its operating budget for 1991-2 was ca $1 million.

In 2001, John Morris Russell - b Cleveland, Ohio, 6 Jun 1960, BA (Williams College, Mass) 1982, MM conducting (U of Southern California) 1990 - succeeded Susan Haig. The orchestra had a 33-week season in 2004-5, a core membership of 43 musicians, and an operating budget of $2 million.

Concertmasters have included Lasse Pohjola, Lenore Iatzko, Inna Nedorezov, Mara Milkis, and Lillian Sheirich, the latter appointed in 1991. The orchestra's house program, Quarter Notes, began in 1988 and is published three times a year. The orchestra's 1991-2 season opened in the Chrysler Theatre of the refurbished Cleary Auditorium, renamed the Cleary International Centre, at which the orchestra premiered Paul McIntyre's Fanfares for a New Day 9 Nov 1991.

Guest Artists

The Windsor Symphony Orchestra engages primarily Canadian solo artists. Among them have been Guy Few, Joseph Macerollo, Peggy Dwyer, June Crowley, Andrew Tees, Jasper Wood, Gregory Butler, Stewart Goodyear, Denise Djokic, Natalie Choquette, Denzal Sinclaire, Meredith Hall, Kevin McMillan, Beverley Johnston, Jacques Israelievitch, Guido Basso, Russell Braun, Victor Braun, Jane Coop, Mark Dubois, Karina Gauvin, Moshe Hammer, Norbert Kraft, Anton Kuerti, Daniel Lichti, Erika Raum, Richard Raymond, Michael Shade and Alain Trudel. Canadian ensembles that have appeared with the orchestra include the Canadian Brass, Nexus Percussion Ensemble and Quartetto Gelato.

Commissions of Canadian Works

New works have been commissioned by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra from several Canadian composers including Brent Lee (Trans-Canada, Selvage for Orchestra and Midi, Voca Me Cum Benedictus, Like Breath, Last Minute Lulu, Gatineau River and Iron Horses), Paul Frehner (Tightrope for 3 Accordions & Orchestra), Peter Hatch (Crystal Fragments), Peter Paul Koprowski (Viola Concerto), Anton Kuerti (Pastorale, Intermezzo and Fugue), Paul McIntyre (Postcards from Nice, Jeremy's Decision, Just a Waltz at Daybreak, Pieces of Four, Fanfares for a New Day, and Requiescant in Pace), Jeffrey Ryan (Common Threads, Visions of Joy, And There Was..., Two by Four, and The Art of Declension), Omar Daniels (Elegies, Common Threads and The Mechanical Advantage), Peter Wiebe (Movimento for Strings and Some Back Sinfonietta). Other Canadian composers who have written commissioned work for the Windsor Symphony Orchestra include Jack Behrens, Walter Buczynski, Neil Currie, Arsenio Giron, Jason Grossi, Alice Ho, Michael Horwood, William Jordan, Rudolph Komorous, Christopher Kovarik, Henry Kucharzyk, Larysa Kuzmenko, Trevor Malcolm, Kevin McKinney, Elma Miller, Juliet Palmer, Micheline Roi, Collen Roller, Robert Rosen, Anita Sleeman and Besnik Yzeiri.

The orchestra initiated a composer-in-residence program in 2003; Brent Lee was the first composer to hold this position. In 1996 the orchestra started the Windsor Canadian Music Festival in partnership with the University of Windsor.

Awards and Broadcasts

In 2001 and again in 2003 the orchestra was awarded the Ontario Lieutenant-Governor's Award for the Arts. In 2003 the Windsor Symphony Orchestra had its television debut; it was featured on CBC Television's Opening Night in a performance with Windsor prodigies Darrett Zusko (piano) and Eugene Nakamura (violin). The program Cross-Canada Candlelight Christmas won a medal at the New York Festivals Awards for Television and New Media in 2005 and was nominated for a 2004 Gemini Award.

Outreach Programs

In addition to its official performance season, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra presents 60 or more outreach concerts each year throughout Windsor, Essex and Kent counties. It also provides an educational program in which small ensembles from the orchestra visit area schools, and the full orchestra performs concerts reaching over 13,000 students each year. Annual conducting workshops are available for teachers. On 16 Jan 2005 the Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra presented its debut concert under associate conductor Peter Wiebe. In 2005, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra hosted the Orchestras Canada Youth Orchestra Festival.