Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. An orchestra established in 1949 in Hamilton, Ont, as a mainly amateur organization with a membership of 60, including a few professional musicians. Several prior orchestras had earlier flourished in Hamilton.

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. An orchestra established in 1949 in Hamilton, Ont, as a mainly amateur organization with a membership of 60, including a few professional musicians. Several prior orchestras had earlier flourished in Hamilton. The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra grew to become one of Canada's major professional orchestras until 1996, when it closed due to financial problems. It was reincarnated on a smaller scale in 1997.

The original Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra made its debut 16 Jan 1950 at Hamilton's Memorial School Auditorium. It was conducted 1949-58 by Jan Wolanek (b Warsaw 25 Jan 1895; founder-conductor of the St Catharines Civic Orchestra). Later conductors were Leonard Pearlman and Bryden Thomson 1958-9, Victor Di Bello 1958-62, and Lee Hepner 1962-9. Boris Brott was music director 1969-90 and Victor Feldbrill 1990-6.

Bankruptcy and Subsequent Revival
Financial problems forced the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra to close its doors in 1996, declaring backruptcy. It re-emerged one year later as the New Hamilton Orchestra, making its debut performance 16 Feb 1997 at Hamilton Place. The company operated as the New Hamilton Orchestra 1997-9 with Mario Bernardi as part-time artistic advisor. In 2000 it reclaimed the name Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and Daniel Lipton was appointed part-time artistic advisor for the 1999-2000 season. The final phase of the orchestra's rebuilding program was accomplished 1 Mar 2001 with the appointment of Michael Reason as full-time artistic director 2001-6. He was followed by interim artistic advisor Timothy Vernon, and in 2007 by James Sommerville.

Concertmasters have included Arthur Garami, Hyman Goodman, Marta Hidy, Otto Armin, and Lance Elbeck. The core orchestra consists of about 31 full-time players, with additional musicians contracted for individual concerts.

More History

Following nine seasons at the Memorial Auditorium, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the Westdale Auditorium 1958-62, the Palace Theatre 1962-71, and the Mohawk Theatre 1971-3. It moved into Hamilton Place in 1973.

Financial Operations
Recognition and support for the original Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra came slowly at first; in 1952 the City of Hamilton awarded it a $500 grant. As a semi-professional ensemble in 1961 it received a Canada Council grant of $1000 to assist in the presentation of a youth concert. In 1975 it was receiving $115,000 in operational grants and $12,500 for special projects from the Canada Council. By 1990 it had an operating budget of just under $3 million. After the orchestra's one-year hiatus, this budget was substantially reduced and slowly rebuilt to $1.2 million.

Expansion After 1969
The activities of the orchestra expanded greatly under the artistic directorship of Boris Brott, who, with Betty Webster (b Toronto 2 Feb 1925; BA Victoria College, Toronto, 1946), the orchestra's first full-time executive director 1967-75, and with co-operation from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), raised the orchestra by stages to major status by expanding and diversifying its market and reorganizing its players' contracts accordingly. The OAC helped subsidize an increased number of professional musicians-in-residence in return for a commensurate increase in the orchestra's regional and provincial services. Several ensembles emerged, the most noted of which was the Canadian Brass; but other groups - the Czech Quartet, the Sentiri Wind Quintet, H.P.O. Bach, the Lorcini-Elliott Duo, the Lorien Woodwind Quintet, and three more string quartets - performed, particularly in the Hamilton area.

Training Bodies
The Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, formed in 1965 under the direction of Glenn Mallory, was initially sponsored by the senior orchestra. It operated as a separate entity. In addition, the Hamilton Philharmonic Institute was created in 1974 to provide opportunities for fledgling professionals to play in the senior orchestra as part of their schooling. This was the first program of its kind to be undertaken by a Canadian orchestra. After the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra's collapse in 1996, the institute was discontinued. Taking its place was a mentorship program pairing gifted students with members of the orchestra. In 2002 the orchestra launched a Young Composer's Competition for Ontario-based composers under age 30.

General Managers
Jacques Druelle succeeded Betty Webster in 1975 with the new title of general manager. He was followed in the position by Mark Warren 1979-81, Hamish Robertson 1981-3, Paul Eck 1983-7, Jorgen Holgersen 1987-90, and Stephen Bye 1990. Jack Nelson, general manager 1997-2003, left an executive position with the Hamilton Spectator to help rebuild the orchestra. He was followed by Alex Baran in 2003.


Series and Sponsors
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s numerous series were sponsored by corporations, notably Dofasco, du Maurier, Seagrams, the Hamilton Spectator, and Stelco. After its re-emergence in 1997, the orchestra offered only two series: Masterworks and Pops. Major corporate sponsors have included Cogeco and Proctor & Gamble.

Special Appearances
The orchestra has played frequently outside Hamilton. It has appeared at the Algoma Fall Festival, the Guelph Spring Festival, and the Shaw Festival; in Burlington; and regularly at Ontario Place, Toronto. At the opening of Hamilton Place 24 Sep 1973 it participated with the Ontario Youth Choir and soloists in the premiere of Galt MacDermot's A Mass in Our Time, commissioned for the occasion and conducted by Thomas Pierson. Since 1997, the orchestra has provided orchestral accompaniment for a number of local arts organizations including Opera Ontario, Opera Hamilton, the Bach-Elgar Choir, Hamilton Youth Ballet and Theatre Aquarius.

Guest Performers and Conductors
The Hamilton Philharmonic in its early years featured only Canadian solo performers, and 1950-4 six of these were Hamiltonians. As the orchestra expanded, this policy was no longer feasible; however, a high proportion of Canadian artists have continued to be engaged as soloists, along with international artists, among them Jean Bonhomme, Michael Burgess, Anna Chornodolska, Corey Cerovsek, Denise Djokic, Leslie Fagan, Janina Fialkowska, Maureen Forrester, Ida Haendel, Rebecca Haas, Anton Kuerti, André Laplante, Malcolm Lowe, Phyllis Mailing, Tara-Louise Montour, Mari-Elizabeth Morgen, Zara Nelsova, Arthur Ozolins, Joel Quarrington, Louis Quilico, Shauna Rolston, Joseph Rouleau, Steven Staryk, Jean Stilwell, Valerie Tryon, Ronald Turini, Riki Turofsky, Laura Whalen, the Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton, the Festival Singers, the Moe Koffman jazz group, the Rankin Sisters, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and True North Brass.

Guest conductors have included Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Aaron Copland, Arthur Fiedler, Horst Foerster, Piero Gamba, André Kostelanetz, Stéphane Laforest, André Moisan, Simon Streatfeild, Joseph Silverstein, Daniel Swift, Alain Trudel and Newton Wayland. Ella Fitzgerald was the guest artist at a 25th-anniversary benefit concert 10 May 1975.

Composition Commissions
The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra has commissioned works by Lorne Betts (Kandario), Alexander Brott (Thunder and Lightning), Srul Irving Glick (Psalm for Orchestra), Eldon Rathburn (Three Ironies), Norman Symonds (Three Atmospheres), and William Wallace (Canticle for Orchestra). It has premiered these and also works of Louis Applebaum (Place Setting), Lorne Betts (Music for Orchestra, Variants for Orchestra), Alexander Brott (H.B.S., B 22), Steven Gellman (Odyssey), William McCauley (Concerto Grosso), Wallace (Ceremonies), and John Weinzweig (Divertimento No 11) and has performed numerous other Canadian works, eg, by John Estacio, Colin McPhee, Pierre Mercure and Oskar Morawetz. The orchestra appointed Heather Schmidt as composer-in-residence 2002-5, commissioning Prelude for Hamilton (2002), Light and Shadow (2003) and Symphony No. 1 (2005).

Further Reading