Quebec Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Québec | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Quebec Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Québec

Quebec Symphony Orchestra (QSO)/Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ). Considered one of Canada's leading ensembles, the QSO remains the oldest Canadian orchestra that is still active.

Quebec Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Québec

Quebec Symphony Orchestra (QSO)/Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ). Considered one of Canada's leading ensembles, the QSO remains the oldest Canadian orchestra that is still active.

Origins, 1902-1914
On 23, 24 and 25 Jun 1902, following Laval University's golden jubilee during which Joseph Vézina conducted an orchestra of freelancers in three major concerts, the young instrumentalists Léonidas Dumas, Joseph Talbot and Raoul Vézina decided to form a permanent group. On 3 (or 5) Oct 1902, some 25 players officially founded the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ). Joseph Vézina was chosen as music director, a position he held until his death in 1924. The new ensemble was heard for the first time 28 Nov 1902, in three works during a choral concert at Tara Hall on rue Sainte-Anne. The QSO appeared again at Tara Hall on 5 Dec in a more substantial program. On 23 Feb 1903, four members of the Septuor Haydn (J.-Alexandre Gilbert, W. Noble Campbell, Arthur Lavigne and Nazaire LeVasseur), and some ten musicians from La Garnison, joined to augment the core players. This gathering of 40 players with varied backgrounds chose the name Société symphonique de Québec (SSQ). At that time, founding president Léonidas Dumas ceded his position to J.-Alexandre Gilbert, who also served as concertmaster until 1934. The SSQ was incorporated 20 Mar 1906, but its motto "Arte alitur fulgetque" (Art nourishes and enlightens) was not adopted until 3 Jun 1927.

The Société symphonique de Québec was chosen to inaugurate the Auditorium de Québec (now the Théâtre Capitole) in performances on 31 Aug and 1 Sep 1903, with soloists Rosario Bourdon, Paul Dufault, Émiliano Renaud and Joseph Saucier. Beginning in 1904, concerts were sold by subscription. Until World War I the SSQ presented an annual three-concert series, in addition to participating in meetings of the Société du parler français (Society for Speaking French), and various events, mostly of a religious nature.

In 1907, the SSQ won first prize in the music division of the music and drama competition at the Russell Theatre in Ottawa, organized by Governor General Lord Grey; the judge was the American composer George Whitefield Chadwick. Not long afterward, the SSQ was heard at the Monument National in Montreal, and a year later the orchestra played the leading musical role in Quebec City's grand tricentenary celebrations.

Before the war, renowned soloists performed with the SSQ, which sought to keep a balance between local and international artists. In 1906, 1910 and 1912, the orchestra participated in the premiere of Joseph Vézina's three comic operas - Le Lauréat, Le Rajah and Le Fétiche - at l'Auditorium de Québec; all were received with success.


World War I completely disrupted the orchestra's activities, and subscription concerts gave way to philanthropic events. Moreover, due to production costs and the Spanish flu epidemic, the orchestra did not give a single concert between March 1918 and March 1919. On 13 and 14 Apr 1921, the SSQ invited the young violinist Arthur LeBlanc to make his debut; he appeared regularly until the mid-1940s.

In 1923, at the tricentenary commemoration of the birth of Monsignor de Laval, 6,000 audience members applauded a 300-voice choir in Gounod's La Rédemption. Upon Joseph Vézina's death (5 Oct 1924), Robert Talbot took over as music director. He expanded the SSQ's repertoire and, of note, conducted the orchestra's first complete performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at the 25th anniversary in May 1928; symphonies by Haydn and Schubert (complete or in part); Dvořák's New World Symphony; Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker; Fauré's Masques et bergamasques suite; Wagner's Prelude from the Meistersingers of Nuremberg; Brahms's Third Symphony; the Symphony in D Minor by César Franck; Glazounov's Sixth Symphony; and works by Vincent d'Indy, Emmanuel Chabrier, Ernest Chausson, and Guy Ropartz. Furthermore, Talbot enabled the orchestra to make its radio debut in 1931. On 21 Oct 1932, a concert with soloist Raoul Jobin highlighted the Palais Montcalm's inauguration.

The autumn of 1935 marked the beginning of a troubled period for the SSQ. A group of young dissidents, wishing to increase the quality and quantity of concerts, united under Edwin Bélanger to form the Cercle philharmonique de Québec (CPQ). The first concert on 10 Dec 1935 took place at the Palais Montcalm, and the initial season consisted of four public concerts as well as five free educational concerts for schoolchildren - a major innovation. For seven years the CPQ presented 45 concerts in this way, compared with 31 by the SSQ. Quebec City, then, for a brief period, had two symphony orchestras. However, continuing financial problems on both sides led to a merger, and on 25 Jun 1942, the consolidated orchestra reclaimed the original name of Orchestre symphonique de Québec (Quebec Symphony Orchestra). Bélanger succeeded Talbot as music director. From then on, despite serious difficulties recruiting musicians, the QSO resumed its annual series of four to six concerts, invited celebrated international artists, and offered innovative educational programming. This included, in addition to afternoon children's concerts, a young soloists' competition initiated in 1945. Thirteen-year-old pianist Janine Lachance was the first winner, and tenor Richard Verreau won the award in 1948. This competition disappeared in the late 1950s, but was re-established in 1977. Bélanger also tried to raise public awareness of contemporary repertoire.


In 1951 Wilfrid Pelletier succeeded Edwin Bélanger, holding the position until 1966. Pelletier raised the orchestra's level by inviting new players - teachers and recent graduates - from the Conservatoire de Québec, founded under his leadership in 1944. He also conducted several operas in concert versions in the late 1950s and enthusiastically carried on Edwin Bélanger's educational work.

The arrival of Françoys Bernier as Pelletier's assistant in 1959 brought radical structural changes. As of 1960, the QSO became a permanent professional ensemble and a much-valued proponent of decentralization. Cities like Chicoutimi, Rimouski, Thetford Mines, Trois-Rivières, and even the regions of Abitibi, the North Shore and the Gaspé thus welcomed a professional symphony orchestra for the first time. Some centres (Trois-Rivières, Thetford Mines) even hosted the QSO regularly and had their own annual concert series. A few years later in 1968, Pierre Dervaux (b Juvisy-sur-Orge, near Paris, France, 3 Jan 1917, d 20 Feb 1992) succeeded Bernier, becoming the first foreign conductor to attain the position of QSO's artistic director. In January 1971, he inaugurated the Salle Louis-Fréchette in Quebec's Grand Théâtre (subsequently the centre for symphony concerts). Dervaux remained the QSO's artistic director until 1975, while still pursuing an international career. Although financial constraints prevented him from augmenting the ensemble (consisting in 1968 of about 65 musicians), Dervaux nonetheless conducted some remarkable performances, including Messiaen's Chronochromie (October 1970) in the presence of the composer, who declared himself well satisfied. In 1976, James DePreist (b Philadelphia 21 Nov 1936) replaced Dervaux. He performed The Rite of Spring with the QSO in January 1978, and a concert in Washington (21 Oct 1977) for the orchestra's 75th anniversary. The 1977-8 season marked the return of the annual competition for young Quebecois musicians. The first winner, cellist Johanne Perron, received $500 and an invitation to perform as soloist.


In July 1983 Simon Streatfeild succeeded DePreist. Under his direction, the QSO made its highly acclaimed Toronto debut. In William Littler's words, "For a metropolitan area of only 600,000 people to be served by such an ensemble is a reason for flags to be flying on the shores of the St Lawrence" (Toronto Star, 10 Apr 1990). Streatfeild, who made six recordings with the orchestra including its commercial recording debut, left the orchestra in May 1991 following a year of difficult negotiations. At that time, the QSO experienced serious financial problems, requiring management to restructure the orchestra and its workforce. French conductor Pascal Verrot (b Lyons, France, 9 Jan 1959) replaced Streatfeild that year. Verrot took up his mandate in the fall of 1991, conducting Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique. His two CDs with the QSO received high distinction, including a Félix award for the album Noël with soprano Lyne Fortin. Denys Bouliane was the QSO's composer-in-residence 1992-5.

In July 1998, Yoav Talmi (b Kibbutz-Merhavia, Israel, 28 Apr 1943) became the QSO's tenth music director, and immediately committed himself to polishing the technical quality of the orchestra. He instituted ambitious cycles (Mahler, Bruckner, major requiems), and revived the recording and contemporary commissioning projects.

The 2005-6 season was made up of the series Grande musique, Sélection, Week-Ends électrisants (Electrifying week-ends), Hommage, Classiques à croquer (Crunchy Classics), and Concerts famille (Family Concerts). The orchestra appears in the Grand Théâtre de Quebec's Salle Louis-Fréchette. Since 1936 the QSO has continued its presentation of children's concerts and various other activities.

The QSO receives grants from the Canada Council, the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, and the municipality of Quebec City, in addition to corporate and individual donations.


Since its inception, the QSO has to various degrees promoted Canadian composers and encouraged new works. Joseph Vézina premiered his own three comic operas as well as works by Charles O'Neill and Robert Talbot. Under Talbot, pieces by Clermont Pépin and Maurice Blackburn were heard in world premieres by the Société symphonique. Edwin Bélanger was particularly open to new works, thus assuring premieres by Lucien Vocelle, Léo Roy, Morris Davis and Gaston Allaire. Wilfrid Pelletier undertook the first performance of Pépin's Guernica in May 1953. Spurred on by Françoys Bernier, the QSO established the tradition of creating and commissioning new works. Among those heard since 1960 were Roger Matton's Mouvement symphonique I (1960), Maurice Dela's Seconde esquisse (1962), Serge Garant's Ouranos (1963), Matton's Concerto for two pianos (1964) and Te Deum (1967), Alain Gagnon's Prélude (1969), Jean Françaix' Concerto number 1 for violin (1970), Jacques Hétu's Concerto for piano (1970), Vic Angelillo's Tangentes (1971), Vigneault, Léveillée and Chotem's Le Dict de l'aigle et du castor (1972), Pépin's Chroma (1973), Matton's Mouvement symphonique III (1974), André Prévost's Chorégraphie II (1976), Angelillo's Dans une fontaine jouaient trois canards (1980), Matton's Mouvement symphonique IV (1980), François Sasseville's Églogues symphoniques (1982), Anne Lauber's Valse concertante for piano and orchestra (1982) and Clara et le mur du son (1983), Denys Bouliane's Le Cactus rieur et la demoiselle qui souffrait d'une soif insatiable (1988), Pépin's Concerto for marimba (1988), Alex Pauk's Cosmos (1989), Serge Nigg's Poème for orchestra (1990), Denis Dion's Vers 210 milliards de souvenirs en quête de bois de rose (1991), François Morel's Chant d'espace (1993), Pépin's La Messe sur le monde (1993), Bouliane's De Sophie à Léon and Épilogue à Anna Karenin (1994), Dion's Quelques détours... (1994), Pierre Bartholomée's Humoresque (1994), Alain Perron's Empreintes sonores (1995), Bouliane's Appels-Rappels (1995) and Entre chien et loup (1996), Michel Legrand's Contrebande for double bass (1996), Bouliane's Concerto for piano (1998), Jean Lesage's Les Représentations surannées (1999), Walter Boudreau's La Vie d'un héros, Tombeau de Claude Vivier, (1999), Morel's Rupture (2001), Randolph Peters' Ailes de papillons et tempêtes tropicales (2002), José Evangelista's Iris (2003), Denis Gougeon's ARTE! (2003), and Hétu's Concerto for oboe and English horn (2005).

The focus on contemporary music programming in 1977-8 - the orchestra's 75th anniversary season - earned the QSO the Performing Rights Organization of Canada's first prize. The orchestra was awarded this prize again on subsequent occasions.

Guest Soloists and Conductors

Until World War I, the QSO invited a great many foreign soloists, including Russian pianists Tina Lerner and Leo Ornstein; singers Charlotte Maconda, Bernice James de Pasquali, Lilla Ormond, and Edna Blanche Showalter; and cellist Jean Gérardy. Among Canadian artists were singers Adine Fafard-Drolet, Éva Gauthier, and Angélina Giguère. After the war the QSO featured Arthur LeBlanc, Raoul Jobin, Jean-Marie Beaudet, Victor Bouchard and Renée Morisset, Paul Doyon, Jacques Gérard, Lubka Kolessa, Léopold Simoneau, Georges Lindsay, Calvin Sieb, and Richard Verreau. Soprano Marcelle Denya, pianist Percy Grainger, harpist Marcel Grandjany, and tenor Ramon Vinay were among foreign artists heard in the 1940s. After the 1960 restructuring, the QSO featured David Oïstrakh in the Brahms Concerto, Emil Gilels, Régine Crespin, Alicia de Larrocha, Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli, Henryk Szeryng, Jon Vickers, Cecilia Bartoli, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Ida Haendel, Scott Ross, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Midori, Paul Tortelier, Tatiana Troyanos, Lazar Berman, and José van Dam.

Guest conductors Sergiu Celibidache, Franz-Paul Decker, Vladimir Golschmann, Pierre Monteux, Michel Plasson, Charles Dutoit, Alexander Brott, Agnes Grossmann, Judith Somogi, and many others were also invited to appear with the orchestra.

Some outstanding soloists and conductors made their North American debuts with the QSO. These included conductors Pierre Dervaux (November 1964), Sergiu Celibidache (April 1966), Jean-Claude Casadesus (January 1969), and Charles Dutoit (March 1975); and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli (July 1990). In January 1961 the pianist Wilhelm Kempff performed, as his debut with a Canadian orchestra, the complete cycle of Beethoven piano concertos.

Concertmasters and Administrators

Since the orchestra's inception, its concertmasters have been Wilfrid Edge (unofficially, 1902-03), J.-Alexandre Gilbert (1903-34), Alphonse Saint-Hilaire (1934-6), Antoine Montreuil (interim, 1936-7), Jules Payment (interim, 1937-8), Gilbert Darisse (1938-60), Stuart Fastofki (1960-3), Jean-Louis Rousseau (interim, 1963), Hidetaro Suzuki (1963-77), Malcolm Lowe (1977-83), and Liliane Garnier-Lesage (1983-6), Jean Angers (interim, 1986-7), succeeded by Darren Lowe in 1987.

Since 1942, QSO executive directors have been Paul-Eugène Jobin (1942-7), Albert-P. Tanguay (1947-60), Louis-Georges Julien (1960), Françoys Bernier (1960-8), François Magnan (1968-83), Noël Vallerand (1983-5), Pierre Cazalis (1985-6), Michel Rodrigue (1986-7), Gaston Brown (1987-8), Louise Laplante (1988-95), Gilles Moisan (1995-2002), and Michel Létourneau (from 2002).

Vocal and Choral Works

In addition to supporting most productions of the Théâtre lyrique du Québec (Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France), the Opéra du Québec, the Société lyrique d'Aubigny, and the Opéra de Québec, the QSO presents major choral works with le Choeur de l'OSQ (the QSO Choir). This mixed choir of some 120 voices, founded in August 1964 by Françoys Bernier, is made up mainly of amateur chorists, with about 20 paid professionals added for each performance. Following Bernier, the choir's conductors were Jocelyne Desjardins, André Martin, Pierre Loranger, Marcel Laurencelle, and Élise Paré-Tousignant. Chantal Masson took over in 1970, alternating with Charles Dumas 1977-89, when Bernard Labadie succeeded them (1989-95). Other choir directors have been Marthe Lacasse (1995-6), Louise DeLisle-Bouchard (1996-2001), Jean-Marie Zeitouni (2001-3), and David Rompré (beginning in 2003). The QSO allocates part of its annual budget to the choir, with repertoire decided by mutual agreement. Among the works it has performed are Claude Champagne's Altitude, Orff's Carmina Burana, Haydn's The Creation and The Seasons, Mozart's Mass in C Minor and Requiem, Bach's Mass in B Minor and the St John Passion, Handel's Messiah and Judas Maccabeus, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and the Missa solemnis, Verdi's Requiem, Honegger's Le Roi David, Mahler's Second and Third symphonies, Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ and The Damnation of Faust, and Brahms's A German Requiem. The choir participated in the first performance of Roger Matton's Te Deum (1967), Clermont Pépin's Messe sur le monde (1993), and Denis Gougeon 's ARTE! (2003).

Publications; Archives

The QSO has publicized its activities through various communications vehicles such as the bulletin Sur une note d'information (1974-7), and in the late 1970s, a column in the magazine Le Mois à Québec. In September 1979 the orchestra launched Le Lutrin, which was published five times annually, but lasted only a few years. Since autumn 2003, the QSO has published the quarterly La Marque, consisting of program notes, biographies of guest artists, and articles about music and culture.

A major archival collection on the QSO is found at the Archives nationales du Québec in Quebec City.

Further Reading