The beginnings of Orchestra London Canada are unusual to say the least. In 1936, a determined lady named Ruth Bricklin was soon to be married to a young violinist named Bruce Sharpe. Sharpe was the concertmaster for a group called The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus which had just recently disbanded. Inspired by a performance of the Washington Symphony, Ms. Bricklin told Sharpe that if he didn’t organize a proper symphony orchestra modeling the Washington Symphony she would break off their engagement. Sharpe promptly founded the London Promenade Orchestra and the rest is history.

Although the name has changed several times from The London Civic Symphony to The London Symphony Orchestra to the present day Orchestra London Canada, the vision has remained the same: to be a community-driven orchestra providing music, music education and programming of the highest quality to London and the surrounding region of Southwestern Ontario. Early on, it was apparent that if the orchestra was to survive it would need the support of the community and the continuity of an administration. In 1950, with a goodwill donation of $500, the local Kiwanis Club spearheaded the formation of a Board of Directors to help raise capital funds needed to finance the orchestra’s expenditures. Nevertheless, musicians had to bring their own chairs to the first rehearsal. The same year also saw the formation of the Women’s Committee which has since been instrumental in the promotion of the orchestra as well as many creative fundraising activities.

The newly formed orchestra was comprised of mostly teachers, business men and women, homemakers and students who played music as a hobby. It was often difficult to have everyone attend each rehearsal and performance. In 1974, encouraged by a grant from the Richard and Jean Ivey Fund, plans were made to hire thirty full-time musicians. Audition tapes and letters poured in from all parts of the world. The resulting group made the orchestra eligible for grants from the Canada Council and was praised by music critic William Littler of The Toronto Star as “an orchestra capable of serving an entire region of the province.” In fact, the 1976/77 season marked their first contract with the CBC. In 1982, the orchestra was invited to represent Canada at the International Festival of Music and Architecture in L’Aquila, Italy.

Under the guidance, direction and creativity of these dynamic conductors the orchestra has matured and developed artistically over the years: Martin Boundy (1949-1969), Clifford Evens (1969-1979), Victor Feldbrill (1979-81), Alexis Hauser (1981-88), Uri Mayer (1988-94), Mark Laycock (1995-1998), Brian Jackson (1999-2000), Simon Streatfeild (1999-2000), and Timothy Vernon (2000 to the present). Orchestra London has been honoured to share the stage with such renowned guest artists and conductors as Jon Vickers, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Glenn Gould, Jessye Norman, Maureen Forrester, Robert Goulet, Anton Kuerti, Shirley Jones, Moe Koffman, Louis Lortie, James Ehnnes, Robert Silverman, Mario Bernardi, Scott St. John, Gustav Meier, Diana Krall and Jann Arden. For several performers Orchestra London provided a platform to showcase their talents during the early stages of their careers.

Throughout the years Orchestra London has not only been creative in the musical idiom but also in its fundraising efforts. Rebounding from a financial crisis in 1974 and again in 2000 the group’s fundraising activities have included a designer showcase called “Interiors”, a live and silent auction with entertainment called “Music Reigns”, the “Loons for Tunes” campaign which raised $360,000 within a four month time period and the annual rummage sales staged by the Women’s Committee. One such rummage sale featured an auction of throw cushions with pieces of material signed by famous celebrities. Phyllis Diller and Maureen Forrester sent cushions they had made themselves and Elvis Presley’s signature, which arrived a few weeks after his death, was eventually sold for $300 to a man in Australia.

Within the last two years, Orchestra London has completed two seasons with a balanced budget, successfully concluded negotiations for a new four-year employment agreement with its musicians, appointed its first ever Composer-In-Residence, Jeff Christmas, and has seen a 23% increase in subscriptions in the last year with 1300 new subscribers to date. Given the many challenges faced by other Canadian orchestras Orchestra London, is now clearly re-established as a leader among arts organizations in Canada both artistically and financially.

Operating on an annual budget of $2.6 million dollars, Orchestra London Canada takes pride in being able to bring music to all members of the community and continues the tradition playing a keyrole in the musical education of our youth. As conductor Martin Boundy once said, “ if we do not raise our sights and continue to raise them, we are not doing the thing we set out to do for the city of London.”

Orchestra London’s musical programming is designed to offer something for all members of our community. Orchestra London produces over 80 concerts in its season. Masterworks is our flagship classical series with an informal pre-concert commentary. At the new Wolf Family Auditorium, we offer Sinfonia, an intimate evening of musical indulgence. Serenade Brunch patrons have the opportunity to eat delicious food and enjoy an afternoon concert. The Pops! performs everything from Chopin to Gilbert and Sullivan. Take Note is our exciting new series which offers a casual, relaxed introduction to classical music for all ages. Red Hot Weekends featuring the Jeans ‘n Classics Band blends classic rock and a symphony orchestra together. For our younger audience, we offer Pillow Concerts, presented in cooperation with The London Regional Children’s Museum, for children aged 2 to 8. Our Backstage Pass Program allows high school students to attend rehearsals and meet the musicians and conductor. In addition, we perform a number of special concerts, including an annual Opera in Concert, a variety of Christmas performances and a wonderful Celtic evening.

Our goal and mandate as a member of the London community and the Canadian music industry, is to undertake to support and foster Canadian performing and creative musical talent. Commencing February 1, 2021 Orchestra London appointed its first ever Composer-In-Residence, Jeff Christmas. Winner of the Millican Endowed Scholarship Award for his composition Blue Nostalgia, Jeff and his original compositions are in demand internationally, and his commissions include works for Guido Basso, Erik Schultz, The Inter-Provincial Music Camp and the Opening Ceremonies of the "2001 Canada Games". He has studied at York University, the University of Western Ontario and more recently Berklee College of Music, Boston where he majored in Film Scoring and Composition. During his residency with us, Jeff will be composer, conductor and arranger to the orchestra. His responsibilities will include conducting community and education concerts, composing instrument demos for the 2002/2003 education concerts and laying the ground work for the High School Composer’s Competition. The Composer-in-Residence Program has received financial support from the Canada Council. In addition, Orchestra London recently received a grant from The Laidlaw Foundation for the commissioning of a full length English Horn Concerto by Jeff to be performed in our 2003/04 Season.


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