Recent news that the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra filed for bankruptcy shocked music lovers across southern Ontario. Eighty musicians and the accompanying administration staff were left out in the cold. The cancellation illustrated the precariousness of the life of a professional musician and has left a
hole in the region’s appreciation of classical music.
On the other hand, Burlington is home to not one but two orchestras and an opera company. All three companies perform at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC) as well as various outreach mini -performances around town, in church halls, retirement homes, schools and libraries.
All signs point to encouraging audience numbers and ticket sales, with the help of corporate sponsors, community donations and volunteer support showing that Burlington and surrounding area loves its classical music offerings.
The Burlington Symphony Orchestra (BSO) started 50 years ago as the McMaster Symphony, changed its name to Symphony on the Bay, and in 2019 became BSO when they moved to BPAC. The orchestra has a handful of union musicians with the rest coming from the community (amateur).
BSO has a five-concert series at BPAC with some smaller performances in other venues.
Karen Stothart, manager of operations for BSO said, “Last year we hit our (audience) targets. We sold out our Christmas show and our John Williams special. The number of subscribers increased over last year (for a discount of all five concerts).
"People are telling us that they value our symphony, and ask us to please continue.”
This year’s BSO Christmas concert will be held Sunday, Dec. 10 but be warned, it promises to be a sold out performance again.
Charles Cozens, BPAC Hall of Famer, founded Burlington New Millennium Orchestra (BNMO) in 2016 which later became a registered charity (a necessary step for many arts organizations).
BNMO has held 20 performances (most recently The Mozart Effect on Oct. 13) with its next event sometime in May 2024.
Cozens was approached by BPAC in 2015 and was told that Burlington didn’t have a professional orchestra.
“The director of programming explained, ‘Hamilton does, K-W does, Niagara does, and I thought it would be interesting to have one here.' But, I decided that in terms of branding and repertoire that it would not necessarily be ‘classical’. We would perform some classical works but we would also venture into the ‘Pops’ realm.”
Note: Oakville has a community orchestra with a number of professional musicians.
“All of our musicians are members of the union,” explained Cozens. “Our musicians live in Burlington or in the area as far away as Toronto. In addition to union scale fees we pay into a pension plan. That’s really important because like any other profession it helps them when they retire.”
That underscores the level of musicianship that is on stage right here in Burlington, not to take away from the hard work and quality of community musicians.
For those whose musical tastes include opera, the Southern Ontario Lyric Opera (SOLO) company will satisfy an interest in Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and others. In 2022, SOLO hosted famed soprano Measha Bruggergosman-Lee during its annual Christmas-time performance. This year’s Sounds of the Season
concert will be held Dec. 20.
SOLO Founder and Artistic Director Sabatino Vacca said, “Lots of people have never been to an opera but they’re curious. We try to introduce them to the classic operas, ones that they may have heard or be familiar with the arias. We don’t want them to come just once, but again and again.”
SOLO is known for its pre-concert mini-performances at the Burlington Public Library, its education series for youth and school trips to encourage the next generation to understand and appreciate all that goes into an opera. One such extra performance was SOLO’s 2019 interpretation of the famous children’s story of Hansel and Gretel, as told through an operatic lens. Close to 600 students experienced a 40-minute version of the original opera.
To paraphrase a popular theatrical production, ‘the sound of (classical) music’ is very much alive in Burlington in different forms, at a variety of venues accessible to young and old, new and experienced, for all to enjoy in our city.