Ottawa Symphony Orchestra at 55 is building a new future in Dominion-Chalmers

Alain Trudel. Photo: Maude Chauvin

The Ottawa Symphony is 55 years young.

“That’s a lot of uninterrupted music,” said music director Alain Trudel in an interview with ARTSFILE about the new season. “It is proof of the power of the desire of local people to come together to make music.

This is a year of anniversaries. The NAC Orchestra is celebrating 50 years of performances this month and early in October the School of Music at uOttawa will also mark a half century.

For Trudel, turning 55 means the OSO has fully settled into its new digs at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre. That’s a satisfying feeling for the maestro.

“I had a lot of push-back at the beginning. People said the orchestra wouldn’t fit.” Trudel was not deterred. He knew it would work.

Now the orchestra has a year under its belt at Dom-Chalm and “I love it. It turned out exactly as I thought it would.

“It sounds good. It’s big and round. You have a dark natural sound and it’s also very close to the public, right on top of the first row.

“I am also very happy with the natural acoustic. How grateful I am for Carleton to invite us. It is a game-changer.”

“Things are now well divided in city. It’s downtown, it’s close. There is proximity to who we are. The history of the orchestra is one that is close to the public.”

The four concerts that form the season each will have something that Trudel has done since assuming the role with OSO. He is continuing to program — and commission — Canadian work.

“Since I have arrived here that is what we have done. Sometimes it’s not a premiere because it is important to play things again, but this year I really wanted to do something special by having a new work on every program.

A piece by the Ottawa composer and cellist Jan Järvlepp will open the season on Oct. 7.

Järvlepp is the composer of the famous Garbage Concerto which is played around the world. Brass Dance, Trudel believes, will become equally popular in concert halls.

Järvlepp is retiring this year from the OSO where he has been a cellist for many years.

“He is a great cellist,” Trudel said, “but he plays as a composer. It makes the section stronger. The new piece is for brass instruments and full orchestra. It’s not very long. But it has the same interest and complexity as a 25 minute piece. It’s a short ride on a fast machine.”

Also on the program is the Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite and the Immolation scene from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung sung by Montreal-based soprano Caroline Bleau, who recently sung the role of the Mother in Another Brick in the Wall, the opera based on Pink Floyd’s seminal album.

“She is a natural Wagner and Richard Strauss singer. I’ve been telling her that for a decade. I want to introduce her to the Ottawa audience and also to see the orchestra handle the Wagner” for first time with him.

On Nov. 18, the OSO will feature a new work by adjunct uOttawa professor, composer and saxophonist Victor Herbiet. The piece is called Sur les berges du Saint-Laurent. The connection with the uOttawa School of Music is another theme that runs through this season. More about that later.

This concert will also feature a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Nicki Chooi and a name familiar to Ottawa classical fans will conduct. Jean-Francois Rivest, is a former conductor of Thirteen Strings.

Nicki Chooi is the older brother of Timothy Chooi, who will perform in Southam Hall on Oct. 30 and 31 with NACO. Nicki is a former concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York and is a well-known international soloist.

Also on this bill is the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky and Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.

OSO includes young performers from uOttawa in these concerts. Trudel believes that this program will offer them a useful opportunity to play larger repertoire like the Strauss for the first time in a professional setting.

On March 30, the OSO will celebrate its relationship with uOttawa in a concert that marks the 50th anniversary of the school.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to do that,” Trudel said. “we have great colleagues from the University of Ottawa. They have been part of the OSO family for decades.” The orchestra’s previous director was David Currie who is a professor and the current co-ordinator of the Orchestral Studies Sector and the conductor of the school’s orchestra.

The evening will feature David Jalbert playing the Shostakovich Piano Concerto and the orchestra will play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 which requires, basically, a double orchestra. That will pair the OSO with uOttawa’s own Symphony Orchestra.

The audience will get to see more than 100 players on the Dom-Chalm stage.

Trudel says there will be a new work on the program, but he’s keeping that as a surprise announcement.

The final concert on May 4, 2020, will feature a new Double Concerto for Marimba and Tabla, op. 93 written by the Canadian composer and longtime OSO friend Andrew MacDonald. It will feature the marimba soloist Catherine Meunier. Also on the bill Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto which will highlight this year’s winner of the Senecal Prize for a young performer.

This concert will celebrate the OSO’s emerging connection with Carleton as it will feature the refurbished Casavant organ in a performance of the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3

As will this season, the OSO will be involved in the annual New Year’s celebration of the music of Vienna on Dec. 29.

For information on tickets and concert times, please see

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.