Ottawa Symphony Orchestra: New season, new prize, new commission and new instruments

OSO's Alain Trudel starts second season at OSO.

The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra has expanded their concert season from four to five, announce the winner of a new music prize, reached out to a new venue for part of the season and helped fuel technological innovation in instrument making. And that doesn’t include a major joint-commission of new work from the legendary composer Howard Shore with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Led by artistic advisor and principal guest conductor, Alain Trudel, OSO will perform three concerts in the NAC’s Southam Hall and two in the Shenkman Centre in Orleans.

“One big innovation this year is that we actually have two series, one at the NAC and the other at Shenkman.

“This will be the first year that Shenkman has a resident orchestra. We have been rehearsing there to test the stage. It can’t seat the full OSO, but can accommodate 60-70 players which is perfect for Mozart.”

The presence in Orleans is an attempt by the OSO to go where the community is.

“The local band with local players is the OSO should be playing for the local audience in different places. The reason we started this series (at Shenkman) is to start to expand our reach into the entire region.”

Eventually, Trudel says, he would like to see a six concert season “but not more than six.”

The season will open at Shenkman on Oct. 2 with a Mozart-palooza, including a performance of his Jupiter symphony, and music from the Marriage of Figaro featuring four singers from the uOttawa music school. A key highlight of this evening will be the performance of the composer’s Second Horn concerto with a solo performance by the first winner of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra – Senécal Mozart Prize.

Martin Mangrum.

The horn player is Montrealer Martin Mangrum.

Trudel says the competition for the prize was intense with three young musicians in a tight contest.

It is also important, Trudel says, who is a highly regard trombone player, that the prize will recognize more than just piano and violin players. The broader scope for the prize is important, he says, because the OSO also mentors about 30 students a year from uOttawa’s music school.

Mangrum is an undergraduate at the  Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. He has also won the Canada 150 Commemorative Award from the National Youth Orchestra Canada 2017.

He gets $2,500 to go along with the performance and an opportunity to be a soloist with a sizeable orchestra. Each year, the OSO says, the competition will feature a different instrument in a Mozart concerto. This year’s concert is under the honorary patronage of the  Austria Ambassador, Stefan Pehringer. The OSO will also announce the instrument that will be featured in the second year of the prize on Oct. 2.

The prize is named for Nicole Senécal, a passionate fan of classical music and Ottawa philanthropist who has also sponsored a prize at uOttawa. The prize is open to Canadian residents, 18 and up, who are attending or have recently concluded their studies a post-secondary institution.

In November, OSO will honour the career of the great Canadian contralto Maureen Forester at the NAC with a performance of one of her signature works —the song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler. The OSO will also unveil the Canada 150 commission by Shore (with text by Shore’s spouse the writer and filmmaker Elizabeth Contour). Shore is most popularly known for his work on the movie trilogies Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. Soloists include Susan Platts, mezzo soprano, who will premiere the Shore piece and tenor John MacMaster, whom Trudel says has the “perfect” sound for the Mahler.

It’s back to Shenkman on Feb. 26 for a concert that will feature the OSO’s concertmaster Mary-Elizabeth Brown, who has been in her role for a couple foyers now, in an evening of works from Bruch, Elgar and Healey Willan, a show that has been inspired by the annual BBC At the Proms performance. Brown is also the concertmaster for the McGill Chamber Orchestra and happens to be Trudel’s wife.

The final two performances of the season are in Southam Hall. The first puts the profound cello talent of Stéphane Tétrault front and centre. The music offered includes a composition by the Spanish-Canadian José Evangelista called O Java. The evening will end with a big bang with Strauss’s  Also Sprach Zarathustra, made even more famous by a turn on the big screen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The season finishes with a guest conductor taking the podium and leading the OSO. Tania Miller, who, after 15 or so years, has just concluded her an “admirable” tenure with the Victoria Symphony, will direct a performance of an Ontario premiere of Canadian composer Michael Oesterle’s Entr’actes. And she will lead the group in a performance of music from Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) and Petrushka (Stravinsky). “She knows how to run a band,” Trudel said, “and she finished on her own terms.”

The OSO is also getting involved in a very different kind of musical innovation. With the support of a Canada Council grant the organization is commissioning a new piece of Canadian music by Harry Stafylakis for the 2018-2019 season.

The music will be played on string instruments created by Ottawa-based luthier, Charline Dequincey, and made on 3D printers, at the Industrial Technology Centre in Winnipeg.

For Trudel, this is an “immense” project.

“We were trying to see if we could come up with something different. We absolutely need to honour our Canadian composers and do as much repertoire in every concert. And we need to create new works for the future.

“I wanted to create a consort of new instruments. It’s like in medicine where you may need a special size of valve for a heart and they just make it.”

Trudel, who remains an energizer bunny of conductors, is also taking his seat as the incoming music director of the Toledo (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra. He’ll do two shows this season in Ohio and will assume his full duties in the following season. The new role does allow him to continue in Ottawa. This will be his second season with the OSO, which was his commitment at the outset. He says he’ll go year to year after that.

For more information on tickets, dates, times and concerts, 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.