Ottawa Symphony set for a new beginning at Dominion-Chalmers

Alain Trudel led the OSO in a performance of Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony in Dominion-Chalmers.

This will be a season of firsts for the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

The people of the city it enriches have seen the first first … a concert of new music written for an octet of 3D printed stringed instruments in November.

Now the new concert hall that is the sanctuary inside Dominion-Chalmers United Church will host its first concert by the OSO.

On Sunday about 100 musicians will assemble on the newly expanded stage and perform Anton Bruckner’s Seventh, likely the largest symphony concert ever held inside that century-old space. The performance is a side by side performance with the uOttawa orchestra and OSO. Also on the program is a performance of Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate featuring the Senécal Mozart Prize winner soprano Elizabeth Polese and Ottawa composer Kelly-Marie Murphy‘s A Thousand Natural Shocks (For those interested, the composer will be on hand for a pre-concert talk). The piece by Murphy was premiered in 2005 by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Trudel is a believer in giving contemporary works another performance. Often new works languish after they are premiered.

Monday’s concert gives OSO Maestro, Alain Trudel, a great deal of satisfaction and anticipation.

‘I’m dying to start. We have to get in there and play that first note and work through the first three hours. We may have to move people around and change things a little but then comes the entire year.”

For the OSO it’s a new beginning. After several years of moving around and being beholden to others, this is their musical home.

“There are a lot of projects you can consider now,” Trudel said, including recordings.

Trudel is a busy bloke. At the time of this interview he had just finished up a concert with his other gig the Toledo Symphony Orchestra that featured the violin soloist Augustin Hadelich.

He’s also doing some arranging of bits and pieces of Bizet’s Carmen for Opera Montreal. As an aside, opera is something near and dear to Trudel’s heart and he is thinking about how to help it return to Ottawa stages.

“We are trying to do our small part, but at the end of the day it will be a group effort that brings opera back to Ottawa. I have a big affinity with opera. We will do a big opera gala at the end of the season.” He’s promising a special guest but won’t say who just yet.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First things first. A concert in a new space is always exciting, but much thought has gone into this step.

First the stage. Trudel says it was measured and measured and measured again.

A special stage extension was created so the OSO could perform large works in a space that has been limited in the past. He has personally conducted the NAC Orchestra inside Dominion-Chalmers but it was only 30 players and the program featured Mozart and Haydn.

Alain Trudel. Photo: Maude Chauvin

From 30 players to 100, that’s exponentially larger.

“It’s epic. It’s huge,” says the eternally ebullient Trudel. “We actually will have a mix of members of the uOttawa orchestra and the OSO.” For example, there will be 18 first violins, a dozen cellos in the orchestra for the Bruckner symphony.

But still Trudel was careful to choose this piece to begin.

It has limited need of percussion, just timpani and one cymbal. No piano, no harp.

It also will test the acoustics of the renovated sanctuary without going too far.

“It is inspiring for the students to come and play this piece for the first time with us and I have enough space to put as many of them with us as possible. I’m confident it will fit.”

Still there are unknowns.

“There has never been a concert with such a large orchestra in that venue.”

One thing that will help a lot is the fact that they will have three full days of rehearsal in the space before the concert. When they played in the National Arts Centre, they’d get a dress rehearsal on the day of a concert.

“This is the benefit of having a home. This is very exciting. We will be able to explore the music and try things. That trial and error won’t happen in the concert.”

Trudel says his relationship with Carleton University, who purchased the Dominion-Chalmers building last year, has been nothing but positive and builds on the OSO’s long-standing relationship with uOttawa’s music school and faculty.

“The OSO is this community’s orchestra. It’s where local professionals play. It’s where aspiring professionals get experience. It is a good place for everybody to feel welcome.”

The work with Carleton shows what true collaboration can do, he said.

“The OSO has bounced around bit, and now we can build something. There’s nothing that can hurt an organization more than instability. Where do we play? When do we play? We had to do it because we didn’t have any other opportunities for us.” Now they have a home for the foreseeable future.

Trudel believes that this facility meets the standard for a concert hall.

“When we play, we play before 850 to 900 people. That’s a good number.

“It will take time for people to get the habit, but it presents us very well. It’s downtown. Also this is a space where the community has already been coming together to worship or to hear music. It is iconic. It’s a bit like OSO.”

One thing he would like to see close to hand is a music library, but that’s a matter for the future.

Right now, “it’s nice to have a feeling that it’s permanent, to finally have a place where it is happening. There will be discoveries as we go along, some great, some challenging.”

But it’s home. Sweet.

From Austria With Love
Ottawa Symphony Orchestra
Where: Dominion-Chalmers United Church
When: Jan. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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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.