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Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s beginnings were humble enough when they started as a community orchestra that gave their first performance at the Pantages Theatre in Edmonton, Canada, on November 1920.  A few of their early conductors were Vernon Barford, Henri Baron, and Weaver Winter.

In 1932, they disbanded due to financial hardship, but in 1941, they were resurrected after a fashion as the Edmonton Philharmonic, under the baton of Abe Fratkin.  By 1947, they also had a pops orchestra, and this was led by Lee Hepner.

The Edmonton Symphony Society was established on 31st October 1952.  This officially made the ESO a professional orchestra, with the aforementioned Hepner as their first conductor.  They performed in the Capitol Theatre, which housed up to 1300 audience members.  In 1956, they relocated to the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

Hepner resigned in 1960 and was supplanted by associate conductor Tom Rolston from 1960 to 1964.  In 1964, Brian Priestman took the helm, and ran the orchestra until 1968.  Lawrence Leonard was his replacement and took the orchestra into previously uncharted territories.

In 1971, the ESO recorded a landmark album with Procol Harum, simply titled Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  It turned out to be Procol Harum’s best-selling record and eclipsed platinum status once the international totals were in.  The LP, now available in CD form, is thought to be one of the earliest such collaborations between a rock band and orchestra.

The early ‘70s were a time of many conductors and recordings, including Music by Haydn, Debussy, Wiren, with John Avison and Boris Brott, McKuen—The Ballad of Distances:  Symphony Suite, Opus 40 and Scarlet and Gold / L’Escarlet et L’or – Alberta R.C.M.P. Century Celebrations, 1874-1974, with Tommy Banks, and Music by Ibert, Francaix, Rameau and Music by Wolf, Purcell, Adaskin, Warlock, with Pierre Hetu.

Uri Mayer became the orchestra’s new conductor in 1981, and they released several more albums on his watch, such as Canadian and Russian OverturesFiala:  The Kurelek SuiteGreat Orchestral MarchesGreat Tenor AriasGreat Verdi AriasHarp ConcertosMusic by Britten and Willan, Music by Forsyth and FreedmanOrchestral Suites of the British IslesRussian Sketches, and Works for Cello and Orchestra.

Uri’s reign ended in 1994 and Grzegorz Nowak took over in 1995.  The ESO occupied their new home, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, in 1997.  Their first concert in the new venue occurred on 13th September 1997, when they joined forces with the Calgary Philharmonic to perform “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler.

In the late 1990s, they issued a handful of CDs:  Electra Rising:  Music of Malcolm ForsythMusic by Smetana and Janacek, and P.J. Perry and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Nowak stepped down in 2002 and a pair of guest conductors, Kazuyoshi Akiyama and Franz-Paul Decker ran the ship until a full-time replacement, William Eddins, was hired in 2005.

Other recordings on which the ESO appear include The Arrogant Worms with the Edmonton Symphony OrchestraFrenergy:  The Music of John Estacio, and Tom Cochrane & Red Rider:  The Symphony Sessions.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra recordings
Colas Breugnon Overture (Dmitri Kabalevsky)
(CD:  Canadian and Russian Overtures)