Rousing kickoff to Okanagan Symphony Orchestra season

From beatbox to baroque, trumpets to taiko drums, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra is promising an exciting 54th concert season.

Joseph Johnson

Joseph Johnson

From beatbox to baroque, trumpets to taiko drums, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra is promising an exciting 54th concert season.

“I’m excited,” said Rosemary Thompson, music director of the OSO. “I think there is a lot of variety and we are trying to really show all the different clothes that an orchestra can wear, all the different colours and styles of music so we hope there is something for everyone.”

The season begins this weekend with Noble Grandeur in Penticton at the Cleland Theatre on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Kelowna Oct. 18, Vernon Oct. 20)

Joining the OSO are guest artists Dale Barltrop and Joseph Johnson. Music director Rosemary Thomson presents Rossini, the WIlliam Tell Overture, Schubert, Symphony No. 8 in B Minor and Brahms, Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. The music sets out to lift the human spirt from three composers at the height of their creative power. Beautiful depictions of nature, breath-taking melodies, a virtuoso duet and a musical ride that inspired the Lone Ranger to action, add up to a stellar opening.

“We built it a little bit around the concerto as an iconic piece and it is one of Brahm’s great works and one of the only romantic concertos for more than a soloist instrument,” said Thompson.

Schubert was chosen because Thompson said it is a great introduction to his work with “beautiful, long melodies.” Rossini wrote many great pieces such as The Barber of Seville, but one of the most known is the William Tell Overture ending.

“It is such a great kickoff that we thought it would be quite fun to start with that,” said Thompson. “It is a real meat-and-potatoes classical program and we are thrilled to have Dale and Joe.”

Braltrop, from Brisbane, Australia, has performed across North America, Europe and his homeland. He served as principal second violin in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years prior to his appointment with the Vancouver Symphony.

Johnson has been heard throughout the world as a soloist, chamber musician and educator. The principal cellist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he previously held the same position for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Opera and was guest principal cellist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. A gifted and inspiring teacher, Johnson conducts frequent master classes at organizations like The New World Symphony, The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and others.

Having these two musicians, and more recently the New Orford Quartet and the principal cellist from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Vernon lately means music lovers have had lots to cheer about.

“In two weeks’ time in the Okanagan, we have had all three concert masters and all three principal cellists of the three biggest orchestras in Canada, which is pretty cool for our little valley. Their artistry is so fantastic and it just raises the level of the orchestra and me when we hear that kind of playing. I know that the audience will be swept away,” said Thompson.

The OSO music director said she is hugely inspired having guests such as the ones that will be playing with them this season.

“I’m inspired by their music already, but everybody interprets it in a different way so just to hear the individual personalities coming through and be able to share musical ideas is very rewarding. Then also to share this great music with the audience because it is so stirring and really moves you very deeply,” she said.

Outreach and education programs, a major part of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, will see  continued growth this year. This year will include a celebration of the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan’s 25th Anniversary with a birthday bash on Nov. 16 in Penticton. In Kelowna there is a family matinee in December — Amahl and the Night Visitors. The holiday season includes a Christmas special on Dec. 19 in Penticton at 7:30 p.m. with Messiah, a special singalong takes place in Kelowna on Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.

Concerts will continue in the new year, including the Symphony Slam with spoken word artist, and Pentictonite, Shane Koyczan on March 8. It will mark the first time he has worked with an orchestra. In April, the OSO brings their annual school showcase to the stage with Carnaval of the Animals. Schools looking to book should contact Andrea at the Okanagan Symphony office as spaces are almost gone for all shows.

“The Okanagan Symphony’s 54th Season will be as exciting as it is ambitious in scope.” said Scott Wilson, general manager of the OSO. “A star-studded cast of guest artists: Baltrop, Johnson, Stephanie Nakagaway, Lynne McMurtry, Gordon Bintner, Jason Ragan, Chelsea Rus, Taylor Pardell, Martin Sadd, Aaron Durand, Jan Lisiecki, Guy Few, Nadina Mackie Jackson Susanne Hou and local favourites Colleen Venables and Koyczan will all offer something for everyone in a cornucopia of musical delights.”

Tickets are available at the Cleland Theatre in the Penticton Community Centre, Penticton Wine Information Centre, by phone at 250-276-2170 or visit