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The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates 135 outstanding years

There’s nothing like it: woodwind, brass, strings, and percussion swelling as the lights slowly fade, drawing you in as the music takes you away.

You’d better prepare your ears because the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra is tuning their instruments for another exciting, enriching season of live music.

It’s going to be a big one, too. During its forthcoming 19-20 season, our city’s renowned professional orchestra reflects on an impressive 135 years as a local cultural mainstay with HPO: A Shared History. This project celebrates the orchestra’s rich history, starting from its origins in 1884 with 27 musicians as the Hamilton Orchestral Society through the over 80 performances on the mainstage and in the community today.

Photo by Banko Media

The HPO is best known today for its annual lineup of live orchestral concerts, routinely packing the house in FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place) with everything from classical suites to classic film scores, performed by as many as 100 professional musicians on stage. What many Hamilton residents may not know is that the HPO’s long and varied history goes well beyond the orchestra’s time on that landmark local stage.

From past performances on the Dofasco factory floor under the direction of former Music Director Boris Brott to the orchestra’s appointment of Olive Short (mother of homegrown comedian and actor Martin Short) as Canada’s first female concertmaster in 1955, the HPO promises an overflowing treasure trove of fascinating historical milestones well worth discovering this season.

By gathering stories and artifacts shared by long-time patrons, musicians and community members, as well as taking a deep dive into the orchestra’s own archives, the HPO’s efforts will culminate with the launch of the HPO Archive at the Hamilton Public Library in May 2020, which will remain open to the public.

“But what concerts are coming up in the season? The 135th anniversary line-up must be pretty stacked, right?”

Oh yes, Hamilton. Oh yes.

Photo by Banko Media

This season features major concert events, including the highly-anticipated season closer Beethoven Nine, which promises to be Hamilton’s musical event of the year. Bringing together the HPO and a stage full of our region’s passionate voices to recreate Beethoven’s landmark Symphony No. 9 in a rapturous evening of music, this concert is a must-see. Get ready for goosebumps.

If traditional classical music doesn’t really get you going, the equally epic Sci-Fi Spectacular might be just for you. Featuring orchestral themes from your favourite sci-fi films, including sweeping music from Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Movie fans, unite!

The rest of the season also features an exciting program of works. Music Director Gemma New returns to kick things off this Fall with Radiant Ravel, a concert of music inspired from the sounds of the natural world around us. On top of ravishing classic works by Debussy and Sibelius, the concert will also feature the world premiere of The Mermaid and the Fisherman, a piece commissioned by the HPO and written by Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte.

In Mozart & Mendelssohn, rising star violinist Timothy Chooi lends his virtuosic talents to Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, and a second HPO-commissioned piece, Silk Road Fantasy by Canadian composer Alice Ho, sees its world premiere. Then, just in time for Remembrance Day, homegrown brass group Canadian Brass makes a welcomed return to Hamilton for A Canadian Brass Salute.

Photo by Mike Cameron

If you’re looking for the perfect holiday activity, The Snowman will certainly be a can’t-miss family concert to ward off the chilly winter season. The HPO is joined by the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the Hamilton Children’s Choir to perform a lush orchestral score accompanying the heartwarming animated film of the same title.

In the new year, the fifth edition of the HPO’s Composer Festival culminates in Triumphant Tchaikovsky, exploring the legendary composer’s body of work in a concert guest-conducted by Dina Gilbert and featuring Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker.

Craft beer nerds, take notice: as part of this Tchaikovsky Festival, the HPO will also present Happy Hour at Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. in Dundas, pairing a guided craft beer tasting with works by Tchaikovsky played by an intimate HPO ensemble. Music, beer, and learning! What could be better?

Later in the season, Scheherazade promises a colourful musical journey into the classic story One Thousand and One Nights, and Haydn’s London spotlights the work of influential English composers, featuring a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto by guest oboist Sarah Jeffrey of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Photo by Banko Media

But that’s not all! A series of smaller HPO events are planned to pop up in laidback and unexpected venues all over town, from art galleries to breweries and the library. This season also includes the return of Intimate & Immersive: innovative concerts at The Cotton Factory that let the audience literally surround the HPO ensemble, mere feet away from the music in a multi-sensory experience perfect for concert-goers looking for something a little different.

With such a wide array of upcoming musical events to enjoy, one thing is clear: whether you love the traditional classics, or want to go a little further off the beaten path, there’s something for everyone in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s eclectic and monumental 19-20 Season. Here’s to another 135 fulfilling years of music!

The HPO’s 19-20 Season begins this September. For more information on the season schedule, or to purchase single tickets and ticket packages, visit the HPO’s website. Concert-goers between the ages of 14-35 can access $19 tickets for shows through the hpoGO Program.

Lead photo courtesy of Banko Media.

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