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Spotlight: Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra

Updated: May 25, 2020

Today we celebrate another cultural institution located in the southern Ontario area which has had a ripple effect throughout the country and internationally: the Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra.

Chamber Orchestras are different from full Symphony Orchestras, in terms of their size (COs are significantly smaller and often have performing forces of no greater than 30 people), and also their programming, which is often quite adventurous and avant garde.

The Canadian Sinfonietta throughout its 20+ year history has gained much recognition for their eclectic programming, which appeals to the broad cultural mosaic of the GTA.  In addition to a treasure trove of fantastic classical artists which the orchestra has featured in concerts, the Canadian Sinfonietta has also featured leading klezmer and gypsy bands, Chinese opera stars, and up-and-coming prodigious talent. They’ve also enjoyed reciprocal conductor and soloist exchanges with leading orchestras in China, Russia and Germany… including with members of the Berlin Philharmonic.  

Their support of Canadian composers is remarkable, as evidenced in the dozens of commissions over the years. CS is one of the few orchestras in the country to feature a composer in residence, Michael Pepa - an important composer and concert presenter in the country. In fact, part of the orchestra’s mandate is to continuously showcase Canadian orchestral and chamber works as part of its seasonal concert programming and touring initiatives.

Concurrent with the subscription series, the Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Players (composed of the principal players of the orchestra) tour extensively throughout the province and have brought many of the major chamber works to GTA audiences over the years. For their Toronto-based chamber series, the music is often served up alongside wine and cheese buffets, and have become a hit with audience goers. Indeed the interaction with the artists in events such as this are reminiscent of the intimate environs of the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society (see this post), and have the feel of a latter day Parisian Salon.

I have had the privilege to play many concerts with this wonderful ensemble, both in concerto and chamber music formats over the years. Check out my recording with the CSCO of Dohnanyi's Piano Quintet in C- (Mvt. I)

The orchestra is the brainchild of Maestro Tak Ng Lai and his wife Aster. Both are highly accomplished artists and teachers of renown who received their principal training at the Vienna Conservatory.  Their daughter, Joyce, a celebrated concert violinist throughout the country and abroad, serves as the concertmaster and co-artistic director of the orchestra. As well, the Lai’s son-in-law Ian, a wonderful violinist who masquerades as a multinational corporate executive during the day, serves as principal violist of CS.  That is what makes this remarkable organization that much more remarkable. The love of family permeates out to each of the players who in turn become family…and the ripple effect extends to the audience and abroad.

Over the years, the orchestra has made several tours of China and Europe with much acclaim. Many past concerts have taken place at the Glenn Gould Studio, the Toronto Centre for the Arts, and Tyndall Chapel, as well as on live television and radio.   

In addition to world class concert performances, the orchestra is also committed to grooming the next generation of orchestral talent. This is shown by the formation and tremendous success of the Canadian Sinfonietta Youth Orchestra.  The CSYO has rapidly grown into one of the most successful orchestral training programs for youth in the province and the Lai’s have taken this orchestra on tour to Europe on several occasions.  

Nowadays the Canadian Sinfonietta plays their subscription series in the Markham Richmond Hill and North York areas of the GTA. For those of you who are worried about the downtown drive, I would highly recommend attending a concert by this wonderful orchestra for an uplifting and enriching musical experience.

Hope to see you at a concert soon!

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