How did Edmonton get to Carnegie Hall? By thinking


By now many of you will have heard that the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra will be playing in Carnegie Hall in New York City on Tuesday night. Some will know it’s the ESO’s Carnegie debut. You may even have heard that a thousand Edmonton fans have travelled to New York to watch the orchestra strut its stuff.

This is all good news. Edmonton’s isn’t the kind of band that normally gets to play Carnegie. I’ve heard one prominent musician from another city sniff that if an Alberta orchestra gets that honour, it should be Calgary’s. But that brings me to a less-understood aspect of Edmonton’s triumph, which is that it won its Tuesday showcase fair and square, in a highly competitive environment. Therein lies a tale.

The ESO is playing as part of something called the Spring for Music festival, now in its second year. It was created by some American promoters to fight some trends in New York’s concert culture. Even though it’s one of the world’s great cultural capitals, New York can be a bit staid as a classical music town. The New York Philharmonic was, until a few years ago, a risk-averse organization that leaned heavily on the most familiar works of the most familiar composers. And out-of-town orchestras coming through Carnegie Hall would often want to show they deserved that prestigious showcase by playing the same familiar stuff by Beethoven, Mozart and the rest. Great music, but not the only music there ever was.

Spring for Music proposes a different model. Orchestras from across North America can apply to play. A jury picks the orchestras that will perform, seven per year on successive nights in May — and the only criterion is the ability to come up with an original, thoughtful, off-the-wall program of music. All seats for each concert are $25, an extraordinary bargain. Each orchestra gets a cut of the door, but nobody’s getting rich. The goal is to expand ideas of what’s possible in music.

Last year the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal was one of the Spring for Music orchestras. Kent Nagano did a thing on the evolution of the idea of a symphony, starting with Bach and leading up to  Benjamin Britten, although he shuffled things chronologically so the concert ended with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. (So you see this isn’t just a festival of weird music. It’s a festival of thinking about music.)

Here’s a New York Times article about the orchestras in this year’s festival, which began tonight, Monday. You get a sense of the variety on offer. But I was especially tickled by the ESO’s choices when I heard about them a year ago.

Music director Bill Eddins — an American — proposed a concert of music by the orchestra’s recent composers-in-residence, which means the Carnegie audience will be hearing music written within the past decade by three Canadians, Robert Rival, John Estacio and Allan Gilliland. Here’s how the program sounded to the Globe’s man during a preview concert in Edmonton the other night.

I’m aware of a concert of Canadian music that the Canadian government bankrolled at Carnegie in the 1950s. I don’t believe three new Canadian compositions have been featured in that hall in the half-century since, and this time it’s not government-funded; it’s a program of music proposed by an American conductor and selected by an American jury, in competitive circumstances, strictly on its merit, fair and square. Some of the leading advocates of Canadian music are foreign-born conductors — Bramwell Tovey in Vancouver, Eddins in Edmonton, Edwin Outwater in Kitchener, Nagano in Montreal — who simply like the stuff. Tomorrow will be  a good night for an orchestra that takes chances.


How did Edmonton get to Carnegie Hall? By thinking

    • I would guest Berlin would be next for Canadian music?

      • careful there Stewart, turns out you’re not allowed to reference well-known sayings when discussing anything to do with Western Canada (who knew?). Perhaps it’s as deeply and inherently condescending to assume a saying, well-known in THE EAST, would be well-known in another region as it is to assume that paying a compliment to an orchestra would be complimentary?

  1. Would love to know the reason why Calgary’s Philharmonic should be automatically bestowed the honour of Carnegie Hall. The ESO has been a prominent, successful and outstanding orchestra for many years.

    • I agree. Why do Canadians have a such an uninformed perception of Edmonton. Edmonton is a cultural hotspot with a theatre and music scene that punches way above its weight and blows Calgary’s away. Calgary is a head-office business first city while Edmonton has a huge university and more diverse and dedicated arts community. Also, Edmonton has a sizable German and Russian community that supports the Arts. Paul Wells should do a little research before writing such drivel.

  2. condescending jackass. calling one of canada’s top orchestras a “band”. or, perhaps he’s just stupid.

    • Is it hard to walk straight with that chip on your shoulder? I call any orchestra a band now and then. It keeps me from writing “orchestra” 40 times in the same piece.

      Oops. Am I condescending again?

      • “I call any orchestra a band”

        Ha, ha. I guess that clears it up for you hornworm. He confirmed he’s not condescending, but in fact stupid.

      • “Is it hard to walk straight with that chip on your shoulder?”
        “if an Alberta orchestra gets that honour”

        Who’s got the chip on their shoulder? Why degrade Alberta orchestras? Edmonton has the best venue in Canada (the Winspear Centre). Both Edmonton and Calgary are two of the highest paid orchestras in Canada. What is your criteria for insinuating Alberta orchestras are inferior? Several years ago Edmonton’s conductor, Grzegorz Nowak (past conductor), was replaced. He was part time and paid $600,000/year (as I recall). Being in oil country, Alberta can afford to higher the best and because of that employ the best.

      • while you may try and claim your quip was done for practical reasons, you can’t detract the nuance of your article. so yes, you are still being condescending by thinking your readers too benighted to understand the english language. lets break it down for you sherlock:

        1. title. “How did Edmonton get to Carnegie Hall?”. nice inference. we all know cargegie hall is prestigious. apparently edmonton is unworthy of such a venue. you cement this further in your article.

        2. “Edmonton’s isn’t the kind of band that normally gets to play Carnegie” (sic)
        -a professional writer chooses his words carefully. each has meaning. you chose to call them a band for a reason. to disparage them. this is illustrated in your title and further played out by your mysterious musical expert.

        3. you quote an anonomous expert that articulates how trifling albertian orchestrias are. this unknown expert then further derides edmonton’s orchestra. lets have a look:

        “I’ve heard one prominent musician from another city sniff that if an Alberta orchestra gets that honour, it should be Calgary’s”

        -“prominent musician”: our anonymous expert which likely doesn’t exist.
        -“sniff”: dictionary defn. “To regard something in a contemptuous or dismissive manner”
        -note: calgary has already played at carnegie hall.

        there you go. try to be a man about it and either defend what you wrote or admit you were wrong. to suggest your article had an apparently encrypted meaning is childish.

          • Even the part where he spells it “orchestrias”? I can only assume hornworm did this INTENTIONALLY to disparage all of classical music. As a classical musician (and annoying language pedant), I am HIGHLY OFFENDED! How DARE someone use entirely reasonable colloquialisms!

          • normally, in an article concerning orchestrias (i’ll maintain my typo to further enrage my fellow bloggers), you would not call the concertmaster’s violin a fiddle.

        • I can only imagine that the title springs from the famous joke:

          Tourist: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall”
          Local: “Practice, Practice, Practice”

          See, what he is doing there is attempting a catchy title based on a joke that pretty much everybody knows.

          • yes, i agree he is referencing that joke. but he is answering the question in an unusual way: by stating they didn’t get there by practice, but by “thinking”. and this casts a derogatory shadow over the question portion of the joke.

            is he degrading the orchestras ability by stating edmonton didn’t get there by practice (or talent)? and what does he mean by thinking? he explains in the article:

            “the only criterion (to play at carnegie hall’s spring of music) is the ability to come up with an original, thoughtful, off-the-wall program of music”

            so edmonton didn’t get there via talent per se, but instead because they came up with an interesting program. this is not true. only high quality orchestras are considered in the application process. it is at that point the applications content becomes relevant.

            this constant succession of belittling inferences (as i referenced above and here) taints edmonton’s orchestra. and this is unfortunate.

          • You see, I see it as the other way – it is a given that only high quality orchestras would be considered. So why did the ESO get it instead of (for example) Minneapolis which probably also has a good orchestra, or Vancouver, or or or… The answer? By being both a high quality orchestra and doing something daring with their program.

            Mr. Wells also tweeted (well before this blog post” something along the lines of “1000 Edmontonians supporting their orchestra in Carnegie Hall. There is a city that supports music” That doesn’t sound derogatory to me.

            I think, and I say this as a British Columbian, that far too often, westerners go looking for slights.

          • “I’ve heard one prominent musician from another city sniff that if an Alberta orchestra gets that honour, it should be Calgary’s”

            yet edmonton’s orchestra is the highest paid west of toronto. and what is the purpose of this statement? as i pointed out above `sniff’ means to regard something in a contemptuous or dismissive manner.

    • You said it. I never realized Macleins was so Eastern-o-centric. If ignorance is bliss, than Paul Wells is a happy man.

      • Time to cancel my subscription. I’m tired of hearing how Easterners are better than us.

  3. This article was very interesting and it is nice to see bands from Canada’s smaller cities that otherwise might get overlooked make good. But I would prefer it if pieces like this had an angle featuring breastaurants.

    • Smaller cities? Edmonton has over a million people. It is the 6th biggest in Canada (Calgary is 5th). Only Toronto (Mississauga), Montreal (Laval),, Vancouver (Surrey), and Ottawa (Gatineau) are larger. and they cheat by being metro cities (meaning they count the populations in nearby cities (see inside brackets).

      • The only true full size urban centres are Toronto Montreal and Vancouver. Everything else is a smaller city.

        • -what mr. bacon was pointing out was that if you added up edmonton’s surrounding populations like the other cities did, their numbers would be significantly higher (as would calgaries). they have from time to time mulled over annexing their neighbours (like the other cities did) but have yet to do so. that said, i’m not sure what you mean by full size urban centres? is that a stats can defn or something?

          -edmonton’s orchestra is paid more than vancouvers.

          -besides that though, i’ll agree with the breastaurants.

      • Being a ‘metro’ is not cheating. It’s mostly a matter of municipal organization, often springing from topography or runaway sprawl. Saying that Toronto cheats because it is beside the largest house farm in the country, or that Gatineau automatically disqualifies Ottawa because it straddles a provincial border is absurd.