News About The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio Orchestra

Protests outside of CBC Radio(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tod/)
Protests outside of CBC Radio(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tod/)

As our attention is on the quest for the gold in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I am also reminded of a venerable tradition and a cultural treasure that came to an end in that city in 2008.

The CBC Radio Orchestra, the last radio orchestra in North America, was disbanded due to lack of funding from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was another case of an arts organization not staying afloat in difficult economic times.

Vancouver is a vibrant, progressive city with a rich cultural life, so I was a little surprised when I heard the news.   There is an upside, but I’ll save it for the end.

The most famous radio orchestra in America was the NBC Symphony, which was created for Arturo Toscanini in 1937 to get him to stay in New York, and helped create a mass market for classical music in this country for the 17 years that orchestra existed.

CBC’s History

The CBC Radio Symphony in Vancouver was formed in 1938 and recorded and performed regularly for 70 years. One of its main goals was to commission, perform, and record new works by Canadian composers, which it did splendidly judging from the recordings we have here in the WOSU music library.

One of their recordings introduced me to Healey Willan and Godfry Ridout, as well as containing enjoyable performances of Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and David Diamond.

In its 70 year history the CBC Radio Orchestra has had four music directors:

  • John Avison led the  ensemble from its founding until 1980
  • John Elliot Gardiner was at the helm for a couple of years before going on to Europe
  • Mario Bernardi
  • In 2006 Canadian trombonist Alain Trudel took over as music director.

At the time of its disbanding in 2008, the orchestra had 45 regular members.

Radio Orchestras Around The World

In Europe, radio orchestras continue a long-standing tradition of fine music-making made possible by state sponsorship, ensuring their ability to perform new works as well as concert favorites in recordings and live performances.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony, The Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are some of the better-known ones over here, but there are many more.

In Canada, the CBC Symphony Orchestra in Toronto had a go from 1952 to 1964.  But after its long run of 70 years, the demise of the CBC Radio Orchestra left me with a note of sadness, thinking about the financial troubles many orchestras are facing today.

So it was good to hear that in September 2009, music director Alain Trudel and the orchestra would continue independently of the CBC as the National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada. They are still based in Vancouver and have a schedule of concert appearances and recordings in the works.

All I can say is, long may they endure and continue a golden tradition.

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