PEI Symphony, then and now

On PEI, there is another anniversary besides Canada’s 150th to be celebrated this year: the 50th anniversary of the PEI Symphony Orchestra. In 1967, Thomas Hahn, Hubert Tersteeg, Conn Zaat, and a group of other musicians and community members met and started the discussions that eventually led to the formation of the PEI symphony.

Thomas Hahn was the first conductor of this new orchestra. When he moved to another community, Bert Tersteeg became interim conductor. I became the third conductor in the fall of 1970.

The first orchestra performers included a mixture of professional musicians, students and seniors (some of whom took lessons to be in the orchestra). It was a bit of a motley but dedicated crew that began the PEISO’s history.

At one of my first concerts, I walked out on stage, opened my music, and behold, someone had placed a large handwritten note in my music folder which said “Who’d you think you are, Toscanini?” At the next rehearsal, I declared to the orchestra that I would rather be Artur Fiedler!

Over the past 50 years, the orchestra has grown and continued to improve through the excellent conductorship of several fine musicians.

We are now going to be treated to another wonderful season of PEISO performances in 2017-2018. There will be four concerts, three in Zion church and one in the Homburg Theatre.

The first concert, on October 15, will include Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and the guest artists will be Ten Strings And A Goatskin.

The concert on November 19, to take place in the Homburg Theatre, will feature a new composition, Cantata for Canada 150, a commission made possible by a grant from the Canadian government. This cantata has been composed by four world-class Canadian composers: Richard Torly, Leo Marchildon, Ken Morse and Andrew Staniland. The text is provided by four talented young Island poets. The performers joining the full orchestra will be the Confederation Centre choirs, soloists, and Hey Cuzzins M’kmaq drum circle, all conducted by the Music Director, the internationally renowned Mark Shapiro.

It is my pleasure to have played a part, particularly in the formative years of the PEISO, in what has become a truly sophisticated, professional orchestra whose performances never fail to leave the audience feeling delighted and rewarded. Bravo to all of you on our tiny island who have helped to create and sustain this fine contribution to the culture of PEI.

No matter how much the entertainment world changes, a live performance still outranks any other kind of music…and the PEISO affirms this!

—Dr. Alan Reesor is Music Professor Emeritus, UPEI; Organist and Choirmaster Emeritus of St. Peter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown; Recipient of Honorary Doctorate from King’s College, Halifax; and holds Honorary Fellowship, Royal Canadian College of Organists.