CBC  radio orchestra at UBC’s Brock Hall - 1953



CBC Vancouver Orchestra (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra 1938-80). Longest-lived regularly performing Canadian radio orchestra, founded in 1938 by Ira Dilworth, who appointed John Avison conductor.


Similar orchestras in Vancouver antedated the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra: the CNRV Concert Orchestra (pre-1934) under Percy Harvey; another, heard around 1935 on CRCV's 'Jewels of the Madonna,' with Jean de Rimanoczy as conductor; and the CBR Concert Orchestra. The CBR SO, founded also by Dilworth and conducted by Arthur Benjamin, flourished in the early 1940s.


The CBC Vancouver Orchestra, however, comprising 25 players (increased to 35 in 1952), was still being heard regularly on the CBC in 1991, 53 years after its inception.  It has premiered more than 200 works by some 80 Canadians: Adaskin, Baker, Bales, Beckwith, Berring, Betts, Chatman, Coulthard, Dela, Dutton, Forsyth, Glick, Goldberg, Healey, Hétu, Chan, Kasemets, Kenins, Koprowski, McDougall, Mather, Nimmons, Papineau-Couture, Pentland, Ridout, Ruhland, Schafer, Schipizky, Symonds, Turner, Weinzweig, Weisgarber, and Wuensch. In 1960, for service to contemporary music, Avison and the orchestra received a commendation from the ISCM.


Over the years guest conductors have included Raffi Armenian, Kees Bakels, Michel Corboz, Victor Feldbrill, Serge Garant, Monica Huggett, Milton Katims, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Ettore Mazzoleni, Harry Newstone, Jaap Schroeder, Georg Tintner, Heinz Unger, and Jon Washburn. Most of Canada's leading concert artists have appeared as soloists. Because for some years most of the orchestra's players were members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, public concerts and tours were difficult to schedule. Nevertheless, the orchestra appeared annually 1958-60 at the Vancouver International Festivals, gave five concerts in 1961 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, toured Saskatchewan in 1967, and performed in communities in the northern part of Vancouver Island 1967-8.


In 1969 a 26-member ensemble, drawn from the orchestra and governed by a separate board, began to tour as the Vancouver Radio Orchestra. Under Avison the smaller ensemble performed until 1980 in western Canada, the Arctic, the USA, and as far east as Ottawa. John Eliot Gardiner (b Dorset, England 20 Apr 1943) was named Avison's successor in 1980; he was replaced in 1983 by Mario Bernardi, who conducted the orchestra on its visit to Roy Thomson Hall in that year.


In 1980 the orchestra began to offer more public concerts than hitherto, and Gardiner began to verse the ensemble in baroque performance practice, introduce period bows and tuning, and concentrate on 17th- and 18th-century works. Under Bernardi the orchestra returned to a more broadly based repertoire, but with special emphasis on contemporary music, especially by Canadian composers.


In the fall of 1988 the orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary by inaugurating the Avison Series, a set of public concerts to be held annually and named in honour of its first conductor.


Avison, John (Henry Patrick). Conductor, pianist, b Vancouver 25 Apr 1915, d there 30 Nov 1983; ATCM 1929, BA (British Columbia) 1935, B MUS (Washington) 1936. He studied piano with J.D.A. Tripp in Vancouver and attended the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington. After World War II service he resumed music studies at the Juilliard School in 1946, at Columbia U 1946-7, and with Paul Hindemith at Yale U in 1947. He began performing with orchestras in Vancouver in 1936 and toured western Canada and the USA as accompanist to such performers as Lauritz Melchior, Szymon Goldberg, and Joseph Szigeti.


In 1938 he became the first conductor of the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. Though he continued to conduct that orchestra until his retirement in 1980, he appeared with many others, including the London Philharmonic (1959) and orchestras in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Seattle. In 1956 he declined an invitation from William Steinberg to become associate conductor of the Pittsburgh SO. In 1971 as conductor of the Vancouver Radio Orchestra (the touring name of the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra) he directed the first orchestral concerts given in the Canadian Arctic. In 1966 he became the regular conductor for the CBC Talent Festival.


Avison was married to the violinist Angelina Calangis, a longtime member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.





Home: BC Radio History