H i s t o r y
The Symphony Orchestra of Canada is an ensemble of Canada's finest musicians drawn from the members of the Toronto Symphony, The Canadian Opera Company, and the National Ballet of Canada Orchestras. The cultural mandate of the orchestra is inspired by the truly remarkable multi-cultural society that Canada has become. The programmes of the Symphony Orchestra of Canada reflect and celebrate this rich mosaic.
As one of the newest orchestras to be formed in Canada, the first mandate is to promote and showcase Canadian classical music at home and abroad. Further the Symphony Orchestra of Canada strives to conceive of new and innovative programs to attract and hone new audiences to the world of classical performance and composition.
In 1997, The Symphony Orchestra of Canada (known then as The New World Symphony Orchestra of Toronto), took the first step towards achieving their mandate by embarking on a historical tour of Greece. They performed as official representatives of Canada, at Thessaloniki, Greece the city that was designated in 1997 as the Cultural Capital of Europe. The Orchestra shared the stage with many internationally renowned performers such as cellist Mistislav Rostropovichand Milan's La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mr. Karabekos was commissioned by The Cultural Capital of Europe Commettee to compose Rhapsody Thessaloniki, an original classical piece that epitomized the spirit of the cultural celebration. The composer has dedicated this Rhapsody to Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien and his wife Madam Aline Chretien for their commitment to multi-culturalism and the arts in Canada. "Rhapsody, Thessoloniki 1997" was premiered to capacity audiences in both Thessaloniki and two days later at the Kassandra Festival. The performances were met with spirited ovations, extensive media coverage and critical acclaim.
In addition, the Orchestra was awarded participation in the Arts & Culture Festival TO 2008 Olympic Bid. In partnership with the Friends of Simon Weisenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, the orchestra performed the music of composers who perished in the Holocaust at CBC's Glenn Gould Studio, June 4, 2001. The concert was recorded by the CBC for future broadcast.
On November 11, 2001, Symphony Orchestra of Canada performed a Remembrance Day Concert at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts. The concert honored our Canadian heroes and sent our prayers to the many directly affected by tragic acts in the United States on Sept. 11. In attendance were the Consul Generals of the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Greece and Cyprus.
The Symphony Orchestra of Canada continues its performances of music created by composers from Canada and abroad.
Photo: Jean Chretien with Stefanos Karabekos
Aline and I would like to thank you for the wonderful evening you provided in June. As I mentioned that evening, it was the first time that I have had the pleasure of hearing a composer conduct one of his own scores. A number of the powerful themes you used struck a strong emotional chord within me.
R.H. Jean Chretien
Prime Minister of Canada
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the wonderful evening with your Orchestra. My wife and I enjoyed very much your concert. Although we loved all the pieces performed, the Rhapsody Thessaloniki left us a special impression: it justly deserved a standing ovation. I wish you continued success in your valuable endeavors in the art of classical music.
Consul General of Japan
The outstanding performance by eighty top caliber Canadian musicians of the Symphony Orchestra of Canada under your professional and artistic guidance made the event very successful.
Consul of Cyprus
The world premiere of the Rhapsody No.2 was especially interesting and appreciated. What struck me next was the width of the expressive capacity of the orchestra from enormous fortissimo to most delicate and light-hearted tones in Bizet, which seems to me an evidence of a first rate orchestra.
Consul General of Japan
Even as a student of mine at York University, Stefanos' solid background in music and composition put him into the forefront. Since then I have followed his work as a composer, conductor and entrepreneur. His energy and vision has led to a series of concerts that have appealed widely. He has been able to mobilize support for his efforts in spreading interest in new works by Canadians to a degree that is the envy of many with similar goals. He has established the Karabekos Scholarship Fund at York University to help others achieve their musical goals. As a conductor he has always included in his programmes, compositions by Canadian composers. As well he has devoted much time to working with emerging Canadian young artists and encouraging them, many of whom have gone on to important careers.
Louis Applebaum C.C.
Composer, York University
I had the pleasure of listening to your CD while driving to New York recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. The combination of the best Toronto Orchestra players succeeded in assuring a performance of top quality. Aside from that, I was most impressed by your two Rhapsodies. I feel that they are important additions to the genre of music that include Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody. So congratulations all around for all your efforts and good luck in your future endeavors.
Mr. Stefanos Karabekos is an extremely active participant in the composition and music world and has done extensive work to promote and to present Canadian music performers not only throughout Canada but also abroad. He is an articulate spokesman and a strong voice for our multicultural arts.
John Weinzweig, O.C.
Dean of Canadian Composers
Prof. University of Toronto
I recently heard a performance by your orchestra of a piece called Rhapsody Thessaloniki and was very taken with it. One of the things that attracted me was the use of timpani; my son is a timpanist in Toronto and I know he would be interested in hearing this also. I wondered if there is a CD available of this performance and if so how does one buy it?
School of Music, Queen's University
What a marvelous experience it was for us, the selections you made were excellent and I was actually brought to tears during more than one of the pieces. I was in awe of the beautiful combination of talented men and women and a well oiled machine, (if I may use the analogy) designed to create sounds that stir the minds and the hearts of mankind and sentimental old men like myself. Thanking you all for your contribution to our social fabric.
Stuart and Suzan Craig
As a member of the chorus that sang with you, last night, I just wanted to say thank you for the privilege. It was a wonderful experience. It was also wonderful to hear just how beautifully this talented orchestra could perform. I loved the original piece that was dedicated to Thessaloniki. Congratulations to you Maestro, and to all the members of this incredible Symphony.
In addition to the familiar music of the first half, I actually liked the second half, especially the Barn Dance by John Weinzweig, the Spanish infused music of Evangelista and your Rhapsody. It was a great performance.
Lu Zhang, C.A.
May I just say quickly that I really enjoyed your program, combining classical favorites and other less well known classical pieces with Canadian selections after the intermission. I am really proud that you made it the orchestra's mandate to play and promote Canadian music at home and abroad, especially the music of Canadian composers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. I wish there was more of this kind of promotion of Canadian talent elsewhere. You are really to be commended.
The performance was great. We enjoyed it so much we would love to come again and again. You are wonderful.
Rick, Diane, Daniel and Matthew Johnson
It was a splendid program... you had the orchestra to its height of virtuosity, well done.
Photo: Stefanos Karabekos addresses a press conference in Thessaloniki,
the city designated as "1997 Cultural Capital of Europe".
"Absolute quality, great sounds and emotions.... all well coordinated under the baton of Stefanos Karabekos."
New Macedonia Newspaper
"The Symphony Orchestra of Canada is the music ambassador of Canada abroad."
"One of the biggest classical orchestras in the world, exceptional and with absolute quality... under the baton of Stefanos Karabekos."
Artistic Director, Kassandra Festival
"'Rhapsody Thessaloniki' performed by the Symphony Orchestra of Canada under the direction of composer and Music Director Stefanos Karabekos... a classical work... what a rouser of a piece."
CBC Radio 2, Here's to You
"Karabekos an accomplished musician... conducts an eclectic music ensemble."
"Images of Greek Islands by Karabekos... one bridge between the old and the new."
The Toronto Star
"...like an ocean breeze, conjure images of Greece, echoing with reflections of Greek culture..."
"The Piano Concerto Spartakos by Stefanos Karabekos... a melodic sequence faintly reminiscent of Beethoven or a harmonic excursion into the virile turf of Brahms’ gypsy invocations."
Words and Music Magazine
"My final recommendation is of a CD that was new to our library in the last year, but is actually about 10 years old. It features the Symphony Orchestra of Canada, which is an orchestra comprised of members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet of Canada, and Canadian Opera orchestras. The CD is a live recording featuring a number of popular classics, such as the 'Hebrides', 'William Tell', and 'Russlan and Ludmila' overtures, in great sound and outstanding performances. This CD would make a great gift for the person in your life who's just getting into classical music. One of my favorite selections on the CD is one of two works written by the orchestra's conductor, Stefanos Karabekos. It's called 'Rhapsody Thessaloniki 1997', which was written for the orchestra's tour of Greece in that year. It's an infectious piece, and this is an overall excellent CD called 'Expressions of the Canadian Heart'. It's on the Trilogy Label, and is available through Amazon or www.backstageproductions.com."