The First Timer's Guide to Symphony in Ontario 

The conductor leads a full symphony

Photo credit: TSO, Jag Gundu

From the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra to the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, these orchestral companies showcase both professional and up and coming talent and celebrate the artistry of Canadian works. Keep them on your radar when you visit Ontario.

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Best Symphonies and Orchestras throughout Ontario

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

One of Canada’s major professional orchestras, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra has been entertaining audiences with outstanding performances since 1884. Performances primarily take place at the FirstOntario Concert Hall in Hamilton, where you can enjoy incredible concerts from the newly commissioned to classical works. Review their website for upcoming concert dates.

Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony

Based in the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS) is one of the premier classical music orchestras in Ontario. The group was founded in 1945 as an accompaniment for the Grand Philharmonic Choir but has become its own entity since then, winning over audiences with delightful concerts for nearly 80 years.

The 52-member group of professional musicians performs close to 90 times during their 38-week season each year and are regularly featured on CBC Radio Two across Canada. To enjoy one of their beautiful concerts, please visit the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony website for show times and tickets.

Kingston Symphony

Kingston’s professional orchestra comprises of 45 musicians. The performances of Kingston Symphony (KSO) take place at The Grand Theatre and the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University. The KSO programs include the Masterwork series dedicated to classic composers the likes of Beethoven, Brahms and more featuring acclaimed musicians sharing the stage with the orchestra. The Pop series features contemporary music, with past performances honouring the music of John Williams or Leonard Cohen. There are also special concerts that have become traditional favourites each year.

National Arts Centre Orchestra

Formed in 1969, the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO or NAC Orchestra) is the resident orchestra of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. NAC Orchestra has numerous recordings and has toured Canada. NAC Orchestra performs with a variety of acclaimed special musical guests and conductors. They perform classical to contemporary music. They are involved in various educational outreach programs in the Ottawa community and have a carefully curated calendar of shows that will appeal to first timers to the symphony on and off the stage. Visit their website to find out about their upcoming programs.

National Youth Orchestra of Canada

Each year, hundreds of talented young classical musicians across Canada take part in the fierce competition for a spot on this elite orchestral program. Successful National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO) candidates spend five extremely intensive weeks learning to improve their craft from the country’s best musical instructors. NYO tour Canada and perform in front of an audience. Founded by former Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director, Walter Susskind, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO) is an internationally recognized program. It’s a welcome treat to follow this prestigious group and witness the passion and dedication of this homegrown talented ensemble. NYO has performed in Ontario venues such as Avondale United Church in Stratford, Ottawa’s National Arts Centre and Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Toronto based Tafelmusik has performed in front of millions around the world. Founded in 1979, the ensemble specializes in baroque music and performs with period instruments that were used during the Baroque era of music. The orchestra has been complemented with the choral talents of the of The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. Ivars Taurins is the founding director of Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. Some may recognize the presence of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in the production of the Sing-Along Messiah, an interactive way to learn about the Handel’s beloved masterpiece that has been adopted as an annual holiday ritual by many.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has been around since 1922, when it was founded as the New Symphony Orchestra. TSO is one of the most respected arts organizations in Canada and has played a vital role in the city’s cultural life. The orchestra is instrumental in both local and national communities through its vibrant musical performances and educational activities and programs that resonate with people of all ages and backgrounds. Roy Thomson Hall is the main concert hall where TSO performances take place. To enjoy some of the finest orchestral performances in Canada, please visit the TSO’s website for tickets and performance schedules.

Kindred Spirits Orchestra

Kindred Spirits Orchestra (KSO) is a civic, audition-based company in Markham which regularly performs at the Flat Markham Theatre, the Hill Centre for the Performing Arts and at the CBC Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.

The orchestra first formed in 2009 when the director held auditions for this increasingly popular performance group. The orchestra presented musical performances of both classical and contemporary works of varying lengths and complexities, including many works by Canadian composers such as Briant Current, Gary Kulesha and Larysa Kuzmenko.

Niagara Symphony Orchestra

For over seven decades, the Niagara Symphony Orchestra (NSO) has been delighting audiences with classical and contemporary orchestral musical performances. The orchestra includes over 50 professional musicians, presenting classical and contemporary orchestral music performances. They hold 21 concerts annually in the Masterworks, POPS! and Classical Family of works, showcasing international and national guest stars at Partridge Hall in St. Catharines.

Windsor Symphony Orchestra

Playing both classical and popular music, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO) was originally founded as the Windsor Concert Orchestra in 1941 but changed its name to the Windsor Symphony in 1948. The orchestra performs at several venues throughout the Windsor-Essex area, but has found its home base at the historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Windsor. The orchestra performs multiple concerts here throughout the year as well as at the University of Windsor’s Assumption University Chapel.

Peterborough Symphony Orchestra

The Peterborough Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has been a cornerstone of culture in the community for over 50 years and has grown into one of the finest community-based orchestras in the country. The PSO is committed to high-quality musical performances and education, as well as outreach in the community. The group has maintained the approximate 40 regular players throughout their history of volunteer musicianship, with five professional principal string players. They regularly give performances at the Showplace Performance Centre and participate in local community events, festivals and celebrations.

Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra

Juno nominated Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) is a fully professional orchestra that regularly performs at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium as well as other venues in the area. TBSO prides itself as an ever-evolving orchestra supporting Canadian compositions in its repertoire and celebrating the inclusion of Northern Ontario’s Indigenous, francophone, European and world cultures its performances.

Sudbury Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1953 and incorporated as a charity in 1975, the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has entertained the Sudbury Region and surrounding area ever since. The SSO consists of more than 30 volunteers and professional musicians. The SSO performances are mainly at Fraser Auditorium on the Laurentian University, but also a variety of venues in Sudbury.

Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Formerly known as Ottawa Civic Symphony, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (OSO) had its name change in 1976. OSO has a been involved with nurturing and mentoring young musicians and some of the members of its ensemble are students from the university with which it has formed a relationship. OSO performances are at Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, a historical church that was acquired by Carleton University and transformed into a performance and learning centre.
  

Tips for First Timers to Enjoy the Symphony

  • After the orchestra is seated, the lead first violinist (or concertmaster) will enter. The concertmaster is the second most important person in the orchestra after the conductor. As the bridge to the orchestra, the concertmaster should be greeted with applause.
  • Next, the conductor will enter. Soloists may also accompany the conductor. The conductor should be applauded as well as the soloist.
  • The conductor will indicate when it’s appropriate to clap. You can also follow the lead of your fellow concert goers.
  • Most music theatres are equipped with excellent acoustics so the smallest whispers and rustlings will be amplified, which can be very disruptive. Stay quiet during the performances and turn off your phone.
  • Try to arrive early to be seated on time, as theatres tend to close doors and stop admittance shortly before the performance begins.
  • Many formal performances may be too long for young children. Look for programs specifically designed for teens and young children to entertain and inspire the next generation of music enthusiasts.
     

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