In the Beginning 1954–1962
In 1954, Richard Eaton and Dorothie Langmo sounded out other local musicians about forming a group for the performance and enjoyment of chamber music in Edmonton. Receiving an enthusiastic response, they formed a four-person executive committee with Dorothie as President, and the Edmonton Chamber Music Society was born. The new group did not lack for ambition, declaring their programs “will feature a variety of complete chamber works, such as sonatas, trios, string quartets, woodwind and brass ensembles and some unique combinations such as four ‘cellos – all directed toward building orchestral chamber works in concerti grossi.”
The first concert was presented in the University of Alberta’s Convocation Hall on January 20, 1955. Two more concerts followed that winter at a price of $1 for all three, and free for students. By the third concert, the series attracted an audience of about 100 and a review in the Edmonton Journal. From the second season on, five concerts were presented at a cost of $2.50, free for students. Sponsorship by the University provided free use of Convocation Hall.
At that time, classical musicians were being drawn to play and teach in Edmonton by the new Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) and the University of Alberta’s Music Division in the Department of Fine Arts. For the ECMS, musicians played without fees for the love and enjoyment of music. Soon calling themselves the Edmonton Chamber Music Players, they numbered more than 20 and combined their talents variously in duos, trios, quartets, string orchestras and even chamber orchestras.
From the beginning, the development of young Edmonton musicians was central to the ECMS. In a 1957 letter to members, president Anne Burrows wrote, “We feel that with all the help we are getting, we can move forward a great step in fostering not only chamber music, but some real Canadian talent.” Besides free student admission, each season featured a bonus concert performed by the Junior Chamber Music Society, comprised of music students often coached by ECMS members.
1960s Turning Points
Tom Rolston came to Edmonton in 1958 as concertmaster of the ESO. He attended ECMS concerts, calling them “very nice events, very simple homespun affairs; but I thought we could do more than that.” At his instigation, the Society became affiliated with George Zukerman’s “Overture Concert Canada” and began to attract national and international groups. 1962/63 was the first season under this exciting new arrangement, and it opened with a concert by the Fine Arts String Quartet of Chicago. For the next ten years, ECMS seasons consisted of three or four concerts by visiting professional artists and one or two concerts by the Edmonton Chamber Music Players.
Tom Rolston also suggested that the ECMS become a registered society with a structured expanded executive and defined aims, policies and procedures. This was speedily accomplished by the executive committee under the presidency of Russell Nye, and the ECMS was granted registered and non-profit status in 1965.
1970s-1980s Growth and Maturity
As audiences grew steadily, the ECMS season evolved in the 1970s to feature only international and national professional ensembles. The ECMS continued as it had from its beginning as an entirely volunteer and membership-based society, and until 1989 concert attendance required the payment of an annual membership fee. This entitled members to attend all concerts; there was no provision for individual concert tickets. An exception was made for occasional extra concerts such as one by the fledgling Tafelmusik in 1983.
Convocation Hall continued as the usual venue until 1977 when audience growth prompted a move to the University’s 700-seat SUB Theatre, later named the Myer Horowitz Theatre. Membership peaked at over 800 in the mid-1970s and included a large contingent of students. In the 1990s, most concerts moved back to the Society’s original home, Convocation Hall.
Early Music Series
To appeal to early music aficionados, a three-concert Early Music Series was added in 1989/90 under the leadership of long-time program convenor Don Morrish. Also at this time, individual concert tickets became available, providing the option of either single tickets or subscriptions to the regular or Early Music concert seasons. The Early Music Series continued until the 50th anniversary season, 2004/05.
Summer Solstice Music Festival
A wonderful addition to Edmonton’s vibrant festival scene debuted in 2008. That year Dr. Patricia Tao organized the first ECMS Summer Solstice Music Festival and she has continued as its Artistic Director ever since. Patricia, also a member of the ECMS Board, brings together chamber musicians who often do not perform together, offering Edmonton a unique musical experience during several sunny days in June.
The heart of an organization like the ECMS is its programming. Artistic directors maintain awareness of outstanding and emerging national and international musicians, and taking local audience preferences into consideration, they build an interesting, balanced season every year. The ECMS has had many program directors, all contributing their expertise and energy on a volunteer basis. Among those who served for several years were Tom Rolston in the 1960s, John Charles in the 1980s, and Patricia Tao in the past decade and currently. With by far the longest and most influential tenure is the current co-Artistic Director, Don Morrish. After serving as President in 1983/84 and 1984/85, he has led the ECMS programming continuously since then.
Support for Young Musicians
A consistent feature throughout the ECMS history is its welcome and development of young musicians and music lovers. This takes the form of affordable student tickets, master classes with renowned professional musicians, scholarships for post-secondary music students, performance opportunities, paid internships, and governance participation via a student representative on the Board.
Volunteers and Benefactors
The ECMS has always enjoyed essential support from its many volunteers, donors and sponsors. Volunteers contribute their time and talents to provide all services including programming, publicity, fundraising, administration, concert and front of house management. Donors, corporate sponsors, and government agencies provide vital financial support. The ECMS would not exist without the continuing commitment and generosity of these individuals and organizations.
In 2019 the ECMS celebrated its first 65 years. It looks forward to continuing its raison d’être: Promoting the appreciation and understanding of chamber music through the presentation of intimate, classical music concerts by solo and chamber ensembles of world-caliber musicians and through educational and outreach activities.
Submitted by Kathy Carter
Sources include Edmonton Chamber Music Society, 1954-2003 by Renate von Koenigsloew, long-time historian of the ECMS; Don Morrish, long-time President of the ECMS; A Passion for Music: a biography of Richard S. Eaton by Margaret C. Matheson (Edmonton: Spotted Cow Press, 2001); and articles in the Edmonton Journal.
Past Presidents of the Edmonton Chamber Music Society
|G.T. (Ted) Lindskoog
|H.D. (Toby) Smith
|Russell Nye, Robert Stangeland
|G.A. (Gerry) Mulhall
|Dorcas Fulton, Karen Fingas