How do you get to symphonic Whistler? Practice 

The students coming to the VSO Orchestral Institute at Whistler next month will have the learning opportunity of a lifetime as they train with professionals from the Vancouver Symphony

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE, COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER - Master class Performers from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, who have previously played in Whistler, will staff the VSO Orchestral Institute this summer.
  • Photo by Mike Crane, courtesy of Tourism Whistler
  • Master class Performers from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, who have previously played in Whistler, will staff the VSO Orchestral Institute this summer.

The songbirds in Whistler will get plenty of competition as music makers this summer.

In just six weeks, the resort will be getting its own symphony orchestra.

Seventy-two young musicians from around the world will arrive to take part in the inaugural year of the VSO Orchestral Institute at Whistler, from June 28 to July 5, attending master classes and instrument-specific training, and practicing... practicing... practicing.

"It's really taking shape now, really exciting. We're starting to dig into the scheduling, assign times," says Christin Reardon MacLellan, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's (VSO) education and community programs manager.

The students range in age from 15 to 25 and come from all over the world. Only a third are from the Greater Vancouver region. Tuition, including lodging, is $1,250, with scholarships available.

"The skill level is quite high. They are mostly undergraduate university students, a handful of graduate students and several really talented high school students who are able to play up to a similar level," says Reardon MacLellan.

"With music it's not so much the age, it's the ability level. We're finding that for the institute's first year that level is quite high. It lends very well to the repertoire we're playing.

An average day at the institute will be extremely intensive for the students, Reardon MacLellan says.

"They have master classes, sectional rehearsals and chamber music rehearsals. Every student is placed into a chamber ensemble, so they will be around the village taking part in those things. We have structured their time so there will be blocks of time where the students will be free to explore Whistler, and they also get to take advantage of everything the VSO is doing."

The rehearsals will take place almost every day, led by the VSO's principal conductor Bramwell Tovey.

Maestro Tovey will be very hands-on — baton-on, if you prefer — with all of the rehearsals under his direction.

"He's an absolute master of working with students. He loves it," Reardon MacLellan says.

Along with a main concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza at the end of the program, members of the public will be able to attend these rehearsals, a faculty recital and a student chamber concert.

Other venues include The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Millennium Place, the Tantalus Lodge and the Summit Hotel.

"It will be spread out but everything is close to get to," Reardon MacLellan says.

"The students are going all the time, we're keeping them busy, but we made sure to leave them some time so that they are able to experience Whistler."

Reardon MacLellan says the institute completes the aims of the VSO in "covering everything that needs to be covered" in their education department.

"It's different from what we offer in Vancouver because it is such a high-level institute, dealing with orchestral musicians in training. Our (Vancouver-based ongoing) education program, while also at a fantastic level, deals more with elementary and high school students," she says.

Whistler as the location and the provider of services "has been fantastic," she adds.

"It's so interesting, the way this partnership has been structured. We talk all the time about how amazing it is to work with the folks from the RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler)," Reardon MacLellan says.

The institute fits in with the RMOW Learning and Education Task Force plan to diversify Whistler's tourism offerings.

"It's kind of a match made in heaven because we have great things happening here at the VSO and you have great things happening there. In terms of Whistler from the resort perspective, I can't imagine a better place for a student to go."

The faculty has now been selected, too; 22 talented members of the VSO ranging from principal harpist Elizabeth Volpe Bligh to assistant principal cellist Zoltan Rozsnyai.

"We made sure we had one specialist on every instrument," Reardon MacLellan says.

"When it's this specialized and you're a flutist coming from the U.S. you're going to be discerning. If they know they will be studying with (principal flute player) Christie Reside, then they will want to be counted in."

The repertoire is still being finalized, Reardon MacLellan says, but on the shortlist are Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Strauss's Ein Heidenleben, Mozart's Symphony No. 41, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev.

"This list can be played by the different types of orchestras we could have. The Mozart, for example, accommodates a smaller orchestra. There's not as many wind and brass players," Reardon MacLellan says.

"But we're seeing that we will be able go on the larger orchestra side of things. Romantic music. I think it will be a great program."

The learning curves in year one of the institute have not been too steep, thanks to smart staffing, she says.

"This is our field and this is what we know... and I think it has served us well," says Reardon MacLellan. "Everybody made a commitment that this was going to happen."

For more information on the VSO Orchestral Institute at Whistler, visit



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