It is Saturday night, the start of the North Bay Symphony’s 2023-2024 season.
I arrive well ahead of time, but already the parking lot at the Capitol Centre is full, and surprisingly, there is a long line of people outside eagerly waiting to claim their seats.
I eventually join the lineup and am soon ushered to my seat a few rows from the front of the stage.
I see people with drinks and snacks in hand getting comfortable in their seats, settling in for an evening of incredible music.
People could be heard excitedly greeting those around them, picking up where they left off at the end of last season.
A few rows behind me, two women could be seen engaging their young sons in conversation, setting the scene, explaining what was about to unfold.
The boys who appeared to be around 10 years old, excitedly point towards the stage, making commentary about the musical instruments being gently cradled by orchestra members.
All eyes turn to the stage as music director, Dr. Joshua Wood is introduced, and the first piece is played.
“Primarily I conduct the orchestra at the concerts. I lay the groundwork for the artistic season, so in terms of planning mainly repertoire and guest artists and things like that in collaboration with some of the board and some of the staff as well,” explained Wood.
Attracting new patrons and introducing young people like the two little boys in the audience to this style of music is important to the symphony.
Many of its performances are free for children, and student rates apply.
“There are definitely ticket prices geared towards bringing younger people into the hall. Also, in some of our programming, we try to make concerts that have a lot of variety to them. So, for example, in the fall concert, we had Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21. We also had three works from Canadian composers from the last 50 or so years,” Wood shared.
“Piano concertos are pieces that are really amazing to see played by a wonderful player, which we do have in this case, Chloe Weston was our first soloist and she’s from North Bay. So, seeing her playing the piano at that level and combined with all the instruments of the orchestra is a pretty amazing spectacle.”
The music director says the notion that concerts are stuffy affairs couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We have a little bit of everything. The music, the composition, the composers, the history of it is anything but stuffy. There have been some very, very interesting people writing and the music itself is not stuffy at all,” stated Wood.
” It’s exciting, it is upbeat, it has tons of variety, and it is just something that as a classical musician, you just kind of fall in love with this type of music, just so rich and varied. And it just makes you imagine things and feel things. So, for me, I don’t feel stuffy about it at all.”
The musicians work hard to perfect their craft.
“We have a group of local musicians who rehearse every week and then we bring in several musicians from other places in the north and some from Toronto for each concert to make sure we have a full orchestra.”
The main series is with the full 50-person orchestra. The chamber ensemble is a smaller group, usually between four and 10 players.
The first chamber event of the season, Strings and Brass, will be held on Sunday, November 19 at 2 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church.
In December, a Canada-centred performance called One Magic (Canadian) Christmas is sure to delight people of all ages.
“For the Christmas concert, we have the musical version of The Hockey Sweater which is a classic Canadian story. That concert is really geared towards children and towards our Canadian heritage,” shared Wood.
“And then in February we have a concert with a group called Jeans n’ Classics, and they’re putting on a show that’s called Back to Back: the music of Billy Joel and Elton John. So, they’re like a rock group, they have these amazing singers and then they work with orchestras and that will be us.”
Wood, a native of London, Ontario has studied, performed, and taught music throughout Canada and the United States.
“There is one thing that I’ve noticed in North Bay and in Sudbury and in Timmins, it’s amazing how much music and how much art, how much culture there is in these northern communities. And it depends on a very dedicated group of volunteers which we certainly have here in North Bay. And a group of very talented local musicians.”
To make itself sustainable, many symphonies have changed with the times.
“It depends on where you are. I think one difference with symphonic music now as opposed to say 50 or 60 years ago, is that you have to go out and get your audience. Whereas before it was like if you were programming a certain type of music, you knew people would show up. Now you have to be creative in how you attract people, you have to make sure your programming has good variety. You have to make sure that you are insisting on being an asset to the community, that has to drive everything you’re doing,” said the music director.
“ You have to really try and make sure you’re something the community is proud of and wants to have around and you can tell certainly from the support we have throughout the season, from our patrons, from our sponsors, from our volunteers. You can tell there are a lot of people who want to have this type of music around.”
Wood suggests if you haven’t given the symphony a try, take a look at their schedule for the year.
“And see what tickles your fancy. For concerts like Billy Joel and Elton John, obviously, we’re going for a broader appeal. And the goal here is to show the Symphony Orchestra is a really varied ensemble. It can certainly play classics that everybody knows like Beethoven, Mozart Bach, this type of thing. But it can also do pop shows, it can also do film music, it can also do jazz. It is just a really wonderful ensemble to have in the city that we can bring in all these different types of music,” Wood proudly stated.
“ So, my advice is to look at the schedule and give it a try. It makes a really nice date night, so if you’re trying to impress someone you’re interested in, it is just a nice experience, grab a bite to eat or go for a drink and make a nice night of it,” Wood grinned.
“We are so fortunate here to have the Capitol Centre. To have a venue like that to perform in, you’re going to have a really pleasant experience.”