April 13, 2024


Roll over Beethoven – the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra is on the rise.
Featuring over 40 members and seven lead players, they’ve become a staple in the community’s spotlight and have been impressing local audiences for years.
The orchestra formed in December 2003, after Cambridge’s first Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. The orchestra was originally lead by Anne Green, the owner of a music school in downtown Hespeler, as she pitched the idea of an orchestra and became their first conductor. 
The orchestra originally featured 20 amateur musicians and played their first concert in June at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts the following year.
The orchestra continued to grow and in 2007 they received their first grant as well as a new conductor. After announcing they were searching for a conductor, the orchestra received 15 applicants. After viewing them, the committee agreed on Sabatino Vacca.
“Sabatino was the unanimous first choice and he’s been with us ever since,” said Jill Summerhayes, the orchestra’s treasurer and ambassador. “We’re very lucky to have Sabatino because it’s not a highly paying position and he has such a huge network of musicians that he’s worked with.”
As well as Cambridge’s orchestra, Vacca is also the conductor for Opera Belcanto, music director for the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra and artistic director for Opera York. Although he works with many musicians, he praised Cambridge’s orchestra for its diversity of professional and amateur musicians.
“The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra started in 2004 so it is still relatively very young and developing,” he said. “By contrast Etobicoke is in its 51st season – the two opera groups employ completely professional orchestras for their productions whereas the CSO is a mixture of professional and community players.”
The orchestra is the only symphony in Canada that honours a “pay-as-you-can” policy. This policy allows children and low-income people to attend a concert for a reasonable cost. Summerhayes said the purpose is to take away from the elitist stereotype that is usually attached with an orchestra.
“Some people pay $50 because they know that enables a family from maybe the food bank to come and bring their kids who would never be able to afford to otherwise,” she said. “Some kids put their annual allowance in the little envelopes, and it might only be $2, but we know it has come from a kid and that’s great.”
Their policy also encourages an increased interest in classical music with younger generations because of the unique access to the concerts. Organizations such as Popcorn House, which is run by people who believe children should be rounded in all aspects of life, bring kids to the concerts.
The orchestra performs five concerts each year, including a Christmas concert, and holds an annual fundraiser in February held at Cambridge City Hall. The concert is the only performance where there is a cover charge – this year’s event was held on Feb. 10 and cost $75 per person which resulted in a profit of $7,500 for the orchestra. 
“It costs us about $5,000 to put on each concert because we have to pay insurance, we have to pay rent, sheet music is very expensive, then, of course, we pay Sabatino – it’s really an honourarium and we pay our lead players,” said Summerhayes.
The evening was highlighted with catering, a silent auction and guest opera singers which included Rachel Cleland, Romulo Delgado and Gary Relyea — who has sung around the world.
The orchestra strives for challenging new pieces to play and rarely repeats their repertoire.
“It has grown much faster in its professionalism and repertoire than most orchestras do within their first seven years,” said Summerhayes.
The orchestra’s next concert, which is entitled Classic Gold from the Movies, will be held on April 20 at Forward Baptist Church at 8 p.m. For more information visit www.cambridgeorchestra.ca.
“We’re always grateful to our audiences who are very supportive of the orchestra’s presence in the community,” said Vacca. “We look forward to growing our audiences as the orchestra also continues to grow and develop and offer programs with lots of variety and appeal.”