CBC Vancouver Orchestra (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra 1938-1980). Longest-lived regularly performing Canadian radio orchestra, founded in 1938 by Ira Dilworth, who appointed John Avison conductor.
Similar orchestras in Vancouver antedated the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra: the CNRV Concert Orchestra (pre-1934) under Percy Harvey; another, heard around 1935 on CRCV's 'Jewels of the Madonna,' with Jean de Rimanoczy as conductor; and the CBR Concert Orchestra. The CBR SO, founded also by Dilworth and conducted by Arthur Benjamin, flourished in the early 1940s.
The CBC Vancouver Orchestra, however, comprising 25 players (increased to 35 in 1952), was still being heard regularly on the CBC in 1991, 53 years after its inception. Its broadcasts have been produced by Ernest Morgan 1938-1942, David S. Catton 1942-1943, James Finlay 1943-1944, John Barnes 1944-1948, Robert Allen 1948-1952, Robert Turner 1952-1966, Don Campbell 1967-1968, Norman Newton 1968-1979, and George Laverock 1979-1989, succeeded by Karen Wilson in 1989. Its repertoire encompasses the baroque, classic, and romantic periods, the full complement of Canadian works suitable for its instrumentation, and such European and US 20th-century composers as Luciano Berio, Benjamin Britten, Carter, Copland, Luigi Dallapiccola, Fricker, Hartmann, Henze, Bruno Maderna, Nono, Piston, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky, to name only a few. It has premiered more than 200 works by some 80 Canadians: Adaskin, Baker, Bales, Beckwith, Berring, Betts, Chatman, Jean Coulthard, Dela, Dutton, Forsyth, Glick, Goldberg, Healey, Hétu, Chan, Kasemets, Kenins, Koprowski, McDougall, Mather, Nimmons, Papineau-Couture, Pentland, Ridout, Ruhland, Schafer, Schipizky, Symonds, Turner, Weinzweig, Weisgarber, and Wuensch. In 1960, for service to contemporary music, Avison and the orchestra received a commendation from the ISCM.
Over the years guest conductors have included Raffi Armenian, Kees Bakels, Michel Corboz, Victor Feldbrill, Serge Garant, Monica Huggett, Milton Katims, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Ettore Mazzoleni, Harry Newstone, Jaap Schröder, Georg Tintner, Heinz Unger, and Jon Washburn. Most of Canada's leading concert artists have appeared as soloists. Because for some years most of the orchestra's players were members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, public concerts and tours were difficult to schedule. Nevertheless, the orchestra appeared annually 1958-1960 at the Vancouver International Festivals, gave five concerts in 1961 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, toured Saskatchewan in 1967, and performed in communities in the northern part of Vancouver Island 1967-1968.
In 1969 a 26-member ensemble, drawn from the orchestra and governed by a separate board, began to tour as the Vancouver Radio Orchestra. Under Avison the smaller ensemble performed until 1980 in western Canada, the Arctic, the USA (Alaska and Montana), and as far east as Ottawa. John Eliot Gardiner was named Avison's successor in 1980; he was replaced in 1983 by Mario Bernardi, who conducted the orchestra on its visit to Roy Thomson Hall in that year.
In 1980 the orchestra began to offer more public concerts than hitherto, and John Eliot Gardiner began to verse the ensemble in baroque performance practice, introduce period bows and tuning, and concentrate on 17th- and 18th-century works. Under Bernardi the orchestra returned to a more broadly based repertoire, but with special emphasis on contemporary music, especially by Canadian composers.
In the fall of 1988 the orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary by inaugurating the Avison Series, a set of public concerts to be held annually and named in honour of its first conductor.