History of Chamber Music Kelowna

In 1979, Professor Pen Yeh Tsao established the College Concert Series to provide an opportunity for Okanagan College music students to gain performance experience and to hear professional musicians in live performance. In 1981, when the music faculty closed, the series would have ended had it not been for the concerted efforts of a small group of enthusiastic supporters, notably Mary Irwin, Mary Pooley and Dulcie Fry. They distributed posters around town inviting donations to a “save-the-concerts” fund, and presented the proceeds to the College. As a result, the College agreed to continue to donate the use of the theatre and some secretarial assistance. Howard Reimer, and OC faculty members actively involved with the college music series from its inception, became the liaison between the new “Concert Series” and Okanagan College.

For 10 years the Concert Series continued to hold an annual series of three concerts at the Okanagan College theatre, the emphasis being on presenting local musicians. For several years, one annual concert of touring resident artists from the Banff Centre became part of the series.

In 1992 and 1993, the organization officially became a society under the name CMS Chamber Music Society, but used the title Kelowna Chamber Music Series (KCMS) in its publicity.  The liaison with Okanagan University College came to an end, and the series moved to the more acoustically pleasing Alliance Church. It was also at this time that funding from the Provincial lottery was established, which allowed the society to begin presenting national and international touring ensembles and soloists. From this time until 2003, Eileen Powell and Howard Reimer, alternated as President and Program Director. By the turn of the millennium, KCMS was beginning to present five concerts in its series, audience numbers were regularly over 150, with the subscription base of about 90, an annual program was being printed with paid advertising, and annual funding from the City of Kelowna’s Art Foundation was helping to keep the budget in the black.

With the rapid expansion of the city, another opportunity emerged, namely a small theatre in the evolving Cultural District. KCMS’s interest was expressed to the building’s planning committee, and a financial pledge was made and fulfilled. In November 2002, the KCMS chamber music concert was one of the first events to take place in the 330-seat Mary Irwin Theatre – appropriately named after one of the series’ founding members. The intimate atmosphere, the excellent acoustics and visibility, and reserved seating were greatly appreciated. At this time, the society’s name changed to Chamber Music Kelowna Society, the logo was changed, and a website was established. New funding applications to the BC Arts Council and Heritage Canada were successful, ensuring that ensembles could be booked with certainty for the coming season.

In 2004 a liaison was formed with Festival Vancouver, a special summer presentation of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada was established, and Pre-Concert Talks added to the audience’s musical experience. By the end of the 2003-2004 season, subscription sales filled more than half the theatre seats, and concerts were selling out.

The 2004-2005 season began with a gala 25th Anniversary concert, followed by the National Youth Orchestra concert on August 3rd, and participation in the Life and Arts Festival (celebrating Kelowna’s 100th birthday). Under the chairmanship of David Bond, the Board of Directors advanced $15,000 to a new piano fund. This, together with funds from individual donors, the Central Okanagan Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation, and Kelowna Visual and Performing Arts Centre, allowed for the purchase of a new Steinway piano. In celebration of this, in June 2006, Jane Coop performed at a special concert given for the donors to the piano acquisition fund.

The 2006-2007 season (President George Hyde) opened with a wine reception. Cellist David Eggert and the CMK scholarship winners (Copernicus Trio and pianist Evan Berndt) staged a fundraiser. In addition, CMK arranged a masterclass and two school outreach sessions. Concert attendance continued to increase.

In 2007-2008 (President George Hyde), Sylvie Lange took on the role of program director. CMK continued to present the Banff String Quartet Competition winners, and the Honen piano competition laureates. In addition to an Ian Parker masterclass, school outreach programs and a fundraiser with the TinAlley Quartet from Australia were arranged. This was a season that saw successful grant applications, as well as support by RBC and Festival Vancouver sponsorships.

The 2008-2009season (Presidents George Hyde and Brian Hobbs) saw the first Arts and Minds presentation, a collaborative effort with UBCO. President Hobbs launched an initiative with both print media and the CBC to promote marketing and advertising, as well as developing a more prominent presence in the RCA.

The 2009-2010 (President Brian Hobbs) proved to be financially challenging. The BC Provincial Gaming Grants, on which the CMK had been dependent, was discontinued. In addition, that year saw the introduction of HST, with a resultant increase in program costs. Furthermore, a new initiative to add two matinee concerts, resulted in only a minimal increase in total ticket sales and a net loss of revenue.

Nevertheless, artistically, it must be judged a highly successful season. Sponsorships by Windsor Plywood and MusicFest Vancouver supported the opening concert which included a CMK-commissioned work by Marcus Goddard performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. This, as well as the 2003 commissioned work by Imant Raminsh for the Borealis Quartet, were broadcast on the CBC. We were also treated to a concert by Honen’s first Laureate Minsoo Sohn who, at short notice, replaced the 2009 Laureate who was unable to travel to Kelowna. The season also saw the introduction of concert reviews by Marvin Dickau in the Courier.

In 2010-2011 (President Brian Hobbs) it was decided to discontinue the matinee concerts, having been judged not to be financially viable. Although efforts failed to mount an additional concert in conjunction with the wine festival, our donor base did increase. In addition, subscriptions now totaled 250, a remarkable achievement that spoke, and continues to speak, to the high quality of the CMK musical offerings.

Lorna Paterson and Charles Schneider became the artistic directors in 2011, and under president Derald Oldring (2011-2014) subscriptions and single ticket sales continued to increase and most concerts were completely sold out.  Concert series continued to be well received under president Hazel Christy (2014-2017) and through this period, Chamber Music Kelowna began to move towards a more stable administrative and governance framework, while still being a largely volunteer organization.  An electronic filing system was created and necessary changes with respect to the new Not for Profit Act were implemented.

In 2015, with Hazel’s encouragement, the board began to turn its attention to strategic planning and looking ahead to the next five and ten years, began to ask itself how to continue its successful record, how to maintain a healthy subscriber base, where communication and community contacts could be enhanced and what initiatives could be attempted to attract new subscribers, sponsors and volunteers.  One of the key recommendations of the Strategic Plan was to move towards becoming a professional organization with the addition of paid staff. In 2016, a multi-year grant was received from the Central Okanagan Foundation to assist with this process and in February 2017, a part time Coordinator of Operations joined our team.

Musical highlights during this period included: The Tokyo String Quartet on its Farewell Tour on April 12, 2013;  Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra on March 9, 2016; James Ehnes, violin and Andrew Armstrong, piano on May 10, 2016, Andre Laplante on November 25, 2016.  Successful outreaches included performances at UBCO, secondary and elementary schools, master classes and open rehearsals.

The 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, including our celebratory 40th anniversary season were guided by president Louise Wall.  During this time efforts were made to increase community outreach, actively participating in the Kiwanis Music Festival awards, inviting young musicians to provide pre-concert performances and connecting with local service clubs.  Artistic Director responsibilities transitioned from Lorna Paterson and Charles Schneider to Eeva-Maria Kopp.

CMK’s 40th anniversary concert season began with a gala reception and the Borealis String Quartet and Arnold Draper, followed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, then James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong.  Regrettably the emergence and spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), travel restrictions and limits on public gatherings forced the sudden cancellation of the last two concerts of the 2019-20 season, Robert DeMaine, cello and Peter Takacs, piano and the Montrose Trio.  We hope to invite these wonderful musicians back to perform in Kelowna in the future.

In June 2020, Diane Bond was elected president of the CMK Board. Under her guidance, the Board took advantage of the concert hiatus caused by Covid-19 to focus on introducing several improvements to the society. A new website was launched in November 2020, allowing CMK donors to make donations online (using the CanadaHelps platform), and allowing subscribers to sign in for a new e-newsletter. As concerts during this period had to be cancelled or postponed depending on public health restrictions related to the pandemic, the newsletter proved to be a very valuable tool to keep subscribers informed at all times. A new subscriber / donor database was built to provide more flexibility in updating subscribers’ contact information as well as to facilitate the production of donation reports. In November 2020, the Arnold Draper Fund for Young Artists was created.  Managed by the Central Okanagan Foundation, the fund had reached $20,000 at the end of 2021. CMK pledged to match these funds at 50 cents to the dollar to a maximum of $10,000. 

The 2021-22 season proved again to be unpredictable as Covid guidelines continued to affect presentations.  Due to public health restrictions on gatherings, we were able to present only one concert in the fall 2021 period, the Gryphon Trio.  Artistic director Eeva-Maria Kopp moved back to her home country of Finland in November 2020, but continued to help reschedule canceled concerts for CMK to the 2021-22 season and 2022-23 seasons. In January 2022, Patricia Tao, a pianist and member of the Faculty of Music at the University of Alberta and a new resident of Kelowna, joined the CMK Board and assumed responsibility for artistic planning for the 2022-23 and future seasons.

As we look forward to the next 40 years, CMK is working toward sustainability for arts and culture in the Okanagan Valley and “….to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”  Leonard Bernstein.