A battle to save the CBC Radio Orchestra

Anger is mounting throughout the classical-music community over the announcement that the Vancouver-based CBC Radio Orchestra, the last radio orchestra in North America, is to be scrapped, and will perform its last concert in November.

Members of the orchestra were called to a closed-door meeting at 4:30 p.m. yesterday (March 27) with the head of CBC Radio music, Mark Steinmetz. According to Colin Miles, B.C. regional director of the Canadian Music Centre, the players were given less than 24-hours notice to attend the private meeting, which took place at the Georgian Court Hotel downtown. The 45 contract players were told that they would perform for the last time this November.

“This is a bad decision; it’s an ill-informed decision. It’s a decision that needs to be reversed,” Miles, who has subbed with the CBC Radio Orchestra and plays viola with the Vancouver Opera orchestra, told the Straight. “We’re taking steps. My executive director [Elisabeth Bihl] is meeting with the minister of heritage. It’s a national issue. We take it very seriously.”

The CBC Radio Orchestra’s mandate, as stated on its Web site, is to “to make engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform works by Canadian composers, showcase Canadian performers and conductors, and discover and expose Canadian excellence”.

The dismantling of the orchestra, formed in 1938, is the latest in a string of decisions that have seen classical music losing time slots on the public broadcaster’s airwaves. Recent decisions have moved classical music away from morning, afternoon, and evening slots. Popular classical CBC shows including Music & Company, Here’s to You, Studio Sparks, and DiscDrive have all been scheduled for cancellation. Last year, Music for a While, Two New Hours, Symphony Hall, The Singer and the Song, and Northern Lights were cut. The CBC Young Composers Competition was also recently terminated.

Jeff Keay, a spokesperson for the CBC, told the Straight, “The nature of managing finite resources is that you have to make difficult decisions based on the amount of resources that you have....We did a very detailed evaluation of this, and we determined that at the end of the day we could bring more music to Radio 2 by pursuing initiatives with existing music organizations rather than supporting the infrastructure of the CBC orchestra. I don’t think anyone liked the decision, obviously, but part of the nature of having to make decisions on resources is that you have to make hard decisions.”

By Friday (March 28) morning, a new Facebook group, Save the CBC Radio Orchestra!, had 336 members. Another group, Save Classical Music at the CBC, had over 8,000 members. Online petitions to restore classical music programming on CBC Radio 2 can be found at radio2forum.ca and petitionspot.com/petitions/cbcradio2.

“In every sense, the CBC Radio Orchestra is fulfilling the mandate of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation...and I’d say that the people in charge of radio now are not fulfilling the mandate,” said Miles. “They’re out of touch with the mandate, they’re out of touch with the broadcast act, and they’re out of touch with a big part of the Canadian public....I think it [the cutting of the CBC Radio Orchestra] could be a turning point....We’ve seen a lot of these misguided decisions in which they really are not following the CBC mandate. This just follows on that. This may be the issue on which we can make a fight, on which we can turn things around.”

See also: Harper remakes Canada one orchestra at a time




Mar 28, 2008 at 8:44pm

I would ask the following question.. If this orchestra was based in say, Montreal, or, Quebec, or Toronto do you think for one minute that this move of abolishment would even be considered.. I think not. Canada, as all true Canadians know and acknowledge , is that Canada in all its glory, begins at Quebec City, is a approximately one hundred miles wide, extends westward to Windsor and encompasses a goodly percentage of the Canadian Population, so this is where you find the good things, where money flows freely from the Government coffers and there would always be money for their orchestra, or museum, or some old building deemed heritage. Is this perception , or , is this fact ? In essence because this heritage musical ensemble we call a CBC orchestra is located in the west, west of Windsor, that is, it will be decimated, destroyed and rapidly forgotten because it is not of the east but of the west. Need anymore be said ?


Mar 28, 2008 at 11:49pm


I agree with the last comment. The destruction of Canada's national orchestra is a slap in the face to Vancouver. It is a particularly stinging blow given that so many Vancouver based CBC programs such as disc drive are being sent to the scrap heap. The morning and afternoon commutes will no longer be the same without Disc Drive and Music & Company. I am saddened and angry by the disdain that CBC's top brass has for classical programming.


Mar 29, 2008 at 9:44pm

Whether the decision to scrap the CBC Radio Orchestra has to do with it being in Vancouver may be debatable, but the repercussions will be felt nationwide. As a supporter of Canadian composers and emerging talent, the orchestra has played a large role in nurturing the talents of artists from across the country.

If you are so inclined, the Canadian League of Composers National Council is asking concerned citizens to send letters to the following people:

Mark Steinmetz, Director, CBC Radio Music: mark_steinmetz@cbc.ca

Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director of CBC English Radio:

Robert Rabinovitch, President and CEO, CBC: robert_Rabinovitch@cbc.ca

Peter Herrndorf, Member of the CBC board of directors:

Josée Verner, Member of Parliament, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and
Official Languages:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Mauril Bélanger,
Liberal Critic for Canadian Heritage, La Francophonie and Official Languages:

Charlie Angus, NDP Culture Critic:


Mar 30, 2008 at 2:08pm

What the CBC top brass are doing is an attempt to take classical music out of the homes and cars of the middle and working classes who can't afford to pay for weekly opera concerts or satellite radio installed in their convertibles. In the USA, classical music tends to be the exclusive preserve of the upper classes because most people can't afford to pay for regular live concerts or donate to PBS. As such, the elite has appropriate classical music in the USA and this is what the CBC brass wants to do in Canada. This is not true in Europe where stations such as the BBC bring first rate classical fare into the homes of EVERYONE if they so choose. I realize that CBC feels they must appeal to the Tim Horton crowd but if anybody has ever attended the Symphony Splash in Victoria realizes what mass appeal classical music has when it is accessible and doesn't cost $. Every summer, the Inner Harbour of Victoria is closed for a giant open air free classical concert. 40,000 or more people of all ages and economic backgrounds crowd the causeways and promenades to listen to great music. In Europe, concerts like that are regular occurances. It is interesting that CBC management never thought of doing that with the radio orchestra - are they trying to keep classical music away from the little people? I believe they are taking classical music away from the public and for that, they deserve to be loudly condemned.


Apr 1, 2008 at 3:33am

Sign the online petition at <a href="http://www.savecbcorchestra.com">SaveCBCOrchestra.com</a>

Write a letter, post a rant, comment, or resource, and pass this URL on. If we all pass it on, we'll start a viral war against the war on culture (what fun!). Maybe even save the orchestra.


Allison Tremblay

Apr 2, 2008 at 10:22am

I and my friends and colleagues are extremely concerned with the future of classical music at the CBC. Recent cutbacks and decisions make it clear that the traditional format of CBC radio is no longer of interest to the CBC. New programs present music of music that has its own venues (international music, for example) or music of dubious artistic value. CBC used to be a place to give artists, directors and composers a place to get their start and share their musical vision with Canada. You launched the careers of many prominent Canadians. You supported the arts.

The most recent decision to cut the CBC Radio Orchestra is yet another decision which is a shattering blow to Canada. That the decision was made in one day with no consultation or warning only makes it worse. Those musicians deserved better; Canada deserves better.

The choir that I sing in, Elektra, is played on CBC. We sell CDs because of getting played on CBC. We are heard across Canada because of the CBC. The CBC was the only place that played choral music. It was the only place for opera, orchestral and solo classical works.

It is a constant struggle to keep artistic pursuits alive in this country. It is a struggle for funding, a struggle for space. It is a struggle that is worth it, because what we do brings beauty into people’s lives. It is that beauty that your latest decisions threatens to destroy. Now, we have to struggle against the CBC, too.

I demand that you reverse your decision to terminate the CBC Radio Orchestra, and reconsider your recent decisions to whittle away the traditions of classical music at the CBC.

Allison Tremblay
Singer, student and friend of classical music
Vancouver, BC

Dominique Bernath

Apr 2, 2008 at 12:48pm

To all parties involved;

Below is a form letter which I fully support regarding the status of the CBC National Radio Orchestra. I am a symphony musician in the interior orchestras of British Columbia (Okanagan, Prince George and Kamloops) but reside in Coquitlam and have played with the Vancouver Symphony since 1995. On a personal note - I worry that if our government can't even recognize the value of our CBC in both the programming and its orchestra, then what's to keep the smaller Canadian communities from losing hope in their own classical connection with their regional orchestras?

"I am writing to express my immense dissatisfaction and anger with your decision to dismantle the CBC National Radio Orchestra. The National Radio Orchestra is the last remaining broadcasting ensemble in North America. Its mandate to commission and perform Canadian music makes it an invaluable resource for Canadian musicians and performers. Your decision to terminate it reveals an incredible shortsightedness and disrespect to the Canadian cultural values. I am outraged that this decision was taken without any consultation with the musical and cultural community and that the players and other concerned parties were deliberately left in the dark and wouldn't have even known about this decision beforehand hadn't it been a leak of information.

I am extremely disappointed and enraged that you have decided to terminate one of the most important Canadian musical traditions.

I ask you to show responsibility and respect to Canadian culture and to reverse your decision immediately."

Dominique Bernath --
Principal Timpani/Percussion, Okanagan Symphony Orchestra;
Director, Willingdon Fine Arts Academy.


Apr 11, 2008 at 2:12pm

Sign the petition to save the CBC Radio Orchestra:
<a href="http://www.savecbcorchestra.com">SaveCBCOrchestra.com</a>

Since the site's April 1st launch, an average of 1000 people per day have signed the petition. 10,000 signatories by the end of Friday April 11.

Sign the petition, view the petition, leave a comment, pass on the URL to other concerned Canadians.

Tom S