Toronto Mandolin Orchestra
The Toronto Mandolin Orchestra is the premier mandolin orchestra in North America.”
- Charley Rappaport, mandolinist and mandolin historian, Erie, PA.
Founded in 1956, the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra is one of Canada’s oldest community performing groups. The orchestra’s illustrious history includes performances in such prestigious venues as Massey Hall, Ontario Place Forum, Hamilton Place, and National Arts Centre, concert tours across Canada, two separate tours of Ukraine, as well as commissions of new Canadian compositions, and milestone collaborations with world-class artists. Though founded in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, the group’s membership (Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, Italian, Yugoslavian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Dutch, English, Peruvian and more) is as ethnically diverse as its repertoire which spans classical, folk, popular and Canadian music.
The TMO’s unique instrumentation sets it apart from all other orchestras. Featuring the mandolin family of instruments in place of violins (first and second mandolin, mandola, tenor mandolin, mandocello, mandobass), augmented by a five piece wind section and complete percussion section, the orchestra combines the intimacy of a chamber ensemble with all the power of a symphony, appealing as much to lovers of classical and baroque music as to fans of folk and world music.
In 2001 the TMO hosted “Mandolins of the World,” the Annual Convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA). Highlighting the multicultural nature of both Toronto and the mandolin itself, the convention presented five amazing days of workshops and concerts featuring a vast range of mandolin music from around the world. The success of this event sparked new ventures for the TMO, including the initiation of a concert series known as “Mandolins of the World” performed in Hamilton Place, Showplace Peterborough and Toronto.
The Toronto Mandolin Orchestra proudly celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006. From as early as 1921 string orchestras, combining mandolins and violins, existed in the Toronto Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC) where the TMO finds its roots. But in 1956 Eugene Dolny, then conductor of the orchestra, revived the exclusive use of mandolins in the string section in order to preserve and perpetuate the tradition of mandolin orchestral music in Canada. At that time the orchestra took the name Toronto Mandolin Orchestra.
In celebrating its 50 years, the TMO also celebrated the historical significance of mandolin schools and orchestras in many different communities throughout Canada and North America. Such schools, and subsequently orchestras, were established in the early 1920s in the Jewish, Macedonian, Russian, Finnish, Greek, German and other ethnic groups, including university fraternities. Many musicians in the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra today have their roots in those early mandolin schools of the different ethnic groups.
What made the mandolin so popular and widespread? The best authorities agree that the Neapolitan mandolin, developed in Italy, originated from the family of plectrum instruments in various parts of Asia. The mandolin was played as a concert instrument with music written for it by such composers as Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and later Mahler, Prokofiev and others.
As it spread throughout Europe, the mandolin was adopted by many as a folk instrument. It is relatively easy to play due to the fretting and is comfortable to hold and carry. Although it was played widely in Ukraine, it was never adopted as a traditional folk instrument of that country as was the bandura.
The mandolin accompanied immigrants from European countries, including Ukraine, to all corners of the world. The existence today of the Federation of Mandolin Ensembles in Australiaand the Keio Mandolin Club of Japan attests to this.
The mandolin was brought to North America as well. At the turn of century, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co. was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan and began to produce the complete family of mandolins, from prima to mando-bass.
The “flat-back” style mandolin, not only Gibson instruments, but Lyon and Healy, Martin and other brands became the accepted instrument.
By the early 1920s the production of these instruments had reached its peak and their popularity became widespread. This was also due in part to the organization by the Gibson Co. of small touring groups utilizing the family of mandolins in order to promote their product. They also published music arranged for mandolin orchestras and ensembles. The wellknown American music publisher, Carl Fischer, also issued music for mandolin orchestras: Progressive Mandolin Orchestra Edition and Mandolin Club Publications.
In Canada the mandolin became popular, not only in the Ukrainian immigrant community, but in many others. It was soon incorporated into ethnic cultural associations and clubs, forming large schools for children, especially those from working class families who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study music.
In 1930 you could buy a mandolin for as little as $5.75 and lessons were 25¢ a week. These mandolin schools, in many different immigrant communities, became a social phenomenon. Parents who loved music and their cultural heritage were now able to educate, within their financial means, a generation of children some of whom would make music their livelihood.
Over the decades the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra has become an outstanding exponent of Ukrainian orchestral music as well as classical, folk and contemporary music. It reached a professional level of performance under the talented leadership of the late Eugene Dolny and continues to grow in quality of performance under the direction of the highly qualified and gifted musician Alexander Veprinsky.
Today the repertoire of the orchestra numbers over 200 selections, many of them major compositions such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for domra soloist and orchestra, the completePeter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, Shostakovich’s Finale of Violin Concerto N 1 (the Burlesque), also for domra soloist with orchestra, and the most recent – Night on Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky.
The orchestra performs annually at Glenn Gould Studio and other venues, as well as part of the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble in a number of programs and venues.
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