Symphony on the Bay is a community-based volunteer symphony orchestra serving Hamilton, Burlington and surrounding areas. We offer diverse, challenging concert programs at affordable prices. Now entering its 42nd year, Symphony on the Bay plays an important role for aspiring young musicians through its annual Young Artists Competition. Assistant conductors enjoy regular guest conducting opportunities.

Great Beginnings

Symphony on the Bay began in September of 1973 as the McMaster Symphony Orchestra, a campus-community orchestra under the leadership of Dr Lee Hepner. The Inaugural Concert took place at Mohawk College Theatre on November 29, 1973. The McMaster Symphony Orchestra was performing in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place by 1979, drawing as many as 1200 in the audience. It registered as a charitable organization in 1981. The February 7, 1982 concert, with Valerie Tryon as soloist, is representative of Dr Hepner’s programming. The orchestra left McMaster University in 1988 and became the Greater Hamilton Symphony Association, an independent community orchestra operating under the name of Symphony Hamilton. The orchestra still maintains its original objectives:

  • to perform symphonic music of high quality;
  • to stimulate excellence in instrumental performance;
  • to support, improve, and expand the musical opportunities for those living in the Hamilton and Burlington regions.

Following the untimely death of Lee Hepner in 1986, Matthew Airhart was appointed Music Director for two seasons. McMaster University severed ties with the orchestra in 1988. Distinguished guest conductors Roberto Da Clara, Morley Calvert, Peter Oleskevitch, Voltr Ivanofski and Clyde Mitchell led the orchestra from 1988 until 1990. Clyde Mitchell was appointed Music Director in 1990 and was succeeded by James R. McKay in 1995. James McKay retired at the beginning of the 2014-15 season and was granted the title of Music Director Emeritus in recognition of his 19 years in that position. Guest conductors Claudio Vena, Denis Mastromonaco, Laura Thomas and David Holler led the orchestra in 2014 and 2015. Claudio Vena was appointed Music Director in December, 2015.

Symphony on the Bay

In 2011, the orchestra was re-branded as Symphony on the Bay, to reflect its importance in the wider Hamilton-Burlington region, and began performing in its beautiful and acoustically stunning new home, the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

Symphony on the Bay plays an important role in expanding the opportunities for enjoyment of music in the Hamilton and Burlington regions, by offering attractive and diverse concert programs at affordable prices. It provides musical training and enrichment for aspiring young musicians and qualified amateur players who enjoy the privilege of playing challenging symphonic music along with a core of professionals. Since its inception, more than 500 musicians have performed with our orchestra and many of them have gone on to distinguished professional careers in Canada and internationally. Symphony on the Bay and its predecessors have performed with the Hamilton Suzuki School of Music, the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Mohawk College Singers, the Guelph Chamber Choir, the Brampton Festival Singers, the choir of First-St Andrews United Church of London, Ontario, Masterworks of Oakville, KooGle Theatre Company, Burlington Civic Chorale and other regional ensembles.

The Symphony on the Bay Young Artists Competition, held annually since 1991, offers junior and senior winners the unparalleled opportunity to perform concerto movements with full orchestra, and reveals year after year the tremendous depth of talent and quality of music education in the Hamilton-Burlington region.

Throughout its history, the Symphony has attracted support from a broad base. Granting agencies such as the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Community Foundation, The Ontario Trillium Foundation and Canadian Heritage have provided funding, and institutions such as McMaster University and Mohawk College have furnished valuable resources. In addition, local corporations, businesses, community organizations and numerous individuals have supported the orchestra with their donations, purchases of program advertising, and donations in kind.

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