ESO's 2024/25 season dazzles with Tchaikovsky, Beethoven's concertos and symphonic Ghostbusters

The symphony’s new program will incorporate rare and unusual performances with classics, pop favourites and more at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre

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The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has just announced its 2024/25 season, and it definitely dazzles.

Shimmering with bold piano concertos including Rachmaninoff’s 1909 staple No. 3, four different Tchaikovsky-infused programs, and a trio of ESO Robbins Pops series with offerings covering R&B, Cole Porter and ’80s AM radio, there’s a real sense of exploration in the 73rd season.

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“The three E’s are to enrich, enlighten and entertain,” notes Rob McAlear, the ESO’s passionate artistic administrator. “You’re constantly aiming to do all three, and not necessarily to the same kind of audience — there are all kinds, and you have to respect that.”

McLear’s the person ultimately responsible for pulling the annual orchestral season together, including from the various asks and hopes of the programming committee and musicians.

With more than 40 new programs being offered between Symphony Under the Sky at Snow Valley Aug. 23-25 and the June 6-7, 2025, Totally 80s: Rad Retro Favourites (which will include symphony-backed versions of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and — yes! — Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters), McAlear picks out several highlights, starting with some unusual fare.

“In one case we’re doing a piano concerto by Khachaturian that the orchestra hasn’t played since 1969,” he notes of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony program, conducted by Julian Kuerti, Apr. 26-27 next year. “I can’t imagine that there’s going to be that many people in the audience in 2025 who were there in 1969.”

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McAlear next summons The Bard, a subtle tone poem by Sibelius running in the Mozart & Sibelius program conducted by Naomi Woo Jan. 18-19 (which will also include the Finnish composer’s Symphony No. 5).

“The Bard sounds like Sibelius … but it doesn’t sound like Sibelius; it’s heavy, heavy, heavy on the harp,” says McAlear, “and it’s a lovely, enchanting piece of music.

“It’s really quite magical to be able to introduce stuff by the great composers of the literature that the audience has perhaps never heard before.”

ESO premieres in the upcoming season are many, including Linda Catlin Smith’s Tableau nestled in conductor Jean-Phillipe Tremblay’s program dubbed Tchaikovsky, Brahms & Violin Oct. 26, and also Tailleferre’s Petite Suite inside The Nutcracker & Mozart program, conducted by Nicolas Ellis, running Nov. 28.

Over in the ESO’s New Music series, Sri Lanka-born, Ottawa-dwelling triple-threat composer, conductor and pianist Dinuk Wijeratne makes his local debut with a personally curated program called Fantasy. This includes his own compositions, plus recent music by Kareen Roustom and Luis Ramirez.

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“He’s bringing music that’s important to him,” explains McAlear, “which has been the same with the New Music series all along.”

Of course, the season has a number of very accessible, proven hits, including Dennis Jame playing along to 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera on the Davis Concert Organ Halloween night, then Faurés’ Requiem pairing the symphony with the Richard Eaton Singers Nov. 8. And that particular choral-orchestral power combo also melds together for the time-honoured Handel’s Messiah, Dec. 13-14.

Also in the holiday-music department, A Very Merry Pops returns with Celebrating Family Traditions. Here, the combined voices of Korora, Òran, Vacilando and ChandraTala choirs will soar through everything from O Come, All Ye Faithful to A Musicological Journey Through the 12 Days of Christmas.

Back to The Nutcracker and Swan Lake’s master Russian composer, the Tchaikovsky, Schumann & Cello program is also conducted by Tremblay Oct. 27, while Katen Kamensek steps onto Winspear’s front-and-centre podium for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

The ebony and ivory will be activated by recent Honens International Piano Competition winner Illia Ovcharenko, with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and another ESO premiere — Anna Clyne’s Scottish fiddle theme PIVOT — also on deck for these three, May 30-June 1 performances.

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Also rare and definitely exciting on the calendar after April’s Beethoven’s Eroica is The Complete Beethoven Concertos, all five of them split over May 2 and 3, 2025 in two parts, which the ESO only did once before, in 2000.

“This is a party trick,” McAlear laughs, “that is exceptionally difficult.

“In a lot of classical concertos, the pianist was expected to show off a little bit, improvise based on the themes of the concerto he just played,” he explains.

There being white space available in the first four concertos, pianist Marc-André Hamelin has been working on his own special cadenza flourishes for the ESO performances.

“Personally, I’m really looking forward to that,” says the artistic administrator.

Another ESO Classic not to miss is Ravel & Gershwin: Classical Meet Jazz, which includes Ravel’s ubiquitous yet exhilarating ballet score gone pop classic Bolero, Gerschwin’s Porgy and Bess and another ESO premiere, Morton Gould’s Symphonette No. 2 “American.”

“Everyone who goes to concerts and listens to this stuff on the radio has probably heard this little symphonette because it gets played all over the place,” say McAlear. “And Bolero, well, there’s not much you can say about that piece — it’s everywhere.”

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Besides Totally ’80s capping the season next June, The ESO Robbins Pops series includes Let’s Misbehave: the Songs of Cole Porter on Oct. 11-12, full of piano, trombone and tap dancing. How happy we shall be, ESO resident conductor Cosette Justo-Valdés swings her arms here.

Then, it’s conductor Lucas Waldin’s She’s Got Soul! Legendary R&B Hits, Nov. 15-16, with symphonic versions of classics by Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan and Adele — Capathia Jenkins singing to the ceiling here.

“When she comes walking on stage, there’s just some people who, you can’t take your eyes off of them,” enthuses McAlear. “That’s a real star turn for Capathia.”

Finally, Celebration: The Music of John Estacio dives into the work of ESO’s Juno-nominated composer-in-residence Mar. 21, 2025, also conducted by Cuban born-and-raised Valdés.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2024/25 season. Photo by Levi Manchak /Supplied

This only gets to about half of the programs in the 2024/25 season, including various children’s programming and a Sarah Slean show Oct. 17, the full list you should browse through at winspearcentre.com to scan for your own musical thrills and fetishes.

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A wide range of subscription packages are now available —  these can save almost 40 per cent compared to purchasing single tickets — starting at $115 for a group of five Thursday or Sunday Classics, as one example, or a baseline of $121.50 for six Saturday Classics Full, as another.

You can also make up your own packages, or get tickets as low as $10 by getting an ESO Monthly Membership.

Again, head to winspearcentre.com to consider what fits.

Early bird deadline to waive handling fees is April 3, renewal deadline to keep your existing seats is May 1, subscriber presale is 10 a.m. July 17 and regular public sales start July 24 at 10 a.m.

“There is more to come and more concerts to be added,” McAlear promises. “I’ve been working on one of them, listening to music and researching it,” he says noting a brilliant film score composer we’ll have to leave secret until licensed and confirmed.

“But from someone who’s been doing this in Edmonton since 2003, this is a really good season,” says McAlear, and he’s not wrong about that.

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