Music in the Valley and Beyond

PSO members (L-R) Susan Artymko, Pia-Leena Voorand

Photo: Cindy Nicholas 

An almost unknown gem of musical culture here in the extended Madawaska Valley is the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra (PSO), a non-profit community orchestra founded in 1993 by a group of like-minded individuals who wanted to play great classical music and wanted area residents to experience this music – LIVE. There’s nothing like listening to some of your favourite pieces played on stage, by people from your community. On the rare occasions when I am in the audience, I often have to remind myself that this is not a recording – this is live music.

The PSO is made up entirely of volunteer, amateur musicians. They are teachers and doctors, military personnel and at-home moms. They are PhDs from Chalk River, students, small business owners, and retired folks. What brings them all together for Thursday night rehearsals at Festival Hall and live performances three to four times a year, is a love of music.

Madawaska Valley regulars with the PSO include John Artymko (trumpet), Susan Artymko (bassoon), Pia-Leena Voorand (violin), and Ivan Barney (keyboard).  John, Susan, and Pia have each been with the orchestra for over 20 years, and this is Ivan’s fourth season with the PSO. Other MV musicians who have appeared as guest artists are Kirk Harber (guitar), Joseph Platt (accordion), and Tim Baklinski and Madi McLean (vocals). John Artymko says of his years with the orchestra,

“My improvement as a trumpeter is a direct result of playing beside and learning from fellow musicians. In addition to my regular section partners and conductors, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of Canada’s most talented trumpeters.”

Among the repertoire of the PSO are the usual classics, like Mozart and Beethoven, plus more contemporary pieces including Disney themes and movie soundtracks, Spanish pieces, swing and Dixieland, and themed concerts. The recent Ghoulish Encounters concert featured all those spooky classical pieces like Night on Bald Mountain (think Disney’s Fantasia, 1941), Funeral March of a Marionette, Danse Macabre, the Psycho Prelude, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Ghostbusters theme. More recently, the first half of the 2017-18 season featured a concert to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and a Christmas special in collaboration with Michelle’s School of Dance and the Petawawa Military Wives’ Choir. The PSO has also had the opportunity to play with some great professionals from the Ottawa area, including pianist Mark Ruel, violist Jethro Marks, trumpeter Karen Donnelly, and trombonist Angus Armstrong, a former conductor of the orchestra. These fantastic musicians add a richness with their solo and accompanying performances, and it is a treat to have this calibre of music available so close to Barry’s Bay.

And the season is only half over; on February 17th 2018, the PSO performs a concert entitled “A Winter Night”. Special guest, Roch Carrier, will narrate his famous story, “The Hockey Sweater” in both official languages. Also on the program are two movements from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, The Skaters’ Waltz, Metropolis Overture, and the Hockey Night in Canada Theme. The final concert of the season on April 28th is Prom Night, Last Night and will feature cellist Brandon Wilkie performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the PSO.

The PSO is currently under the baton of guest conductor, Mehdi Javanfar, from Ottawa. Mehdi is an active conductor and educator with a wealth of experience. He started his career as a violinist with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, then immigrated to Canada and joined the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. He has conducted orchestras in south-western Ontario and Michigan before moving recently to the Ottawa area, joining the PSO as guest conductor. Javanfar says,

“Guest conducting with the PSO has been a truly rewarding experience for me. Whether we are rehearsing the ‘classics’, or a piece by a contemporary Canadian composer, the musicians demonstrate a great deal of technical skill and stylistic flair. In particular, their responsiveness makes it possible to achieve remarkable progress within our limited rehearsal time. I salute the PSO musicians for the vital role they play in the artistic and cultural life of Pembroke and its surrounding communities. The musicians’ appreciation of great music, and their participation in live performances, has a significant impact on the arts scene of the city.”

All of this takes place at the home of the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra, Festival Hall Centre for the Performing Arts, in Pembroke. You can read more about the PSO on their website, 

About the author: After completing her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto, Susan Artymko moved to the Barry’s Bay area for what was supposed to be two to three years. Now, 24 years later, she still calls the Valley home. Susan spent her first 15 years here as an at-home mom to two daughters, but also volunteered with Meals on Wheels, the Madawaska Valley Horticultural Society, St. John Bosco Catholic School and the Barry’s Bay Public Library (now Madawaska Valley Public Library) where she spent eight years on the Board of Directors including four as Chair. She has worked full-time at the Barry’s Bay Home Hardware for the past eight years. Susan remains an active member of the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra, as she has been for over 20 years.

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