I first made the personal acquaintance of Margaret Tobolowska, Artistic Director of Orkidstra in Ottawa, just under a year ago at the Symposium in London Ontario. After introducing herself in the context of her role with Ottawa’a heralded el Sistema program, she surprised me by offering her congratulations for my performance in 2009 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. It was a very kind and meaningful statement coming from her, because she had a front row seat for it – front row of the cello section in fact. And while audience accolades are always welcome, there’s nothing as validating -or as difficult to earn- as the respect of others in the profession.
Margaret has a enjoyed a very distinguished career as an artist. After graduating from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, she segued immediately into a position with the Vancouver Symphony and shortly thereafter made her way to the National Arts Centre Orchestra. While comparing orchestras in terms of artistic achievement is generally an invidious if not unfair task, the NACO is certainly one of the highest paying ensembles in Canada, if not North America. And yet, last year Margaret resigned from the group in order to pursue personal projects, among which Orkidstra continues to figure prominently (but not exclusively. Check out her website.)
It was a bold, confident step, one I respect very much. Just as it’s a safe bet that working with children in Orkidstra pays far less than the NACO, I think it equally certain that as a vocation (a word whose etymology refers to idea of something to which we are called, rather than just something we do) it is far more rewarding emotionally.
And now Margaret, her program co-founder Tina Fedeski, and the Orkidstra program will step into the limelight between March 30 and April 1st, as they co-host the Símon Bolívar String Quartet of Venezuela with the Ottawa Chamber Music Society for a symposium and performances.
Tina has honoured me with an invitation to present on March 31st, but the star attraction of the Symposium (aside from the visiting musicians) is definitely Richard Hallam, one of the leading figures in music education in England, who will present on the new national-level initiatives in social music. Richard is one of the most informed and interesting speakers I have met – and if you haven’t been following the developments in music education in England, you really, really should. Coming a close second to Richard on the guest list is my Fellow Fellow Dantes Rameau, executive director of the Atlanta Music Project…and alumnus of Tina and Margaret’s program. Dantes is just one of the most pragmatic, straight-shooting people I know and I’m eager to hear about what he’s doing, and how his time in Ottawa influenced his current work.
The Symposium is Free, but book your place, your plane tickets and hotel rooms now: the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys (without the phoniness – it is Canada, after all…) is being held that same weekend in Ottawa and it’s safe to assume prices will be going up and availability will be going down in short order.
See you in Ottawa on March 31st!