In 1998, Theodora Stathopoulos founded the Symphony Orchestra of Montreal’s FACE School (Fine Arts Core Education). The purpose was to train young musicians via newly-minted teachers, high-level amateurs and talented students. Stathopoulos is proud to see that twenty years of sustained effort have resulted in a string section (over 70 violins, violas, cellos and double basses) composed entirely of FACE students, some as young as ten. What’s more, this season’s concertmaster is only 13! That’s the youngest in the history of the orchestra, which when it started out only had a few FACE students among its players.
The creation of the FSO provided the arts-led school, founded in 1975, with its own orchestra. Artistic director Theodora Stathopoulos, who teaches strings, points to some special highlights in its 20-year existence: two benefit concerts given at Place des Arts in 2002, with guest conductors Yuli Turovsky and Miklos Takacs. Stathopoulos also proudly recalls one of the high points of her career. On February 9, 2007, the prime minister of Canada awarded her the Certificate of Achievement for excellence in teaching.
Without doubt, the FSO has enhanced the standing of its director and of FACE itself as one of the most distinguished primary and secondary arts-focussed schools. It offers four disciplines in the arts: vocal and instrumental music, visual arts and theatre.
Supported by generous benefactors, the FACE School Foundation also plays a vital part in the school. As Stathopoulos notes, the parents make an invaluable contribution through their involvement in the committee. This has allowed the FSO to go on six tours in Europe and Canada.
Students who found fame
Stathopoulos is extremely proud of students who went on to build illustrious careers in music, for example cellist Stéphane Tétreault, violinist Boson Mo and double bass player Brandyn Lewis. They all attest to the decisive part played in their success by their FACE musical training. Of course, a number of the school’s famous graduates will be at the 20th anniversary celebrations, which will include a grand FSO concert under the baton on the brilliant Airat Ichmouratov. This guest conductor was among the first musicians who helped form the FSO. “Airat Ichmouratov joined the FSO just after arriving from Russia. During the five years he spent with the orchestra, he succeeded in creating a positive synergy with the musicians,” recalls Stathopoulos, acknowledging how much the conductor contributed to the growth of the orchestra. And it’s nice to note that during the anniversary celebrations, the orchestra will play Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8, which was the first work it performed 20 years ago!
The 20th anniversary celebrations will take place on February 21 in the FACE auditorium with the participation of the school’s chamber orchestra. The event will highlight former FACE students who have become accomplished musicians and are pursuing careers with notable orchestras. They include bass player Brandyn Lewis (Montreal Symphony Orchestra), violinist Boson Mo (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) and internationally renowned cellist Stéphane Tétreault. Guests will include former students who are currently training at different universities and music conservatories.
This special anniversary has prompted former students to ponder on the importance of the FSO in their work and in their hearts. This is what some of them said:
“I played with the FSO from 2003 to 2007 and that’s when I discovered my passion for music” – Stéphane Tétreault
“I shall forever be thankful for the good things the FSO brought to my professional life” – Brandyn Lewis/MSO
“The FSO showed us another world, one where you weren’t judged on your character and where there weren’t any popularity contests” – Lauren Tyros/McGill University
“I grew up with the FSO (…) I learned to be not only a violinist, but also a leader, a concertmaster, a chamber musician and a soloist” – Yu Kai Sun/University of Toronto, Glenn Gould School of Music
“I learned so much repertoire that I’m ready to join professional orchestras. The FSO taught me leadership, and laid the groundwork for my future” – Richard Zheng / Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal
“There’s no doubt that the string department at FACE played a major role in my decision to pursue a musical career. Otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am now” – Elie Boissinot / McGill University
Translated by Cecilia Grayson