Musicians perform during a Surrey City Orchestra “mixer” at board member Erin Anne Beirne’s home in South Surrey on Nov. 7. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Musicians perform during a Surrey City Orchestra “mixer” at board member Erin Anne Beirne’s home in South Surrey on Nov. 7. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey City Orchestra idea hits right notes with backers, who eye proposed concert hall as home

Plan for new pro orchestra calls for debut season of five concerts starting in fall of 2019

Backers of an all-new Surrey City Orchestra are taking their time with the plans – in adagio style, musically speaking.

Plans for the professional ensemble were revealed in July 2016 when the city’s Cultural Development Advisory Committee was presented a 15-page business plan by Ellen Farrugia, a North Delta-based musician.

She and others aim to have an Surrey-branded orchestra perform a debut season of five concerts starting in the fall of 2019, with a startup budget of $200,000.

“We’re still on track for that,” Farrugia told the Now-Leader during a “mixer” held Nov. 7 at the South Surrey home of Erin Anne Beirne, a board member of the fledgling orchestra along with Farrugia and Brian Duncan.

Supporters of Surrey City Orchestra were invited there to meet, mingle and hear an update about plans to launch the musical initiative.

An orchestra of the same name was established in Surrey in 2009, but it took a final bow after a couple of years. Farrugia performed with the ensemble, which was led by Wayne Jeffrey and Calvin Dyck, but the business plan is different this time around.

“They had no board of directors, they had no way of actually keeping that money,” Farrugia said. “It’s the same name as that orchestra but a different way of making it happen. My whole concept is governance first. It’s not hard to hire musicians and put that end of it together, so we need the whole structure in place first so it can survive longterm.”

• READ MORE: Plans for a professional orchestra in Surrey begin to get real, from 2016.

Someday, backers of the orchestra would love to see it based in a 1,200-seat theatre/concert hall proposed for Surrey’s City Centre area – although the grand plan is to have the orchestra perform at places throughout the community, too.

In January of 2012, Surrey officials proposed building a performing arts centre downtown to “help transform the area into a energetic hub of entertainment and cultural activity.” The city invited senior levels of government and the private sector to partner in the project. So far, nothing has materialized, but Councillor Mary Martin, among others, are working to help make it happen.

“I’m certainly for something like that to be built, because an orchestra needs a home, a place to play,” said Martin during the Nov. 7 event.

“I know that when Bing Thom, God rest his soul, was developing a plan for the City Centre, it called for plans for the library and our city hall and also a performing arts centre, and wouldn’t that be wonderful. That would be such a legacy.”

Surrey needs a significant performing arts venue in its downtown core “in the worst way,” Farrugia added, “and not just for what we’re trying to do with the orchestra, just generally, for big acts, things people want to see, so they don’t have to go to Vancouver for that. All of these people want to see that centre grow, especially with nightlife. There’s nothing there at the moment, and they’re building all of these condominiums and things, 600 square feet, and people need something to do or they’ll go crazy.”

Like Farrugia, Martin is a firm believer in the value of music education, and her son, Stuart Martin, will soon complete his master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the University of Illinois. He will take on the job of conducting the new orchestra, according to Farrugia.

“I see something like this (Surrey City Orchestra) could foster music education, appreciation,” Mary Martin said. “There are many talented youth in Surrey who don’t have the opportunity to play an instrument or are involved in an orchestra, and this would be one of those outlets for them, to be musically active on a professional level, of course.”

Some B.C. cities and towns smaller than Surrey are home to an orchestra, she noted.

“Surrey has a youth orchestra, but it’s a small one, so this is something we’re sorely lacking in our city, and I think people would be incredibly excited to be able to go out for an evening to see an orchestra like this, to see a performance. That would be wonderful.”

Currently, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is the only pro organization that regularly presents live orchestral music in Surrey, in concerts held at Bell Performing Arts Centre.

Surrey City Orchestra would involve 31 to 37 musicians performing “professional live music that engages and enhances the lives of Surrey’s diverse population,” according to the business plan drafted in 2016.

“The programming will include a range of repertoire from the traditional classics, to South Asian influences, symphonic pop, move and video soundtrack and choral offerings.”

In a video shown at the Nov. 7 social, Stuart Martin said one objective of the orchestra is to mentor Surrey’s youth, in collaboration with Surrey Youth Orchestra, in so-called “side by side” concerts featuring both pro and amateur musicians.

“I think it’s really important to recognize how special of a place Surrey is for supporting a new orchestra – it’s just unheard of these days,” Stuart Martin said in the video.

“Art organizations are having to redefine themselves to be sustainable, and I think with us starting from scratch we really have the potential to do this, while leaving a mark on Surrey and putting it on the map as a new music centre in Canada. We’ll be doing this by celebrating the diversity of our city, showcasing and collaborating the different cultural forms of music alongside the western tradition. I would also like to create a new program where we would be performing pop music next to classical music, a way to link the different forms and educate the listener.”

He added: “We’ll be creating music on the highest level, while making new concert experiences for a continually growing community.… I really look forward to making Surrey City Orchestra a staple Surrey experience. Let’s make some music.”

As executive director of the SFU Surrey campus, Stephen Dooley is keen to see cultural development in the City Centre area.

“The city’s growing and needs something like this,” he told the Now-Leader at the Nov. 7 gathering.

“Being here tonight, it’s obviously a grassroots development with people who live here and care about Surrey who want to kind of grow things in Surrey, with our own time, our values and perspectives and points of views.… It’s such a great opportunity to be part of that future development there, to make it a more vibrant city core. An orchestra could only help that.”

In an email to orchestra supporters, Farrugia said “there is still much to accomplish before the first performance commences, and we are so grateful for any input to make the most of this opportunity.

“Surrey is so fortunate to have people like yourselves, who contribute to your community and want to see Surrey reach its full potential,” she added. “For me personally, it was so wonderful to feel the positive energy and general enthusiasm towards moving this project forward, and hopefully we can partner with many different groups, to everyone’s benefit.”

According to the 2016 business plan, a timeline for the launch of the orchestra includes plans for gala fundraisers in the fall of 2018 and spring 2019. The financial plan calls for first-year revenue from gala ticket sales and an auction, plus individual and corporate donations. In years beyond, grant revenue and ticket sales would kick in to help make the orchestra profitable.

As for a new performing arts centre in Surrey, it remains “another large cultural catalyst project” as part of Surrey’s revised City Centre plan, adopted by city council in January. The “flagship facility” would include a 1,200-seat theatre, black box studio and “ample lobby space for hosting receptions and community events and celebrations,” according to a section of the 264-page document.

”While the primary activation of the City Centre Performing Arts Centre would be focused on evening performances and weekend matinees, the intention would be that the Centre be a hub of activity during weekdays as well,” notes the City Centre plan.

“Performing art education programming could be featured in the studio space during the day. Business meetings and seminars, receptions and community celebrations could take place in the lobby spaces and the studio. In addition, street-level retail space could be incorporated into the Centre’s design in the form of cafés, restaurants and perhaps boutique stores. This mixed-use approach would be designed to provide activation of the Centre and surrounding streets and neighbourhood during daytime hours throughout the week.”

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Photo:                                Conductor Stuart Martin in an image from video shown at Nov. 7 event hosted by Surrey City Orchestra board members.

Photo: Conductor Stuart Martin in an image from video shown at Nov. 7 event hosted by Surrey City Orchestra board members.

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