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Coast Symphony Orchestra and the Coast Chamber Strings holding joint concert this weekend

Together Again is Saturday, May 21, at the Christian Life Assembly Church in Gibsons. The performance will be the groups’ first live appearances since December 2019. 
A. José Ceron-Ortéga (credit Michael Gurney)
José Ceron-Ortéga, conductor of the Coast Symphony Orchestra, leads the group in rehearsal at the Highland Centre in Roberts Creek.

Only two weeks after the Suncoast Concert Band beat its way back to public performances with a sold-out Mother’s Day matinee, two more amateur ensembles are teaming up for their first post-COVID concert. 

The Coast Symphony Orchestra and the Coast Chamber Strings are readying a program — Together Again — for Saturday, May 21 at the Christian Life Assembly Church in Gibsons. The performance will be the groups’ first live appearances since December 2019. 

“I certainly think that having concerts and getting some visibility back in the community is a good thing,” said Valerie Anderson, a percussionist, timpani specialist, and orchestra spokesperson. 

“We want people to remember that we’re here, and the more concerts we do, the more people see us, and the more they see us, the more it’s likely we will attract new members.” 

The Coast Chamber Strings are conducted by Sarah Poon. The 18-member group will be playing suites by Peter Warlock, Gustav Holst and John Rutter. 

A surprise addition to the Strings’s lineup will be revealed during the concert. Poon began humming an impromptu melody during rehearsals; the group managed to obtain and learn the sheet music in time. 

Poon, a cellist and graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Music, also performs with ensembles throughout the Lower Mainland. She moved to Gibsons in 2013. 

The Coast Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor José Ceron-Ortéga, will be playing dance pieces by Jean Sibelius, Antonin Dvorak, Manuel de Falla, Georges Bizet and Ronan Hardiman. The group is comprised of 31 instrumentalists. 

Ceron-Ortéga has become known by musicians for his earnest exhortation: “You can do it!” 

“We will do it!” echoes concertmaster Michelle Bruce. 

Ceron-Ortéga was born in México City and studied orchestral and operatic conducting at the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory in Saint Petersburg. He was chief conductor of orchestras in Venezuela and Argentina; in Argentina he also served as a professor of chamber music and orchestral practice. 

The orchestra’s lineup will include an arrangement of Hardiman’s Lord of the Dance (originally a Shaker hymn) that begins with an ethereal opening by the string section. The luminous prelude evokes the introductory strains of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, before the woodwinds and brass players take up the familiar melody. 

“It’s a toe-tapper,” said Anderson, “and we’ve put it at the end of the program so people will go home humming the tune, after we build up the speed and excitement to the end.” 

Anderson is a 22-year veteran of the orchestra. She originally played with a complementary group, the Sunshine Coast Philharmonic Orchestra, before it wound down. 

Player recruitment, according to Anderson, is one of the remaining orchestra’s greatest challenges. “You know, it happens,” she said. “We’ve had several people move away: two of our violins, one of our French horns, and one of our flute players all moved to Vancouver Island over the last couple of years. Our numbers are a bit down from what we’ve had in the past, but we’re starting to build up again.” 

The concert begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Christian Life Assembly Church in Gibsons. Tickets ($20 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under) are available at Strait Music in Sechelt and at the door.

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