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From uncertainty to success: 2022 was a good year for Red Deer Symphony Orchestra

The RDSO and musical side projects stretched Claude Lapalme in creative directions
2022 was a good year for the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and its music director Claude Lapalme. (Advocate file photo)

A year that started out with trepidation is ending on a strong note of optimism for the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Claude Lapalme.

Last January, RDSO musicians were still doing online concerts, wondering when they could return to live performances — and would there be an in-person audience when they did.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” admitted Lapalme.

But two concerts into the new 2022-23 season and both questions were answered in the affirmative. Lapalme was happy with ticket sales for both shows, noting the second Christmas concert was a sell-out.

Although Christmas shows are generally popular, he added, “We are cautiously optimistic about what it could mean for the rest of the season.”

Audience demographics were another surprise, skewing much younger than in previous years. Lapalme knows some seniors are not yet comfortable returning to public events, but that doesn’t explain the heightened interest among younger people.

He mused that online concerts presented during the pandemic on the RDSO’s website may have helped expand the audience. The RDSO also built up its social media presence to promote this series, so this could have helped, he suggested.

On a more personal front, Lapalme was among 7,000 Albertans chosen to be recipients of a medal honouring the late Queen Elizabeth’s 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

The Alberta Foundation of the Arts will present Lapalme with his medal in January for his “exceptional qualities and outstanding service” in the arts in this province. The multi-talented maestro was recognized for the impacts he has made — and in recent years, this has included composing original music.

Lapalme decided to hone these writing skills during the pandemic by offering to compose — for free — a few short, original pieces for solo musicians to perform on various instruments.

“In 24 hours, I got 60 requests,” recalled Lapalme, who then spent the next two months writing five short musical works a week to finish what he promised.

His emotional composition Zap! (Zapateado Insolito), as played by Edmonton Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Veeze, is featured in a dramatic video promoting the ESO on YouTube.

Another one, Istanpittarello, is played on a small pipe organ by Hong Kong musician Fiona Kizzie Lee, also on YouTube.

And Lapalme’s work, Nowhere Left to Run, was recorded by saxophonist Jeremy Brown, a music professor at University of Calgary, on his latest recording. Lapalme said he was inspired to write this moody piece by the tragic death of George Floyd.

Another project that blossomed during the pandemic is Lapalme’s work with Rosa Barocca, a chamber orchestra he founded in 2016 with mostly strings musicians playing baroque tunes on old-style instruments. Besides Lapalme acting as conductor and artistic director, group members include other Central Alberta musicians: Janet Kuschak on cello, Naomi Delafield on violin, and Wendy Markosky on organ/harpsichord.

In April, Rosa Barocca released the album Early Italian Cello Concertos, featuring cellist Elinor Frey, on the Quebec label Analekta.

It has since received rave reviews from the, a UK platform: “Frey takes us to a place where baroque music meets steampunk attitude. I loved it,” wrote reviewer Sebastian Scotney.

Andrew Sammut for wrote: “Rosa Barocca’s tight, responsive playing adds color and spark. They shine in orchestral spots… Lapalme’s well-judged tempos and nuanced direction find the sweet spot between refinement and fire.”

The album can be ordered from

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