he Okanagan Symphony orchestra began modestly as a small group of enthusiasts meeting in Penticton in the fall of 1959. The orchestra gave its first concerts in March 1960 in Kelowna, Penticton, Revelstoke and Vernon. Over the next two years, concerts were also given in Kamloops, Oliver and Summerland. The vision of a semi-professional orchestra was considered in 1972 and with the assistance of the Canada Council and the BC Cultural Fund, the first resident musician, cellist George Kiraly, was engaged in 1974. Now in its 56th year, the orchestra has developed from a largely amateur organization with a part-time manager and a part-time conductor, to an excellent regional orchestra with a full-time executive director, a full-time music director, a core of 20 professional musicians, support staff and access to dozens of professional and non-professional musicians as needs dictate.
The OSO’s first music director and conductor was Willem Bertsch, followed by interim director Douglas Talney for 1963-64. Leonard Camplin assumed the position in 1964 and when he retired in 1996 he was named Conductor Laureate. Under his leadership, the orchestra underwent major development.
The OSO presented regular concert seasons in four major communities: Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops. Salmon Arm replaced Kamloops in 1977.
Douglas Sanford led the OSO as music director and conductor from 1997-2005, raising the professional standards and reputation of the orchestra to an impressive and nationally recognized level.
The search for a new Music Director in 2005 brought a number of guest conductors to the podium in 2005-06 and 2006-07. In March 2007, the Society announced Rosemary Thomson as the new Music Director commencing in the 2008-09 season. In 2014, Maestra Thomson renewed her contract for five years.
The orchestra and its members participate in a variety of educational programs throughout the year. Open dress rehearsals and pre-concert lectures were initiated by Maestro Sanford in 1998 to provide more broad educational opportunities and to increase public awareness of classical repertoire. Maestra Thomson has continued these important traditions as well as expanding outreach and education programming for all ages both inside the school and out. In addition, she worked to bring the Okanagan Youth Orchestra under the umbrella of the OSO in 2012, now known as the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra.