Symphony of the Kootenays (and Other Delights)

Part III of the history of orchestral Cranbrook, marking the 40th season of the Symphony of the Kootenays.

For many years the closest Cranbrook came to symphonic music was groups such as the High School Concert Band featuring

For many years the closest Cranbrook came to symphonic music was groups such as the High School Concert Band featuring

Jim Cameron

The decade from 1923-1933, saw the trappings of classical composers wedged firmly in the back of the Cranbrook musical closet.

Oh, there was plenty of live music: the Edmondson, Robinson, Novak, Bluebird, Gem, Revellers, Linnell, Royal Harmony Boys, Paramount, and Happy Five Orchestras kept people dancing throughout the flapper years and well into the Depression of the 1930s, but for those who preferred the symphonic genre there was little else but radio and phonograph.

In October, 1932, Mr. William Raven, a recent arrival, formed the Cranbrook Symphony Orchestra, borrowing the name of the group of nearly 20 years earlier. The first performance took place in February, 1933, at the old Cranbrook Auditorium and was, according to the local review, “a pretentious concert program of high class music rendered without apparent flaw.” The orchestra consisted of 26 musicians including names such as Fiorentino, Ward, Fink, Mansfield, Burton, Kay, LaFleur and Graham.

The Orchestra, often joined by a choral group, continued playing regular concerts over the next three years to audiences of varying size and covering pieces from Handel to Rachmaninoff and all points in between. A smaller 13 piece ensemble handled the occasional dance, featuring “the music of the singing strings, the brazen brass and the rhythmic reeds”.

Sadly, the orchestra went bust when Mr. Raven moved away in the mid-1930s. Despite an attempt to reform the band in 1938 — foiled by the advent of the Second World War — things stayed symphonically south for pretty much the next 40 years. The City Boy’s Band, the Cranbrook Girls Bugle Band and the high school concert band helped to fill the gap but it was, all in all, a long barren stretch for classical music in the city.

The Vancouver Symphony made an appearance at the Memorial Arena in 1958, playing for an afternoon crowd of 1,300 students (required attendance) and an evening show of 600. A Courier newspaper editorial pointed out that Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” proved “that a symphonic organization can perform for the crowd just as efficiently as any artist gyrating around a guitar.” The symphony musicians proved their versatility by holding an informal evening “blow swing session” at the Knights of Pythias Hall, demonstrating some “real cool” playing for nearly 200 dancers.

Pictured: Zdenek Kriz and Wendy Panattoni, the original East Kootenay Chamber Orchestra. – Townsman January 27, 1976.

It was not until May, 1975, that long lost hopes of a local symphony came to fruition when Zdenek Kriz and Wendy Panattoni approached the Kimberley Arts Council requesting support for the newly registered East Kootenay Chamber Orchestra Association.

Mr. Kriz, a very capable violin/viola graduate of the University of Bratislava and the Czech Radio symphony Orchestra made his way to the Kootenays from his native country of what was then Czechoslovakia. He joined with Ms. Panattoni, a talented Kimberley pianist, to lay the groundwork for an orchestra. Their mission was to work with a volunteer board of directors and, with the aid of donors, subscribers, government grants and any other funding possibilities available, bring in a core group of professional classical players to mentor local musicians and perform in regular concerts.

It seemed an admirable concept to many and, so saying, the first Cranbrook performance of the EK Chamber Orchestra took place in January, 1976, with Mr. Kriz and Ms. Panattoni performing an impressive array of pieces from the classical oeuvre.

Attendance-wise, their first Cranbrook concert fell noticeably short of the mark. A review in the Townsman of January 27, 1976, did not sugarcoat things. “Sunday evening the Kootenay Chamber Orchestra Society established itself as a shaky reality in Cranbrook. This town has never been known for its ability to support much more than a couple of pub strippers, but yet it is still sad when the community of Invermere can draw more concert supporters than a town three times its size. Perhaps what is even more unfortunate is that the people who didn’t attend the performance given by viola soloist Zdenek Kris and piano accompanist Wendy Panattoni missed a concert of live music which could be appreciated by even the most unsophisticated boob … An exciting addition to the musical offering was the simultaneous slide presentation … which represented the period during which the music was written.”

The somewhat inauspicious premiere fazed neither the musicians nor the organizers who, true to their word, undertook regular concerts throughout the Kootenays over the following years. The various ensembles performed in theatres, gymnasiums, community halls, churches, parks and hotel restaurants and memorized menus in countless pizza parlours throughout the district.

In 1979, cellist Ron Edinger, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, replaced Zdenek Kriz as musical director. Ron and his wife, double bass player Betsy, became stalwarts of the orchestra for many years. By that time the Chamber Orchestra had played 120 concerts in virtually every centre of the Kootenays, joined by a host of talented orchestral musicians from throughout the district and featured soloists from across the land.

In 1995 the group changed the name to the Symphony of Kootenays and today, forty years later, the symphony continues to provide the best in symphonic music to an appreciative fan base throughout the area.


With thanks to Shirley Hansen.


Jim Cameron is the author of “Janus: Cranbrook Then and Now, Vol.I, for sale at various locations in the Cranbrook area, including the Daily Townsman