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SSO's new conductor one of only two women to lead a Canadian orchestra

Quebec's Mélanie Léonard 'couldn't be happier' to helm Sudbury Symphony
Mélanie Léonard was introduced as Sudbury Symphony Orchestra's new musical director at a June 28 press conference. file photo

Sudbury Symphony Orchestra's new maestra, Mélanie Léonard, is only one of two women in the country and one of about a dozen internationally to lead an orchestra.

Léonard was revealed as SSO's new musical director at a June 28 press conference.

“It's still very much a boys' club, (but) that wall is crumbling down,” said Jennifer McGillivray, the orchestra's executive director. “It's amazing for us in Sudbury to be down on that ground floor.”

The orchestra's long-time musical director, Victor Sawa, left SSO at the end of the 2014-2015 season.

More than 100 people applied for the opening, and three candidates, including Léonard, were invited to plan concerts throughout SSO's 2015-2016 season as a try-out for the job.

The 38-year-old resident of Coteau-du-Lac, Que. said she's been a guest conductor with orchestras for years, but has always wanted to lead her own. 
“I couldn't be happier,” she said. “Pure joy.”

Léonard was previously artistic director of the Calgary New Music Festival and resident conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. She's the founder of the Wild West New Music Ensemble in Calgary.

The Montréal native has a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Montréal. She will continue to be based out of Quebec, but will travel to Sudbury whenever she's needed.

Sudbury Symphony Orchestra, Léonard said, has great talent and potential.

“I want people everywhere in Canada to know how great the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra is,” Léonard said. “I want to build its reputation, even though it's already great. I just want to celebrate it.”

McGillivray said she “could not be more thrilled” with SSO's new music director. 

“I think Mélanie is going to bring an amazing energy and an amazing new perspective to the orchestra,” she said.

Léonard's try-out concert in February, featuring several shorter musical selections, really engaged the audience, she said. 

“It was a very fun concert,” she said.

Her first concert as SSO's musical director is Oct. 1. Entitled Movie Magic, the concert features selections from the classics of the silver screen to the latest blockbusters.

Music lover Hugh Kruzel reviewed the concerts put on by each of the musical director candidates for, and he sung Léonard's praises in a Feb. 8 column.

“Who wouldn’t smile at the amusing introductions and melodies Léonard chose to showcase her skills,” read part of the column. “The repertoire selected gave insight into her intellect; a real crowd-pleaser of a program followed.”


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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