Palmer & Johnston conduct “Music from The Proms”

In a tribute to the resilience of Kingstonians over the past three years, Orchestra Kingston and Kingston Community Strings reunite in a show celebrating music from that most popular of British music hall traditions, “The Proms”, Sunday 14 May 2023, 2:30pm, at The Spire Performance Hall stage. Tickets: FREE (16 and under), $20 (students/seniors), $25 (adults) at , at , at Novel Idea, Arden Music, and at the door. Orchestra Kingston gratefully acknowledges the support of the Kingston Arts Council, City of Kingston, and OLG. Masks are recommended by Public Health Ontario.
Orchestra Kingston Palmer & Johnston Conduct

Season Finale: rich, exciting sound 

Bring the whole family for a fun, musical romp during this not-to-be-missed season grand finale, inspired by the British “Proms”, the famous “come as you are” music extravaganza. Experience  the romantic Phantom of the Opera medley for full orchestra, the inspiring “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and a showpiece for the combined strings of both orchestras, Vaughan Williams’ highly popular prelude, Rhosymedre, often called the “Lovely” (arr: Roger Finlay) plus music by Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Dvorak, Brahms, and Sibelius.

Hailed for their “rich exciting sound” that leaves audiences “breathless, yet eager for more.” (- Barbara Fear), the 80 musicians of Orchestra Kingston (music director, John Palmer) and Kingston Community Strings (music director, Hugh Johnston) bring a combined forty year history of concerts to Kingston audiences.


Together again: Orchestra Kingston and Kingston Community Strings

Johnston, a Juno Award-winner (music education, 2012), explains, “John Palmer and I started planning three years ago to present Kingston audiences with the same big, thrilling sound they know so well from ‘The Proms’. “ 

“That’s right,” Palmer says, adding, “the music is by some of the same British composers, such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber.” 

Johnston notes that, “we chose these concert pieces because they are romantic, big, and feature a full, lush balance so the 30 extra string performers in KCS augment John’s 50 musicians, allowing all 80 to play at strength.”

Palmer conducts one of the showpieces for the combined strings of both orchestras, Vaughan Williams’ highly popular prelude, ‘Rhosymedre’. He also conducts selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’, among others.

Johnston conducts the ‘Nimrod’ that Palmer reveals, “is so inspiring that it is typically played by musicians in memory of their past colleagues.” Johnston adds, “It is powerful emotionally and challenging technically. To capture the essence of this piece relies on each musician’s breadth of life experience to help truly feel it’s depths.” Johnston also conducts the Brahms ‘Hungarian Dance’ No. 5, and the Sibelius ‘Impromptu for Strings’.

The concert program includes ‘Orchestra Festiva” (Palmer’s own  Suite of Spanish Dances), as well as Dvorak’s ‘Slavonic Dance’, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Marche Slav’, and both Strauss’ ‘Unter Donner und Blitz’ and ‘Radetzky March’.

Concert is ‘three years in the making’

Hugh Johnston is founder and artistic director of Kingston Summer Music (a summer program for Kingston’s youth), conducts the Kingston Youth Orchestra, and is music director of Kingston Community Strings under the ‘umbrella’ of the Kingston Symphony Association. 

How did this combined concert come to be, given all the Covid health protocols?

“During the pandemic,” explains Johnston, “the Kingston Community Strings’ retiring music director, Wayne Tindall asked if I’d be interested in taking over from his leadership. I was honoured when eventually chosen to do so, in November 2019.”

Johnston reveals that, “Wayne was already preparing with John Palmer for a combined concert with Orchestra Kingston when the pandemic struck, so this ‘Music from The Proms’ show has really been three years in the making.”


How did KCS rehearse during Covid?

“During the pandemic,” he states, “I conducted online rehearsals. I did the same with the Kingston Youth Orchestra. It worked so well. I’d email them sheet music, go online with individual performers, and they’d follow my conducting.”

How did they perform together, online?

“That was a technical challenge,” according to Johnston. “I taped each individual from both the KCS and Youth Orchestra, then  assembled each musical performance, and finally, edited everything together. The preparation was intense. It was hard work but so much fun.”

Did the musicians benefit from being online?

“The back and forth certainly gave all the players from KYO and KCS something to look forward to. And we got great online attendance,” he stated, adding, “In 2021 we got back together to rehearse but following all the public health protocols. It was amazing to play together once more. We then finally played live and we had an audience!”

What is a ‘community’ orchestra?

“Back in the day,” Johnston relays, “there wouldn’t be opportunities for gifted, amateur musicians to perform with professionals,” adding, “The great thing about a community orchestra is that new musicians can now get that experience. Community Strings is like that. It’s very inclusive. It allows new, emerging talents to play alongside established musicians, from the Kingston Symphony and Orchestra Kingston, for instance, and get the chance to perform full orchestral pieces.”

What is it like teaching music?

“I taught for years at Regiopolis,” Johnston states, “and one of my career highlights was conducting students during music festivals on famous stages such as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Cadogan Hall in London England, and Carnegie Hall in New York.”

What was that like for Johnston?

“It felt thrilling and also a bit surreal,” he enthuses, “it was literally like floating on air, bringing those eighty young music students onto those world-famous stages.” Johnston exclaims that “this was also where we premiered one of John Palmer’s own compositions!”


How did he came to know Palmer?

Johnston shares that, “John Palmer was my first trumpet teacher when I was his student at Brockville. We eventually got to play music together again in the late 1990s, as we both performed with the Kingston Symphony Orchestra.”

Following a lengthy teaching career, he earned the 2012 Juno Award for music education. “It’s the education-fundraising support arm of Canada’s Juno’s,” says Johnston, “and helped fund our high school music bursaries to ensure diversity in our music programs.”

Johnston muses, “For me, that was a greater honour even than being onstage at Carnegie Hall with my young musicians. It’s based on career achievement and trying to go the extra mile for every student. It was a huge honour for me and my family.”

Palmer & Johnston conduct “Music from The Proms”