A new chamber orchestra has launched in Vancouver featuring women — and those who identify as women — playing the works of female composers.

The Allegra Chamber Orchestra will debut on June 26 at a benefit concert for Music Heals, an organization that supports music therapy programs in B.C.

Founder and conductor Janna Sailor said the Allegra Chamber Orchestra is one of the few all-female orchestras in the world.

"For many years now I've had it in my heart and my intention that I wanted to do something to enact social change through music," said Sailor, who is also the conductor of the Vancouver Youth Symphony Debut Orchestra.

"Music has been an incredibly powerful force in my life and I knew that there had to be a way to convey that to other people. I had it in my heart to create something that was truly different and truly impactful for the musical community."

Sailor told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay the inspiration for starting the orchestra came after spending the past year or so auditioning for conducting positions across North America.

Creating an orchestra

To prepare, she asked her friends and colleagues in the musical community to let her conduct them for practice.

"People approached me afterwards and said, 'We really enjoy working with you. If you ever want to create an orchestra, we'd be happy to be involved'," she said.

"It occurred to me … that all those people were women. So I thought this would be a really interesting way to bring people together."

So she decided to form an all-female orchestra.

"When we come together in unity, that's when our strengths are the most prevalent and we can work towards something bigger and greater and create confidence."

Sailor said she hopes to set up a mentorship component in the orchestra, since she said there are certain instrumental groups — such as brass and percussion — where women are "vastly underrepresented."

Carolyn Cole, who is the concertmaster for the orchestra, said she was immediately on board when Sailor approached her to ask if she wanted to get involved.

"Janna is tapping into my search for other ways to use my music."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: New Vancouver-based all-female orchestra showcases women in classical music