Another Orchestra Crisis

A few years ago, it seemed like nearly every Canadian orchestra was on the verge of collapse. There were lockouts, strikes, or financial crises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal. Things gradually got better, and now it seems like most of the orchestras are at least treading water, if not flourishing.

Perhaps that’s why I found the story about the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony being on the brink of bankruptcy so surprising (details here). The K-W Symphony had been through a well-publicized fight with its former Music Director in 2003, but I thought they had come through it in decent shape.

Growing up in Cambridge, the KWS was the first orchestra I ever heard. I can’t say the experience changed me forever, but I certainly looked forward to those class trips to the Centre in the Square. Years later at Queen’s, I played in a joint concert (Mahler 1) with KW and the Kingston Symphony, and it was one of the best experiences I had as a student.

You have to feel for the musicians and the staff, especially after all they’ve been through over the past few years. Musician salaries range from $22,000 to $40,000 a year (for comparison, the minimum salary in the NAC Orchestra is $75,000), they have to take a significant pay cut, and they may not even have a job in a few weeks.

So, it comes down to whether they can raise $2.5 million by the end of the month, or at least come close. That’s a daunting task – very few orchestras in Canada have ever received seven-figure donations. It would be nice if the various levels of government got together and offered a life-line, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. We’ll see how this unfolds…

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