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Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) was established in 1931 and played its first concert under the direction of Arthur Collingwood, Professor of Music at the University of Saskatchewan. It has maintained a close relationship with the university, with many of its conductors having part-time faculty appointments. The orchestra made particular gains during the 1970s and 1980s, when it entered into its first collective agreement with players and all orchestra players were for the first time paid for their service. The first full-time music director and general manager were hired during this period, and the orchestra began to attract celebrity guest artists.

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra has held its concert series in various locations, beginning in Convocation Hall at the university. In 1939 it moved to the Bessborough Hotel’s ballroom, and in 1949 the Capitol Theatre became its home. Later, in 1955, the gymnasium of the university was the location, and finally in 1968 Saskatoon’s Centennial Auditorium became the permanent home of the orchestra. More than 30,000 persons currently enjoy concerts each year from September to May. A well-rounded and active season is presented. Up to sixty-two musicians play (depending on the work being performed). Ten of the musicians are employed on an annual salary as core players, while the remainder are hired as “per-service” musicians. A typical performance season includes: eight Master Series concerts held in the Centennial Auditorium; four chamber concerts held in Third Avenue United Church; four concerts featuring the core musicians, held in the Adam Ballroom of the Delta Bessborough; and numerous school concerts and performances for both private and public events. The Annual Festival of New Music has emerged in recent years, and in the 2003–04 season a family series, “Classics for Kids,” debuted. CBC broadcasts the orchestra on at least an annual basis. Thanks to funding assistance from the Canada Council, a composer-in-residence has been hired twice to compose specific works for the orchestra to première.

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is the only symphony in the northern part of the province. While there are other smaller orchestral groups and bands, no other organization has the resources to perform the major symphonic repertoire presented by the SSO on a monthly basis. Not only does it provide opportunities for the citizens of Saskatoon to hear this repertoire—its very existence serves as a magnet for orchestral performers. These musicians enrich the musical life of the community as soloists, as players in the wide range of other musical groups the city offers, and as music teachers. Support from corporate sponsors has enabled the Saskatoon Symphony to take concert performances to communities such as Swift Current, Lloydminster, Bruno, and Yorkton. It intends to build and maintain a presence in rural Saskatchewan.

Karen Conway

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