The legacy of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is integral to Winnipeg’s rich cultural life. Entering its 64th year for the 2011-2012 season, the symphony performs more than 80 concerts for approximately 100,000 people each year and offers a wide range of musical experiences ranging from great art of the master composers to Pops, family concerts, educational performances, and other special concerts.
The WSO has performed hundreds of world and Canadian premieres and has embraced playing music by living composers while they host the internationally recognized New Music Festival held each February.
The WSO continues to provide the musical foundation for other arts groups in the province such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Manitoba Opera. Many WSO musicians also play with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. In addition to performing in Brandon on a regular basis, the orchestra tours rural Manitoba annually during the holiday season in the Holiday Express Tour, visiting areas like Virden, Portage la Prairie, Neepawa, Morden and Winkler.
The mission of the WSO is to provide exceptional musical experiences for Manitobans.
The WSO believes in the importance of providing education and outreach programs to all Manitobans. From nursery school through university, our education programs reach more than 25,000 students annually. Striving to promote symphonic music, the WSO also partners with local organizations and develops community initiatives.
A variety of semi-professional and amateur orchestras existed in Winnipeg from as early as 1880 when the first Philharmonic Society on the prairies was established by Capt W.N. Kennedy. Between then and 1947 orchestras in Winnipeg included a Winnipeg Orchestral Society, a Men’s Musical Club and Women’s Musical Club, a Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Choral and Orchestral Society, the Winnipeg Orchestra, another Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir, a Summer Symphony Orchestra, and at least a dozen others. In 1944 the Winnipeg Civic Music League was organized, made up of at least 20 of these pre-existing organizations. The league established a joint stock company, which was officially incorporated in the Province of Manitoba on February 13, 1947 as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (= WSO). Its first concert to an audience of 3,000 was on December 16, 1948, in the Civic Auditorium and conducted by Walter Kaufmann. In 1954, the CBC began broadcasting portions of WSO concerts. In 1958, Kaufmann was succeeded by Canadian conductor Victor Feldbrill and on April 4, 1968 the WSO moved into its present home in the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall. That same year, George Cleve became the symphony’s third Music Director.
The WSO appointed Piero Gamba in 1971 who served to the fall of 1980, when the WSO faced a major financial crisis. The Board of Directors resigned their positions and asked the Provicincial Government to appoint an interim group of Trustees, who ran the orchestra for a year while the organization was restructured and new operational and artistic leadership was hired. In 1981 a new volunteer Board of Directors was established.
At the beginning of the 1983-1984 season, Japanese conductor Kazuhiro Koizumi started the first of six years with the symphony. During that time, the WSO subscriber base rose to more than 10,000 patrons.
Music Director Bramwell Tovey (1989 to 2001) and the WSO’s first composer in residence, Glenn Buhr created the New Music Festival in January 1992, with substantial support from DuMaurier Arts Foundation. Randolph Peters became Composer-in-Residence in 1996, and in 2002 was succeeded by T. Patrick Carrabre. In March 2007, Carrabre left the WSO to become a new CBC Radio 2 weekend host of a contemporary music program. Vincent Ho is currently in his 2nd season as the WSO’s Composer-in-Residence.
In 1996-1997 the WSO also hired its first Conductor-in-Residence, Canadian conductor Rosemary Thomson. In September 1999, Toronto-born Michael Hall assumed the role. Manitoban conductor Michelle Moure assumed the role from 2002-2005. In 2006 Japanese-American conductor Rei Hotoda joined the WSO as Assistant Conductor.
Russian-born conductor Andrey Boreyko held the position of Music Director of the WSO from May 2001 on through to May 2006. Also in 2006 German-born Alexander Mickelthwate was appointed as Music Director of the WSO. As a guest conductor, Mickelthwate is active both in North America and in Europe. In addition to his commitments in Winnipeg, Mickelthwate makes debut appearances with the NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, the Nürnberger Symphoniker, and the symphony orchestras of Jacksonville, Milwaukee, Rochester, Vancouver and the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa) during the orchestra’s contemporary music festival. Richard Lee, is Resident Conductor and Bramwell Tovey is Conductor Laureate.
Executive Directors of the orchestra have been James Henderson 1949-1954, Lawrence Davis 1954-1956, Stirling Dorrance 1956-1958, Kent Hurley 1958-1966, James Emde 1966-1967, Leonard David Stone 1967-1978, Mark Walker 1978-1979, Tony D’Amato 1979-1980, and Jack Mills 1980-1985, succeeded by Max Tapper, who managed the company for more than a decade. Since that time, the top administrative position has been filled by more than a dozen people, with the turnover both the result and cause of financial challenges. Dr. Dale J. Lonis held the position of Executive Director from July 2006 to July 2008. In July 2008, Ms. Trudy Schroeder became Executive Director of the WSO. Ms. Schroeder has an extensive career experience in arts management with a strong community reputation. Her educational background is in music performance and arts management. She also holds an MBA from the University of Manitoba.