The Show Will Go On, Someday

Last Monday, if you’d told me that we’d be postponing concerts by the end of the week, I wouldn’t have believed you. It felt like the pandemic was something happening elsewhere, not here. It didn’t really seem real for us.

But as the week progressed, each hour brought new news. First the JUNOs (heartbreaking as the SSO was going to be playing with Jann Arden!). Then we had to postpone our Accent with the SSO concert because we weren’t able to get all six of the groups members here. Then the last few shows of our SaskTel Symphony in Schools Tour was cancelled. Then we postponed our Mozart Reimagined project with Saskatoon Opera and FreeFlow Dance. And our Music Talk at McNally for March 31st has been cancelled. And I’m sure more is on the way.

As of this morning, we are still taking things hour by hour. We’re looking ahead to the programming planned for the next few weeks and realizing that there are more postponements and cancellations in sight.

Some of these events will have to be cancelled, but the goal for us is to reschedule some of the events for a future date. I have no idea when, but I do know that we want to keep sharing music – and I have two reasons why I feel strongly we need to reschedule.

Firstly, our musicians. We are all grateful to be able to do our part in social distancing to try and slow the spread of COVID-19, but these measures will be devastating to our local musicians. They already have been. It highlights how exceptionally fragile working in the arts is. We all love to reap the benefits of having artists in our communities, but we have yet to find a way to ensure their stability as members of our communities. It’s something that we have to work on going forward, but more importantly, its something that we’re starring in the face right now. Most musicians in our community do not qualify for EI, and many of them will see a reduction or total loss of work.

On top of that, the financial risk this poses to the SSO, and all arts organizations, is drastic. My administrative team is working non-stop on trying to figure out what we can do. How do we support our musicians and remain afloat?  Can we find ways to soften the blow? And how do we even keep our doors open if the remainder of the season is shuttered?

The second reason I have for wanting to reschedule is that when the time comes for us to end social distancing, the need for us all to come together to participate in the act of making music will be key to finding our identity as a community again. We will need to be social, and a concert is one of the most joyous ways to come together and be part of something again. It will help us all rebuild emotionally and mentally after these strange days.

All of the tickets held to a postponed event will be honoured – we want to have you there when we get music back on its feet in Saskatoon. If you want you can ask for a refund as well, or you can choose to donate your purchased ticket to the SSO.  We’ve had a number of people do this already, and it means the world to us – it helps us continue to operate in this very difficult time and let’s us give you a tax receipt for your support.

The last few days have been very difficult, but I have been overwhelmed by supporters of the SSO reaching out wanting to help. I can not tell you how wonderful it feels to know that people are thinking of their orchestra at this time. I’ve been humbled by the people phoning in to make donations. I’ve been touched to see the care and respect our community has for its music makers.

Please keep subscribing to our 90th season – this fall will be an even bigger celebration than we could have expected, so we want to share that with you!  Your subscription helps the SSO stay stable moving beyond this fiscal year.

And the most meaningful help is making a donation.  This time of year is our largest in terms of the donations we receive – if donations drop off on top of losing ticket revenues, it will spell disaster for your SSO.

None of us ever imagined this kind of global scenario would play out – and all of us are feeling the impact. Social distancing and self-isolation are needed right now. But a time will come when we will need the communion of being together again to make music, and those will be such wonderful events.

Please support your local symphony – we all need you more than ever.

Stay well,
Mark Turner
Executive Director
Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra

Postponing Accent with the SSO

I’m very sad to announce that we need to postpone our March 21st concert with Accent.

Over the last few days, I have been working very closely with orchestras across the country, our venues, our funders, and with the SSO Board President Dr Anne Doig (former President of the Canadian Medical Association), and keeping a constant eye on Public Health advisories.

Currently, the risk to Saskatchewan residents is low and no venues have been closed. But this morning I discussed with Accent that they are uncertain of the travel options for a number of their group members, and rather than risking a show that wouldn’t be to the standard either party would want, we decided its best to postpone.

This concert has been such a thrill to put together with Accent – and we are so excited to share it with Saskatoon. So under these circumstances all parties agreed that this was something we will reschedule.

Over the next few weeks we’ll find a time to reschedule the event and keep you informed of the date.

All tickets for next weekend’s concert will be honoured for the rescheduled event.

If you’d prefer to not hold on to your ticket for the rescheduled event, we have two options for you:

  • chose to donate your ticket back to the SSO, and receive a tax receipt
  • request a refund for those tickets

As of this morning, we have no plans to postpone any other events – but we are monitoring the situation closely and want to do what’s in the best interest of safety and public health.

The financial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic could have to the SSO and our musicians is devastating.  So we are working hard to try and figure out what happens next.
I know that the stock market and pandemic have all of us worried – but I urge you as music lovers to consider the risk that this poses to the beloved musicians of the SSO.  My staff and I are working hard to put in to place contingency plans in a hope to ensure the well being of the SSO and its musicians and staff, physically and financially.  Our city is lucky to have the musicians and orchestra, and this current situation gives us a chance to show our support for them.

Our patrons and our musicians mean a lot to us – so please stay well.

Mark Turner
Executive Director

For any questions please feel free to email, call the SSO at 306-665-6414

A momentus achievement for the SSO

I recently had the chance to see one of my favourite paintings in person for the first time.  I’ve seen endless copies of this particular painting since I was a kid; the particular gaze of the girl in painting, the light on her jewelry, the folds of her clothing – I thought I knew every inch of this painting.  

But as I sat for a while and stared at her I realized that she was completely different than I’d ever imagined.  Her gaze was the same as I’d seen in books and posters and copies, and the light seemed to dance across her face in the same way, but she was different.  She sparkled. More precisely, the negative space around her wasn’t just darkness but rather it was darkness filled with the movement of light in the room in which I was standing.  I wasn’t looking at a painting, I was inside the world the artist created.

This past weekend I was sitting in the audience at Knox as the SSO and Chorus performed our last concert of the season.  I was feeling a sense of relief and gratitude that it was the perfect end for a very strong season. I was enjoying that the audience was so excited to be there, and enjoying the joy on the face of each and every chorus member as they got to sing their hearts out.  And then it happened again. Along came Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, a piece I have heard endless times in my life – and to be honest, I’ve never felt it was his best work. I’ve always felt it was a bit much…a great commercial pop hit from an artist who could write truly thrilling music.  And played to death on radio and CDs.  But faced with the piece performed by live chorus and orchestra, I was struck. It’s not just another “hit”, but a deeply personal and moving moment when Mozart places you right inside the world he created; its graceful and gentle, but deeply sincere.  It’s exactly the sound Mozart had intended on creating for the listener.

The truth of the matter is, in 2019 we don’t have many moments in our day to day lives when our soul gets swept up in the moment.  Between trying to Marie Kondo our way to happiness and snapchat filter our way to feeling good about ourselves, our day to day lives aren’t much to revel in.  The realities of life don’t give us a natural pause. There is no natural cadence from stress in an ever connected world, and no ordinary distraction from how exhausted our schedules are making us.  And while spending $3 on a mindfulness app might be the answer to all your worries, I strongly recommend making art and music a significant part of your life.

But there is no replacement for the real thing.  Seeing copies of that painting for the rest of my life, I would have never realized how deeply the painting spoke to me.  It was a great reminder to me that there is no substitute for an orchestra.

In my conversations with patrons this year I’ve heard about the music that really moved them – from a newer patron who found Mozart’s Requiem to be wonderfully intense, to the long time music lover who is still deeply moved by last season’s Armed Man.  One thing became clear: the sound of hearing this music live was wholly different than listening to a recording.  The sound of a live symphonic orchestra cannot be faked.

We have a few more days until the end of this year’s Share in the Future campaign.  We set a lofty goal this year, and we’ve got about $40,000 to raise before the end of day on Friday to reach our goal of $300,000.  This year’s campaign is special because if we are successful, we will have made the SSO deficit free. This is a remarkable accomplishment for any orchestra in 2019, but a significant achievement for Saskatoon’s orchestra.  

This achievement would not be possible were it not for the exceptionally generous support of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation.  The Remai Foundation’s matching of donations instantly doubles your support of your orchestra, and allows us to boldly enter a new era for your symphony.  

Imagine only ever having the chance to hear recordings of orchestral music.  It’s just not the same. A live symphony orchestra is a vast expanse of sound that captures the size and intensity of human expression.  It can be as big as a prairie sky or as personal as a broken heart. It can bring you to your feet or move you to tears. It has the power to be the loudest sound you’ve ever heard or so soft that the entire room sits in silence to hear the next note.  It’s an extraordinary experience.  

I invite you to join me in making a donation to the Share in the Future campaign in these final days.  It feels really good to be part of something this momentus for Saskatoon’s oldest arts organization, and it sends a clear message to the musicians of the SSO that their work is valued and supported by their community.  

It’s true that without an orchestra in town, life would go on.  But without the chance for future generations to come face to face with this glorious sound, they’ll never understand the power of a live orchestra.

I’m certain of this – because until the day I came face to face with that painting, I had no idea she sparkled.  

Thank you for making music matter,
Mark Turner
Executive Director


To make a gift to our Share in the Future campaign:

Click Here to Give Online

Call us at 306-665-6414

Visit us at the SSO offices – 602B 51st Street 

Share in the Future with Executive Director Mark Turner

Executive Director Mark Turner is away in Rotterdam at Classical:NEXT. In between meeting, collaborating, and learning with his counterparts from across the globe he took a moment to reflect on Share in the Future.

I’ve always been fascinated with the wonderment we experience when hearing live music.  A magic spell that’s cast by artisans and captures the hearts and souls of an audience.  We all sit together, and no matter what our day has held or how much we know about what we’re hearing, in-spite of our differences and because of our ears, we can all fall under the spell.

Even more fascinating is that being spellbound can happen on music you’ve heard 100 times or something you’ve never played before.  It is the truest way that we can all be understood and understand – and because of that live music needs to be fostered and protected and worked at.

As Glenn Gould used to say, music is not a momentary inspiration but rather a life long pursuit of hard work and serenity.  It takes thousands of hours for each concert to come to life so to that the audience can feel the magic.  It’s a labor of practice, research, planning, rehearsing, decision making, perseverance, and a drive to do it.  It takes a lot of time, and a lot of money, and nerves of steal.

But truly, it all comes down to one thing: passion.  The passion of a soloist to suggest a concerto, the passion of our musicians who sacrifice their time for more practice, the passion of producers to take risks and give of their energy, and the passion and audacity of a concert goer who could have stayed home and streamed something.  It takes passion to move us all to the hall for each and every concert – and that is why we can feel the magic.

This year we’re again asking you to make a donation to the SSO before our year end.  The economy is hurting, which means tickets sales are down – it also means that your money is more precious than ever.  So I ask with the knowledge that we are doing everything we can to ensure that your donation to the SSO is put to the best possible use.; whether that’s through investing in our musicians, creating more opportunities for you to come to concerts, or giving our region’s young people a chance for their imagination to collide with live music.

Running an orchestra is difficult work, and while I love my job, it takes a remarkable amount of work from many people – and with four seasons under my belt I can honestly say that some days i feel like I might give up.

But like a musician who is finding one small run of notes nearly impossible, there’s something that keeps us all working towards a remarkable goal – passion.  Eric’s passion for beautiful music, my team’s passion for their work and their orchestra, our musicians’ passion that causes them to need to make music not just listen to it, a subscriber who cannot wait for our next concert.  It defies logic and economics that orchestras still exist and still play music live, but I guarantee you it’s the passion that keeps feeding us to make magic.

So please support your orchestra this May.  Be part of that magic.  And if you’re reading this thinking you that it’s been too long since you’ve been to the symphony, then you need to stir up the bravery to leave the house and be part of magical concert moments.  Trust me, your life is so much deeper when you live passionately.

To make a gift to share in the future click here.

Do I have your attention?

Do I have your attention?

Well, while I might have it right now, the reality is that with each passing day your local arts scene has less and less of your attention. 
Every conference I’ve been to in the last 12 months has talked about the concept of disruption. When I was a kid being disrupted meant getting distracted, and that was a bad thing. When I was a young pianist, distraction meant I was not practicing enough or wasn’t really concentrating at the work at hand. As a piano teacher being disrupted by the phone ringing meant that I had to ask the student to play that passage again. 
But in 2017, disruption is the ultimate goal of every thing. Our cell phones have disrupted our lives, but more importantly they’ve disrupted our use of computers, newspaper, even live concerts. Streaming has disrupted the recording industry and nearly brought television as we know it to its knees. Online shopping has disrupted the shopping mall. Our lives are based around the inventions and decisions of a few people who decided they wanted to disrupt our norms and create the new experience.  
Earlier this week there was a fake news story about one of my favourite opera singers, claiming he’d lost his battle with cancer. The twitter-verse exploded and news of his death spread faster than would have been possible just a few years ago. And within 22 minutes his wife had posted to her Facebook page to say that he was in fact not dead, but rather sleeping peacefully beside her in their home. And with the same flurry of social media we all posted to say thank God he was still with us. 
Even news about opera has to be distracting and disruptive to be heard. Which I guess isn’t just global. I had a classical music buff who I’ve known for years here in town say to me they had no idea James Ehnes was just here. This is someone who I know is paying attention, who passionately follows the arts and would never have missed this concert…..but we’re all living in a fast-paced bubble where we have a hard time keeping up with what life has become. 
So at each conference I’ve been at we’ve talked about disrupting the audience’s who we are not connecting with, or disrupting a larger/new audience…but what happens when you’re not being disruptive enough with the people who are your core?
I worry that Saskatoon’s unbelievably vibrant and exciting local arts scene is not going to be disruptive enough. The local classical musical world can’t afford massive marketing budgets – the SSO has by far the largest marketing budget of any classical music group in town, and we feel like we can’t keep up. 
Frequently I look at the line up of upcoming music events in Saskatoon and think to myself “we are living in a golden age in this town”‎, but are we able to connect the audience with the event? Are we able to connect the artists with their fans and people who would be fans? 
Disruption might be trendy, but it’s not new. Beethoven disrupted the Viennese establishment….Debussy disrupted the French school….David Bowie disrupted the musical world and set it on its head. It’s history repeating – but can we as a music community, disrupt your lives enough for you to come and be present in the room when we make music? 
Maybe that’s just it – a concert is one of the few remaining disruptions in our modern lives…..shut your phone off, turn off work-mode, and be really you for a while just enjoying the moment.
See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner
Executive Director

The State of the SSO

Each fall as we’re getting ready to launch a new season, I get to take some time to look back at the past year and reflect on the “state of the SSO”.  I have to admit that this is always a great chore – but particularly with this past season, there was much to be proud about.

The SSO is in a state of growth – measured and steady, but still rapid growth.  In Season 86 we added two new series to our programming, we embarked on a collaborative week of Mozart Festival-ing, and we continued to grow our subscriber base.  This is remarkable news…we are making more music, and bringing it to more people, and engaging with more of our community.  We have used what we do as a means for dialogue about how we can connect more, and I think we’re doing a very good job of that.  We’re always striving to improve the lives of our musicians, so last season our spending on artistic expenses went up – a great reason for a growing budget.  The growth at the SSO is driven by a growth in our music community.

We formed a lot of great relationships that will play a big role in the future of music in Saskatoon – the most important of which is the Memorandum of Understanding we signed with the University of Saskatchewan.   This one-of-a-kind partnership outlines the common goals and aspirations the two institutions have for the province.  While the musical intersection of the SSO and U of S has always been evident, we’re going to strive to see how we can connect music with the University’s wider search for knowledge.  While its too early to say much, we are excited about a medical research project that involves the SSO in the upcoming year.

Share in the Future was again a resounding success – with donations and the generous support of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, the campaign raised more than $240,000 in just two months.  This not only paves the way for the SSO to continue embarking on its dreams, but allows for some very cool projects that we get to announce before too long!

With the AGM this week we’re announcing that I have officially signed on for four more years as Executive Director at the SSO.  In my time with the orchestra I have come to be so immensely proud of the work we do, both on and off stage.  I am grateful for exceptional staff who are at the ready when I walk in and say “I have an idea”.  We are all grateful for the incredibly generosity of our volunteers – from the board, to the concerts, to the amazing Book and Music Sale…the volunteers of the SSO show that making music together is more than just playing an instrument.  It is their dedication that keeps the orchestra playing.  I’m thrilled to work with such amazing musical colleagues who have such a love and passion for what they do – and continually grateful to have Eric, a musical partner in crime that likes to dream as much as I do.

To our audience and supporters and fans – thank you.  You seem to have decided that coming along for this ride is worth it.  It is an honour to bring concerts to the stage for an audience who will take risks, knows great music when they hear it, and will support it with their generosity.

What’s next in the new age of the SSO?  We have more expanding to do – we want to connect more young people with live music, we want to create more opportunities for our musical community, we want to give patrons a chance to get the music they need.  We want to keep connecting with the community in different and hopefully get out to perform across our region again!  We need to keep working harder to ensure that the SSO is artistically and fiscally sound – we finished season 86 with a significant surplus of approximately $60,000…I’d like to do that for a few years in a row!

And we need you to come to concerts, to get lost in sweeping symphonic works, to get inspired by breath taking soloists, and to hear music that is going to make you feel alive.  We want you to feel special about a night at the symphony.  And we want our musicians to play to packed houses – this orchestra is something we should all take pride in.

I’d like to invite you to join us to celebrate the new year ahead – we couldn’t have a bigger star for opening night than James Ehnes.  A super star violinist to share in a night with Saskatoon’s orchestra….its only fitting if you’re there to celebrate with us!

See you at the symphony,

Mark Turner
Executive Director

What does being Canadian mean to you?

If you weren’t born Canadian, would you chose to be?

Over the last few years we’ve taken Canadian new music very seriously – concertos, symphonies, chamber music, and brand new works.  Each and every one of them has been memorable: Mozetich’s Affairs of the Heart, Estacio’s Farmers Symphony, Charke’s Cercle du Nord III with Tanya Tagaq, Hatzis’ timeless Lamento with Sarah Slean.  These pieces have made a remarkable imprint on our audience and our orchestra. 

We are in a golden age for Canadian orchestral music.  Each year there seems to be new music being written that touches us profoundly…and I believe it’s because at their root, Canadian composers are expressing those things that speak to us as a people; our commonalities and our differences that have made us a great country.

We are a people who understand the meaning of cold.  We’re a people who love our vast and scenic country with its mountains and rivers and and forests and tundra and plains.  We love our double-doubles, Canadian Tire, holding the door for anyone, and gravy with curds on fries.  We are a patch work quilt of people who have come from all over to a land that has been entrusted to a people who have been here since the raven put the sun in the sky.  We’re not always good to the land, and not always good to its people.  We have some rich and wonderful history, and some history that is so embarrassing.  We try to come to the aid of our neighbours, trying to protect the freedom that we hold incredibly dear.  And we welcome new Canadians with open arms. We’re fascinated by our skies. 

This weekend is going to fill you such incredible pride.  Derek Charke’s new fanfare Elan is pure celebration.  Vincent Ho’s The Shaman is powerful and gripping and showcases one of the best percussionists in Canada, our very own Bryan Allen.  John Oliver’s The Raven Steals the Light, with actress Carol Greyeyes, shares the West Coast First Nation story of the raven placing the light in the sky.  And John Burge’s Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag explores the most basic connection of all Canadians….the weather! 

The music will be profound and wonderful.  But there’s another reason that this concert will be so memorable, and it has nothing at all to do with music.

We become the very first orchestra to host a citizenship ceremony.  At the start of the concert, 15 new Canadian citizens will join the SSO on stage to take their final oath, and sing their new national anthem.  Is there anything like a room full of music lovers singing O Canada, accompanied by an orchestra, to welcome their new neighbours?

It’s going to be an emotional moment that will remind you why it’s important to share the collective experience of our nationality in a setting that is all about being present and connected through music. 

I didn’t have to chose to be Canadian, but if I did I think I’d want to do it where I have a room full of strangers singing O Canada with me.

See you at the symphony,

Mark Turner

We need to close the gap

There is something magical about the rare few artists who really make music.  In an era when the classical “superstars” of our day got famous on their ability to impress, nothing feels better than to see an artist of great integrity truly make music.

While sitting backstage watching Timothy Chooi play beautifully crafted Mozart, it reminded me of last season’s star Jan Lisiecki.  Both young men are certified virtuosos, but both are sensitive to the needs of the music, and both play with such beautiful phrasing that the art is more important than impressing the crowd.

Last year when Jan Lisiecki finished the final notes of Beethoven’s epic 4th concerto, our sold-out crowd gave him the longest standing ovation in SSO history at 9 minutes.

Jan is doing a handful of recitals across Canada this month, and spends two nights in Saskatoon at Convocation Hall.  The concert, in one of the most intimate venues he plays in all year, features the music of Bach, Schubert, and Chopin.  I am fortunate to have seen this recital recently, and I can tell you that the Bach and Schubert were both surprising and thrilling…a young man who has something beautiful and unique to say, and it shook me.  I see many recitals across the continent each year, and I can say with certainty that Jan is the ultimate recital pianist – an artist who wants the audience to experience the music as deeply as he does.  I always think that someday he’ll fail to impress me, and I’m thrilled that each time he proves me wrong.

This concert is important for the SSO, and not just because we should be presenting world class artists to our audience.

Its hard to believe I’ve been with the SSO for three years – its amazing to look back at how far the organization has come in that time.  I am incredibly proud of the organization’s many accomplishments in that time.  In that short time we’ve retired our debt, restructured the organization and ushered in new fiscal responsibility, and achieved a new artistic standard for the orchestra.  We’ve welcomed Eric Paetkau to our stage, increased our programming, fostered the careers of many Saskatchewan artists, and shared the stage with some of the world’s finest musicians.  While we’ve achieved so much, keeping the SSO afloat is still hard work.

The SSO is underfunded.

When compared to other orchestras our size, we receive roughly anywhere from $60,000 to $200,000 less in funding. That gap that large stifles the organization.  It leaves us unstable and, more importantly, unsustainable.

We need more staff before our current staff burn out; we need to invest in our musicians, in our guests, in our audience, and in new education initiatives.  We are working with our funders and dialoguing with them about how we need addressing our funding gap.  The reality is, that may take years.

We want to bring performances like Jan Lisiecki’s recital to Saskatoon in hopes to do a few things – new revenues streams help stabilize the SSO, music lovers get the chance to hear world class artists, and it means we’re not going to ask you to buy tickets to a “rubber chicken dinner”.   We have exceptional respect for our supporters, and a concert like Jan’s shows that we want to offer you something special in return for your support of the SSO.

I promise that this is a performance you cannot miss.  Something special is going to happen on stage…real artistry up close and personal.

I hope to see you at Jan’s recital,

Mark Turner

Can you hear it?

The other day I was visiting with an SSO donor.  I thoroughly enjoy talking with people who have played a part in this new era of Saskatoon’s orchestra.  I always learn something about the SSO when I talk to our patrons – some come because they are passionate about classical music, some come because it’s a great social outing, others because they love live music, others still who want to be musically adventurous.

sso3On this particular day, I was asked an important question.  She asked me what my plans were.   

Since coming to the SSO nearly three years ago, I’m very proud to say that this is a different organization – and it has been an incredible collective effort: a dedicated board with ideas, a hard working staff, musicians who are doing incredible work, a great musical leader, and an audience who love coming along for the ride.  We have changed the way we operate, the way we program, the way we function, the way we budget, and the way we connect with the community.  We have a lot of things that still need to be changed, but it amazing how far we’ve come. 


But one thing has not changed.  The drive for artistic excellence. 


If you were at our first concert this season, you sat up in your seat for the last movement of the Beethoven.  I’m certain of it.  It was full of life.  It was why we have a symphony.

I’m proud to say that we’re not the only ones taking notice of this new era of the SSO.  A recent peer assessment from Canada Council noted the “energetic performances” that “demonstrated much emotional commitment”.  They noted our clear sense of direction.  At a recent meeting where Eric and I shared the peers’ comments with the board, Eric said something that summed it all up: “we’re just getting started.”

We have some big plans in the works, but like a good symphony they’ll take a team effort.  The reality is that the SSO is surviving, but it needs to flourish…and I believe that our audience wants us to flourish, and is ready to help with that. 

We are thrilled about this season – we have some incredible artistic projects and programs underway….but just wait to see what is in the works for the future!  We have some of world’s greatest musicians lined up to come to Saskatoon in the upcoming years…and we have a few remarkable community partnerships.  We want a vibrant musical community that looks to the SSO for inspiration. time-for-toddlers

We want to start a music literacy program – the future of our music community relies on planting the seed of musical interest in the minds of our youth.  We have a chance to bring Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program to Saskatoon, and we want to launch a new musical mentorship program Kitocikewin for students who presently don’t have access to any music education.  We are ready and waiting to launch these programs…but with our current situation of being under funded, we don’t have an Education Coordinator.  We need one. Soon. 

We want to record.  Nope, scratch that.  I think the SSO has the potential to produce an award winning record, and because I like to dream big I’m going to say I’d like us to win a JUNO.  We have some guest artists who are wanting and excited to work with us on recordings.  Recording creates more work for our musicians.  Recording allows people across this country to hear what is happening in Saskatoon.  

We want to do more to be an incubator in our music community – we want to encourage the development of young musicians, create opportunities for emerging artists, create opportunities for collaborations, performances, and ideas to come to life.  We want to create artistic bridges that enrich and inspire and close the gaps.  We want to be a space where the musical eco-system thrives and grows.  Big dreams are important. 

Artistic excellence takes time, and it takes hard work, and it takes passion, and we’re going to need your help.  The next steps of our artistic excellence are within reach, can you hear it?


See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner

Only 2 weeks left for Share in the Future

Last December our colleagues at Orchestra London closed up shop. On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, with what appeared to be very little warning, they canceled concerts, and musicians were left with an uncertain future. The city of London, Ont, is now putting the process in place to figure out if there is any way to bring the organization back from the dead.

Why did it all happen so fast? From what I understand, they hit a point where they couldn’t make payroll as they came to the end of their cash flow deficit. A familiar story in the orchestra world.

A friend of mine who lives in London said to me “I was just at their last concert…it was packed. How could this happen?”

The business of orchestras is very complex; the business model relies entirely on volatile variables: ticket sales, funding, and patron and corporate support.

Ticket Sales – While many people think concert tickets can be expensive, the fact is that the ticket price covers only 1/3 of what it costs to put you in that seat for the night. To properly sustain the operations of the SSO we would have to move to a model where our “cheap seats” were $65….for students. Grand circle seats would be well over $200 a night. It’s important to remember that when you come to a concert you are covering not only the performers on stage, but also the staff behind the scenes, the tech crew, the folks at the door, the program you’re reading, and quite literally renting that seat you’re sitting in for the night.

We keep our prices accessible, because after all we’re here to engage a community in a creative dialogue – we want to keep our prices affordable for all. We want a vibrant audience who represents all facets of our city, no matter socio-economic background, age, or place in life. To move to a for-profit model where ticket sales created profit would go against the bigger picture.

Funding – now this is where it gets bleak. Earlier this year, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that it would be “simplifying” over the next three years. What does that mean exactly? Your guess is as good as mine. It likely means that we are in for major cuts to the arts. Hopefully what it means is that the money allocated to the Canada Council will end up being spent more directly in the arts community, creating more opportunities for the arts to have an impact. But I’m not holding my breath.

Also important to understand is that the SSO receives a great deal less funding than other orchestras our size in Canada – our funding from provincial and civic levels are half of what the Regina Symphony receives respectively.

Based on the recent work of the SSO, the new strategic plan and direction, the successful programming, and the truly remarkable renaissance that we’re experiencing I hope that our funding opportunities improve. But it’s going to take more than just me waving my arms to fix this situation.

Support – for the last many years I wasn’t giving to the SSO either. I would buy my tickets but I was not giving. I, like you, was worried that my support was going to a black hole of long term financial troubles.

This was a systemic problem that the SSO had – it dates back decades, and I know that the organization has had to cry wolf many times.

But, we’ve almost fixed it. No crying wolf after this…after this, there won’t be a need to.

Our ticket sales for the Masters series this year are up 33% over last year…and if the last few weeks are indicative of results, subscription sales are about to leap. We have exceptionally strong board leadership – a board that is not only passionate about the arts, but truly passionate about fixing the financial model for the organization.

People have told me for over a year that I just shouldn’t talk about deficit, but guess what folks, without facing these issues head on we can’t fix them.  Our quiet Tuesday will come, and we could be exactly where Orchestra London is now.

Personally, I refuse to let this thing die when everything else is going so well.

People are loving our concerts…so much so they’re showing up in massive numbers. At countless different performances this year I’ve had people tell me that “this was the best SSO concert I’ve ever been to” – the orchestra is playing well, and people are taking notice. Each and every day a new opportunity for expansion comes up…a new conductor, new educational programs, new partnerships, new ideas for old partnerships, growth opportunities literally walk through the door each day.

Share in the Future moves the orchestra, the entire organization, past 20+ years of deficit. It’s some kind of magically time machine that catches us up to the speed of what we’re doing. Your gift then instantly matched by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation – not only is it incredibly generous but it’s pretty visionary.

You give. The gift is matched. You get your tax receipt, and we’ll give you a free concert in November so that we can properly say thank you. And your name is added to the list of 2000 that stand and say that for them an orchestra is an essential part of their city.

I’m telling you, begging you, to not let this opportunity slip through our fingers. To my knowledge, magical time machines like this don’t come along very often. And frankly if we miss this chance, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a city that didn’t seize this moment and make it clear that music matters.

Please click here to give.

Hopefully see you at the symphony,

Mark Turner
Executive Director