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 

A statement from ED Mark Turner

The first thought I had in the moment was that I wouldn’t be able to play piano the same way again.  My life did not flash before my eyes (no pun intended), and time neither stood still nor flew by. And while stories like this are usually told in a moment-by-moment retelling of the event, for me the story is more than a series of events. I cannot instantly recall the initial pain, but I can vividly recall the panic that I’d lost a part of my piano playing ability.  

To be very honest I have been attempting, and failing, to write a note to the SSO community since the attack.  I have wanted to share that I am fully recovered. I’ve wanted to share my thanks for the support and love the community showed to me and my staff whose lives were all changed forever that day.  I’ve wanted to talk about how at first I couldn’t listen to music, but now I rely on music to get through the bad days and the just getting by days. I’ve wanted to talk about the steps we’re taking to give the SSO a safe space.  There’s much I’ve wanted to say, but I haven’t had the words.

On July 31st, I was attacked at the SSO offices by a man who we’d never seen before.  In the middle of a meeting with three of the SSO team, he stabbed me in the eye. Thanks to the quick thinking and giant hearts of my team, I was rushed to hospital and I had the emergency care I needed.  The next few weeks were very difficult, very painful, very emotional, and very draining.  

The bruising, swelling, fractures, and eye complications have all gone, and I have made a 100% physical recovery. I am very grateful to medical team at City Hospital and the Eye Clinic for the care I received that made recovery possible.  

But the psychological effects of being the victim of a violent crime don’t disappear like bruises.  So while the scar on my eye is barely noticable, I’m adjusting to life with scars.

Like many people and, as studies show, nearly all musicians, mental health has always played a role in my life and I have struggled with anxiety most of my adult life.  Whether it’s a musician’s innate emotional connection to their soul or the vulnerability that comes with being a music student, musicians and mental health challenges go hand in hand.  I am very lucky that I don’t have performance related anxiety, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really been nervous to play no matter the size of the audience (though, my teachers Sheila and Penny somehow had the ability to make me question if I’d practiced enough….).  In the mid-2000s I began living with anxiety – it took a long time to understand, and accept, and eventually I was able to manage it. I’ve even given a speech on stage at the SSO while I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. More than once.

So new scars are just that – they’re new.  I consider myself very lucky that in my life I can turn with an open heart and open mind and open ears to music.  I am a voracious consumer and maker of music – it’s my life’s work, it’s my refuge, its my passion, it’s my research, it’s what I turn to when I need time and space. But this summer made me grateful that beautiful music exists and that whether its Bach or Aretha, there’s something for every feeling and every scar.

Safety is a must for a workplace – and because of that, the SSO Board of Directors and I made the decision to move the SSO to a new space.  

The shock and fear attached to the attack had impact on the staff, musicians, Book Sale volunteers, and even our patrons.  This isn’t about us running away from what happened, or turning our backs on the friends we’ve made in Riversdale – this decision was solely selfish: we needed to provide the team that brings you the SSO a space where they could feel productive again.  While I was the one left with a physical scar, the mental scarring affected many people. We have been able to do our work, but it is taking a toll on us.  

We’re thrilled to have found a great new space that has a great music room, beautiful offices, and a wonderful warehouse for the Book Sale. We’re grateful to our neighbours and landlord for making Riversdale such a rewarding home.  And we’re affirming our commitment to being an orchestra for all members of our community, and in continuing the work that has been so important to us in our time in Riversdale.

I’m behind on my work – we lost a month, and though I am back to work I still have days where concentration is difficult.  But I am loving being back at work. Our first few concerts of the year have refreshed my pride in the musicians of the SSO, and they’ve given me the energy to make the next steps for the SSO to be a catalyst for exceptional music making in our community.  

The next time you see one of my staff, please tell them how grateful you are that they are doing what they do for music in our town and how brave they were in the face of terrifying circumstances.  

A move is a lot of work and costs a lot of money, so don’t be shy about helping out!  Come to lots of concerts – there is no replacement for the healing power of music. It means a lot to us when you come to our concerts.

And I’m back at the piano.
Tune your heart to brave music.

See you at the symphony,

SSO Executive Director Mark Turner wishes to thank the community, near and far, who reached out in the weeks that followed the unfortunate events of July 31st.

The SSO will be moving its offices during the month of November to 602B 51st Street East.

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

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

A New Conductor. A New Season. A New SSO.

Its hard to believe that the announcement of the new season is just a week away – to be honest the last few months have flown by…it seems that the momentum that accompanies the SSO these days just keeps rolling full steam ahead.

I am so delighted to welcome Eric Paetkau back to the prairies – working with Eric over the course of the last few months has been truly rewarding.  He stepped in to programming and took the reigns – no small task after the success of the present season…but he has made it look and feel easy.

Next year is pretty amazing.  Once again, each and every guest is Canadian.  Somehow, next season features even more soloists with Saskatchewan roots than the present year.  And season 85 features the most Canadian music the SSO has ever seen: a Canadian symphony, a concert with nearly all Canadian repertoire, a Canadian song cycle, and a brand new pops show featuring a Saskatoon artist.

The season is packed with orchestral hits – four of the most loved symphonies ever written, a piece made famous by a brilliant movie, a great piece of Americana, and the greatest concerto ever written.

And to top it off, the biggest orchestra pops show in the world.  And icing on the cake, a classical music super star.

I’m so excited…but frankly, my attention is still going to be focused on the real task at hand.

Our Share in the Future Campaign has been so successful to date – we set out to find 2000 people to give gifts of $100, and I’m thrilled to say that we’ve found over 500 of those people already!

Its going very well – but if you know me, you’ll know that I won’t be happy until each and every music lover in this city, in this province, steps up and adds their name to our list.

I think that audiences here deserve the very best that the music world has to offer.  I see the vision that our new conductor brings to the table, I see the projects that are exciting our musicians, and I see the outreach opportunities across the province in schools and halls – like Eric says its all about “potential”.  We are so close that the phrase “run, don’t walk” comes to mind.

There’s that old saying “the proof is in the pudding” – our concerts are packed, we’ve never been more engaged with our community, and audiences can’t say enough about how much they are loving the concerts.  We have proof by the bucket full – the SSO is ready for the future.

So lets just do this.  I’d like to issue a challenge – I want to hit the 1000 person mark with the Share in the Future campaign by April 1st.  We have two weeks to get another 500 people to be part of what we’re doing.

Maybe you’ve been planning to give, or figured you’d get around to it later.  Maybe you meant to but forgot about it.  Maybe you haven’t thought about it at all yet.  Maybe you’ve already given and have some friends that you should get involved too.  Its time for us to make this happen.

Each and every one of the 2000 gifts to the campaign are matched by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation – thanks to their incredible generosity, your $100 becomes $200.  If you’re a couple, your $200 becomes $400.

We are doing this so that the organization can start running ahead with the future – and quite frankly, if we can’t find 2000 people who want to see their city have an orchestra then we shouldn’t have an orchestra.  This is about putting together a list of names that stand up and let it be known that they want to have an orchestra.  Let’s face it, if you haven’t stopped reading my rambling yet, your name should be on that list.

Just think – on November 21st we’re going to put all 2000 of those people in one room with our amazing musicians of the orchestra, our brand new conductor, and one very special guest artist…now that’s going to be a party to remember.

Come meet Eric.  Click here and put your name on the list.

See you at the symphony,


SSO’s New Maestro to be announced on March 4th



A new era is about to begin.

A new conductor is an exciting time for any orchestra – no, actually, its an exciting time for the orchestra and their audience.  And maybe even more exciting in today’s classical music climate.

I was in New York last week when the NY Philharmonic announced it would be looking for its next music director…and the excitement was palpable.  And its not unique to New York – it seems that we are in a changing of the guard in orchestras.  Over the course of the next few seasons, a large number of Canadian orchestras will be welcoming new conductors.

The SSO search was an incredibly fulfilling process.  We took time to map out what the future of the SSO looks like – what kind of leader does the SSO need? what kind of leader can the SSO be in the community?  what role and impact will the next conductor have on the local music scene? where do we want to go artistically?

We struck a committee – two board members, three principal musicians from the orchestra, and myself.  We had 77 applicants from all over the globe.  The committee whittled that down to a shortlist of 8.  A truly exceptional shortlist; exceptional musicians and visionaries who are passionate about music and their art.

The interview process was among the most rewarding experiences of my professional life – asking these artists about their process, about their ideas, was the source of much inspiration and discussion for the committee.

This was not an easy decision – many long hours of thoughtful discussion took place.  When the final meeting of the committee took place, I can say that we enthusiastically put forward a unanimous recommendation to the board.

The classical music world is presently at its most exciting, in my opinion.  There is a wealth of young conductors and soloists who are entrepreneurial in their art form.  Gone are the days when a conductor was a stoic figure on a very high podium – today’s conductors and soloists are out there trying to make their own artistic experiences and create new work for themselves and their friends – in fact, nearly all of our shortlist had at one point started their own orchestra.

The next generation of classical artists need to know more than how to make music.  They need to understand the business of the arts, the finesse of budgeting, and the art of selling tickets.  Programming is no longer about what a conductor wants to play, but rather what artistic statement the audience wants and needs.  The way we create concerts has changed.

This new generation of music makers aren’t classical snobs – but they are passionately driven to make exceptional music and see high standards as a baseline.  Today’s conductors don’t see classical music as the only path to musical enlightenment – the new generation of conductors are as comfortable at a jazz concert or playing on a Polaris prize winning album as they are on the podium.

Classical musicians love music in all its forms.  Every classical musician I know, or have worked with, would list classical as only one of the many facets of their love.  (Little known fact, I love rap).

I’m excited that Saskatoon is on the cusp of something great.  A time to explore new things, new sounds, new skills – a chance to renew our passion about this orchestra.

The 16th conductor has big shoes to fill – I can say that next season’s programming is amongst the most exciting, unique, and imaginative that Saskatoon has ever seen.  We’re setting a new soundtrack for our city.

We are about to announce a new maestro who has prairie ties and will call Saskatoon home.  Excited yet?

See you at the symphony – and hopefully one of our big launches in March.


The state of the SSO

We’re at the half way point of the season – after my first year with the SSO, I want to take some time to take stock of things.

Over the course of the last 12 months we’ve made an exceptional amounts of changes at the SSO:

  • We changed how we budget – long term budget development has allowed us to take a serious look at how the organization needs to plan for each concert, each decision, future growth, new programs, and assessing how our financials meet the musical needs of Saskatoon.
  • We’ve drastically changed how we spend money – we’ve been strategically cutting expenses, but I’m proud to say that we can cut expenditures and still present incredible programming; and speaking of programming.  No more over spending, those days are gone.
  • We changed the way we program – we acknowledged the fact that our audiences deserve programming that fulfills their musical needs.  Its not enough to just ‘put on a concert’, it has to be an artistic experience, an event that gives something to the audience.
  • We implemented a strategic plan – it covers everything from a commitment to long term fiscal responsibility to improving performance quality
  • We have been working on a development overhaul – until this past year, the SSO had a non-existent donor database.  I’m excited to say that our new database is up and running – it will completely change the way we work with our supporters, and allow us to develop new initiatives.
  • We are getting interactive – whether you’re experiencing the opportunity to sing in our new chorus, enjoying getting social with us online, or voting on the last performance of the year, we’re making huge strides involving patrons in the process
  • We are enjoying the benefits of all of the above – each and every concert in the first half of the season saw a surplus.  Its not only financially satisfying, its been wonderful to see such large audiences engaging in their orchestra!
  • We’ve committed to creating artistic opportunities for Sask artists – how exciting it is that a kid can grow up in a farm in Saskatchewan, fall in love with music, get inspired by prairie skies, go off to find a career, and return to be celebrated by their own orchestra – that is one of the best parts of the whole year
  • We have hired a new music director – 77 phenomenal candidates all boiled down to one.  One exceptional musician.  A visionary with big dreams whose commitment to defining a higher artistic standard will redefine the music scene.  A conductor who is as comfortable on the Masters stage as they are biking to an indie concert.

These achievements are remarkable – its a testament of the leadership of the board, a hardworking staff, and most importantly musicians who showed us how beautifully they can play Mozart!  Its owed in large part to our supporters…our stakeholders.  The people who are not just enthusiastic about music, but are showing up to concerts and helping us rediscover what the orchestra means to Saskatoon and beyond.

So its time to tackle a hurdle.  The SSO had too many years of not being fiscally responsible.  It is truly the most frustrating part of my job – its a reality created before I got here and a mountain too big to move on my own.  Its the deficit.  Everyone tells me that no one likes to talk about a deficit, but when I joined the SSO I promised that I would be frank and honest about the organization…and its time to move ahead.

With the present state of the SSO, the organizational health we’re experiencing, we can actually deal with the deficit and stop the cycle.  If we’re going to create a great orchestra that people across the country will take note of, we have to recover from the past and commit to the future.

By getting rid of the deficit the SSO can effectively invest in our community – facilitate long term planning for raises for the orchestra musicians, expand our educational programming, reach out to our surrounding communities, attract world renowned guest artists, create new projects that flex the artistic muscles of our arts scene.  If we can achieve such great accomplishments in the last 12 months, just think of where we’re headed.

We have one last major step to take.  And we’re about to take it.

See you at the symphony,
Mark Turner