SSO celebrates successful year

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra hosted its Annual General Meeting on Sunday, September 20th – it was announced that it had its strongest season in more than a decade, posting a surplus of $200,000 and completely retiring the organization’s debt.

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is the 5th oldest consecutively running orchestra in Canada – started in 1931 the orchestra is one of two professional orchestras in the province.  The orchestra is about to begin its 85th season, the first with new music director Eric Paetkau.  Paetkau is a JUNO nominated conductor, who now calls Saskatoon home.

During the 2014-2015 season the organization underwent transformative change that included setting new artistic goals, new budgetary practices, new marketing strategies, and the Share in the Future campaign which focused on retiring the debt the organization had held for years.

“It has been exciting to see the organization move towards long term stability and allows us to assess how to keep up with our growth,” said SSO board chair Bryn Richards.

In its 84th season the SSO witnessed a significant increase in both subscriptions and single ticket sales – one of the few Canadian orchestras able to boast such increases.  The largest growth was seen in the under 35 demographic.

The programming focused on the concept of what an orchestra on the prairies had to perform to be relevant and inspiring – the season featured 14 Saskatchewan born guest artists, 7 of whom were making their SSO debut.

Season highlights included Saskatoon’s own Thomas Yu returning to the SSO, violin soloist Marc Bouchkov joining the orchestra post-concerto to play the second half of the concert, a refreshed performance of Handel’s Messiah with the new Saskatoon Symphony Chorus, and a Faure Requiem that featured the debuts of soprano Danika Loren and world renowned bass Nathan Berg – a Sask born singer who despite his international career had never performed with the SSO.

“We set a new standard for music making this year,” said SSO Executive Director Mark Turner.  “We set out to ‘find our prairie voice’ and in the process we made some great music, engaged hundreds of new donors, and reached out in to the community in new ways.  This year was a success on all fronts.”

“We increased our artistic spending, reduced other spending, focused on a goal of making great music and experiences, and we’re reaping the rewards.  Subscriptions are up again for the new year,” said Turner.

“Much thanks is owed to the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation for their support of our Share in the Future campaign – it is because of their support we’re able to be debt free now,” said Richards.sso orch may 15

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

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,


Share in the Future – Building up the SSO


Be a part of our Share in the Future campaign!

The concept is simple: find 2,000 donors to give just $100 each to the SSO before May 31, 2015.

There has been a ground swell of support for the SSO in the last year with rising audience attendance, public recognition, and community support. Through Share in the Future, we want to give the music lovers in Saskatoon the chance to feel a part of the new strength and triumphs of their orchestra.

In addition to your charitable donation receipt, you’ll join us this fall for a gala concert with a very special surprise guest – a free concert and champagne party to celebrate.  The only way to get in is to be one of the 2,000 so that we can say “Thank you” musically!

Thanks to the great generosity of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, the money raised from the Share in the Future campaign will be matched. With all 2,000 gifts matched the SSO will completely retire our deficit and be able to focus on the future.

Ways to give:

1) Onlineclick here for online donations

2) Call Angela Kempf, Director of Development, at 306-665-4864

3) Send a cheque, made out to Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra to:

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra
408 20th Street West
Saskatoon, SK S7M 0X4
Fill in this form and mail with your cheque – Click for Gift Form

You might be wondering…

What is the purpose of this campaign? Building on the great successes of the last year and the excitement about the new administration and artistic vision, now is the time to solidify the future of the orchestra, move on from the past, and focus on what’s next for music in Saskatoon.

How is it different from previous campaigns? This campaign is not just about a financial target: we are inviting everyone to be a part of our long-term vision of the orchestra as an integral part of our community. We want to give music lovers in Saskatoon a chance to feel a part of the new strength and triumphs of the SSO.

What does a matching campaign mean? Every donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $200,000, through the generosity of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation. Your gift of $200 means that the SSO will receive $400 in total to the campaign.

How will my gift help the SSO? By eliminating our deficit we’re able to invest in artistry – expanding our educational programming, growing our orchestra (addition of a harpist), stability to attract world renowned guest artists, and investing in artistic leadership with our next conductor.

Most importantly, we want to create long term financial stability for the SSO to facilitate and plan for pay raises for our musicians over the course of the next 5 seasons to ensure that they are appropriately compensated for their work in our community.

Can I make smaller donations over the course of the campaign? Yes, you may pledge and make donation installments through May 31, 2015, to ensure that your gift is matched.  You could chose to do just $25 a month over the next four months.

Do I get a tax receipt for my donation? Yes, you will receive a charitable gift tax receipt for the full amount of your donation.

How do I get tickets to the special gala concert? The concert is our way to say thank you to the Share in the Future donors. For every gift of $100, a seat will be reserved at the concert on a first-come, first-served basis, and more information will be released to donors after May 31.