Taking Stock

It is a bit hard to believe that this coming fall marks my 10th season with the SSO. When I first took on this role, I took to our blog to share my vision for the future. But somewhere along the way I ran out of time to blog…a good problem to have because it was the result of incredible organizational growth. 

As I’ve watched our orchestra and our organization grow this season, I wanted to take time to take stock of what we’ve accomplished.

Since its launch, we’ve had more than thirty-five million minutes of viewing on the ConcertStream.tv platform. Read that again. 35 million minutes of viewing. Hundreds of thousands of people from 53 countries. From online subscribers to folks who watch our free content, what we’ve been able to do is share our music with more people. Unprecedented accessibility to the SSO has changed us forever.

This season, we’ve been the lucky ones to experience some of the most sensational performances Saskatoon has ever enjoyed. Whether you danced the night away at the Music of ABBA, laughed with the Muppets, were filled with joy at Handel’s Messiah, or had your breath taken away by Jan Lisiecki, I know you’ll agree that this season has felt like a golden age. 

The crowds have been incredible. Multiple sell-out concerts and full houses have left us feeling the love! Nothing beats the thrill of hearing the roar of the crowd. It’s been a season celebrating the exceptional talent that Saskatoon has to offer. With artistic partners like Ryan Davis and Danika Lorèn and performances with the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra, the SSO Chorus, the Greystone Singers, and Aurora Voce…those have been special moments that show this organization and community at its best. 

Then there’s been the profound performances from your SSO musicians. The orchestra, time and time again this season, have stepped up and shown how much a symphony can mean to its community. Whether lifting up homegrown talent, helping toddlers experience the joy of music, or performing alongside a legitimate musical superstar, the musicians of your orchestra have made us all proud.

It goes without saying that an orchestra needs its audience, I actually believe that the reverse is more true. The audience needs its orchestra. What an exciting thing to be able to go to a concert (or watch it on your phone!) and experience the thrill of an orchestra in full flight. It makes our community a better place to call home.

The multiplier effect of an orchestra is astonishing. Our musicians teach, mentor, and inspire students. Those students go on to be people who understand hard work, goal setting, perseverance, and the joy of complex music. The musicians on stage have influenced the lives of countless people across our province.

Our concerts change minds, burst with emotions and imagination, and lift us up out of day-to-day life.
From a child hearing the violin for the first time, to students in schools learning about the importance of living composers, to long-time subscribers hearing new sounds and falling in love with music all over again – the outcome is remarkable.

Orchestras are living, breathing, vital artistic beings that have an exponential impact in their communities. I cannot imagine Saskatoon, and indeed Saskatchewan, without their orchestras. 

This season isn’t without its challenges. The prairies are experiencing a crippling arts funding crisis. The value of music is shrinking in our education system, as it’s easy to ignore the continually growing body of evidence that musical literacy is crucial to a complete education and a student’s success. All arts organizations are feeling the deep effects and challenges of inflation. It’s hard work, and it’s worth it.

The SSO has come a long way – we’re not done. We’re focused on a robust future for music in Saskatoon, one that is filled with passion, innovation, and an ambitious plan for musical opportunities and accessibility. 

In the weeks ahead we have a fundraising campaign to finish. Our Opus 100: Share in the Future campaign crossed its first matching goal in December, and then the generosity of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation shone through and extended our matching to a goal of $500,000. To date, we’ve raised over $350,000 – giving us six more weeks to raise another $150,000 to meet our goal. 

I’ll come back to blogging to share my passion for the SSO, because it’s important for us to take stock of how much the SSO means and remind you how fiercely proud we should be.

See you at the symphony – soon,
Mark Turner
CEO and Creative Producer

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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.

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.