One Last Music Talk

Eric Paetkau conducting.

At the end of his 7 season, Maestro Eric Paetkau steps down from the role of Music Director. Ahead of his final concert as Music Director, Eric sat down with CEO Mark Turner for one final chance for a music talk.

Exploring the highlights, memorable moments, and special stories never told before the pair reminisce about performances spanning back to Eric’s SSO debut in 2014.

It’s a walk down memory lane and a chance acknowledge Eric’s considerable achievements at the helm of the SSO.

One Last Music Talk is available to view at

A Fond Farewell

Eric’s last concert as Music Director is Mahler 4 on May 7th. While we hope you can join us there, we know it might not be possible to say goodbye in person. If you have a message or memory you wish to share with Eric, enter it in the form below! We will make sure he gets all your kind messages as we celebrate his incredible tenure here at the SSO.

Eric Farewell

Farewell messages and memories for Music Director Eric Paetkau
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Andrew Balfour

Our concert Tania Miller & Jane Coop opens with Andrew Balfour’s beautiful Pyotr’s Dream for string orchestra. Commissioned and premiered by Tafelmusik in 2019, the work is inspired by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Balfour is an accomplished artist and is also known for his beautiful choral works. It is no wonder that he composes for strings in a way that often reminds us of the human voice.

Of Cree descent, Andrew Balfour is an innovative composer/conductor/singer/sound designer with a large body of choral, instrumental, electro-acoustic and orchestral works, including Take the Indian (a vocal reflection on missing children), Empire Étrange: The Death of Louis RielBawajigaywin (Vision Quest) and Manitou Sky, an orchestral tone poem. His new Indigenous opera, Mishaboozʼs Realm, was commissioned by LʼAtelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal and Highlands Opera Workshop.

Andrew is also the founder and Artistic Director of the vocal group Camerata Nova, now in its 22nd year of offering a concert series in Winnipeg. With Camerata Nova, Andrew specializes in creating “concept concerts”, many with Indigenous subject matter. These innovative offerings explore a theme through an eclectic array of music, including new works, arrangements and innovative inter-genre and interdisciplinary collaborations.

Andrew has become increasingly passionate about music education and outreach, particularly on northern reserves and in inner-city Winnipeg schools where he has worked on behalf of the National Arts Centre, Camerata Nova, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and various Winnipeg school divisions.

In 2007 Andrew received the Mayor of Winnipegʼs Making a Mark Award, sponsored by the Winnipeg Arts Council to recognize the most promising midcareer artist in the City.

Lahni Russell named Cellist Emeritus

The SSO announces the retirement of Lahni Russell after more than three decades as Principal Cellist. 

Ms. Russell earned a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music (both with High Distinction) from Indiana University studying with world-renowned cellist, Janos Starker. Post-graduation she spent two years at the Banff Centre of the Arts and was the first ‘cellist to win the Regina Concerto Competition (1987) before winning the audition for Principal Cellist in Saskatoon in 1989. 

Performing Morlock’s Exaudi

During her tenure she captivated SSO audiences with many solo concerto performances  including Haydn D Major, Kabalevsky, Haydn C Major, Vivaldi and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons, and in 2018, Jocelyn Morlock’s remarkable ‘Exaudi’ with the Canadian Chamber Choir. In the wider community, Ms. Russell was a founding member of Prairie Virtuosi and the U of S Amati Quartet, she sat as first chair for the Saskatoon Opera and accompanied the Saskatoon Children’s Choir on many occasions. Across Canada, she performed as guest artist with the Calgary Philharmonic in Banff, as guest Principal Cello in Regina and in the Victoria and Vancouver Symphony sections. She was Solo cello for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet during  performances in Saskatoon and Victoria and was hired for that same position on the Ballet’s tours across the U.S. 

In addition to her orchestral performances, Ms. Russell teaches private lessons (in person and online), coaches string ensembles and has mentored advanced string students prior to  competitions and exams. 

Ms. Russell is also an accomplished luthier and bowmaker. She has provided stringed instrument and bow repair, restoration services, and appraisals to professional musicians and students province-wide and beyond. Her clients have included visiting guest artists and principal string players in professional orchestras. She has operated her own business, LJ Russell Violin and Bowmaker, since 1995. She will continue to teach and offer violin shop services. 

Ms. Russell is the longest serving Principal Cellist in the SSO. To recognize her contribution to the orchestra, we are happy to bestow upon her the honorary title of Principal Cellist Emeritus. We thank Lahni for her years of service and wish her well.




An Announcement from Music Director Eric Paetkau

It’s hard to believe that I’m enjoying my seventh season as Music Director of the SSO. I’ve had so many unforgettable experiences and memorable moments over the years. Not only has the organization as a whole been incredible (the musicians, Mark Turner and the whole staff, the Board) but the welcome and warmth Karen and I received from the audience, the city, and the community has been special. And that’s why it’s not easy to say that I’ve decided to move on from the SSO at the end of this season and hand over the musical reins of this wonderful orchestra

Eric Paetkau conducting. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished as an organization over the years and how we’ve been an innovative force in the Canadian music scene. Some highlights have been the many Saskatchewan and Canadian musicians and music we’ve featured, our growing presence in the community, and simply daring to try new things and making them work. Part of this is creative momentum and I strongly believe new ideas and fresh perspectives are paramount to artistic growth. That’s why I’m very excited in passing the torch to new musical leaders and seeing how they contribute to the future of the SSO.

We’ve already been seeing fresh faces on the podium in the last year and I’m delighted to see many more this coming season. I’m making this announcement now to ensure a smooth transition and for everyone (orchestra, audience, and community) to experience what great things are in store for the orchestra moving forward. Thanks to all of the hard work from everyone involved, the SSO is in a prime position for an exciting future.

But I’m not done yet!  I’m excited for the Brahms Requiem this month and then officially saying goodbye in May. I look forward to my last season and continuing to experience not only this great orchestra but the wonderful city of Saskatoon and its incredibly warm and inviting people.

Thank you Saskatoon and see you soon!
Eric Paetkau

Chrysalis Extended – Nia Imani Franklin

With styles ranging from R&B to classical, Nia’s soulful and eclectic music is a great fit for commercials, television and film. Her gospel singing background in church contributed to her love for music at a young age, having written her first song at the age of five. Nia has a Bachelor of Music degree in theory and composition and a Master of Music degree in composition. She is a composer of opera, instrumental music, and writes for artists and herself.

We’re thrilled to be performing the Canadian premiere of her new work “Chrysalis Extended” as part of our Swan Lake performance on February 26th.

Take time to watch her video talk about this incredible new work!

Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations

Infinitely charming and seemingly unable to age, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme is the closest he ever came to writing a full solo work (concerto) for cello and orchestra. Inspired by the elegance and grace of Mozart, the Variations show how brilliant Tchaikovsky could be when he turned his pen to the classical style…but rococo? Not so much!

Jonathan Craig Penner

Rococo was a period of art between the Baroque era and the Classical era. Rococo style is elegant and refreshing – Tchaikovsky wrote his own theme, it wasn’t Rococo after all!

The piece is made up of a brand new theme and eight variations. Tchaikovsky wrote an original theme in a style that meant Rococo to him; the orchestra creates the mood, the horn hands it off to the cello, and they all share the elegant theme repeated four times, allowing the cello to lead us into the variations…

The variations each show us something unique:

Var 1 – Tempo della Theme (same speed as the theme) is full of triplets, lively and graceful!

Var 2 – Tempo della Theme is a dialogue between orchestra and soloist and the statement of the theme has had its rhythms manipulated to make it feel much more lively and brazen, refusing to resolve.

Var 3 – Andante (at a walking speed) is sad. It’s melancholy restatement of the theme is the only time the composer gives us the the music in a minor key.

Var 4 – Allegro vivo (fast, full of life!) warms us up taking us from the previous D minor to sunny sensuous return A major. This is one of the most difficult passages in the piece for the soloist as its filled with constant fast note runs. It’s blazingly fast and ends with a graceful use of a rocket theme (the music literally goes up like a rocket!)

Var 5 – Andante grazioso (walking gracefully) is where Tchaikovsky moves the beat around on us. He’s mixing up where we feel the downbeat and gives us a stunning trill from the cello!

Var 6 – Andante takes that cello trill and hands the main theme off to the flute. When the soloist finally “falls” from the trill to a low E, the orchestra takes over with the joyous theme again. The soloist is given a cadenza (solo virtuosic phrase) that leads us into C major, something that feels so distant and foreign but comfortable all at once.

Var 7 – Andante sostenuto feel contemplative in the warmth of C major as it slowly winds its way toward E major – its Tchaikovsky giving us a hint that we’re heading home before long! There’s a meditative hopefulness here that seems to ask and answer a question, and E major gives us a perfect way to prepare for the return of the home key in…

Var 8 – e Coda: Allegro moderato con anima (Moderately fast with movement) has the cello gracefully bringing us home to A Major. It’s one big crescendo that leaps from fortissimo to piano only to be joined by the orchestra again. Joyful, full of light, buoyant, full of running scales to get us into the Coda that finally gives us the full drama that Tchaikovsky is so known for. This elegant journey comes to a glorious end…one that Mozart would have been proud of!

The SSO is thrilled to have Regina-born cellist Jonathan Craig Penner making his SSO debut with the Variations on a Rococo Theme as part of our Swan Lake concert February 26th.

New Beginnings – Live Stream only

Our January 15th concert, New Beginnings, will be online only. There will no longer be an in-person audience.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our goal has been to keep our musicians working and making music. This means that we have taken every precaution to keep the musicians, the staff, and our audiences safe. We have, and continue to be as cautious as possible when it comes to our work. Our individual member’s health impacts the longevity of our organization.
With the Omicron variant becoming predominant in Saskatoon, we acknowledge that what’s safest for the musicians next week is to move ahead without an in-person audience.  Thankfully our streaming platform allows us to bring the concert directly to you.  We’re putting together plans to make the stream a unique digital experience and we hope you enjoy watching New Beginnings from home.

Jan Lisiecki Recordings

Love listening to Jan in recital and wish you could hear more? Lucky for all of us Jan has quite the discography available for purchase.

For his eighth and latest Deutsche Grammophon album, Canadian pianist extraordinaire Jan Lisiecki has chosen to return to the music of Frédéric Chopin. Following on from Works for Piano & Orchestra (2017) and Chopin: Études (2013), Chopin: Complete Nocturnes features profoundly personal interpretations of some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces ever written for solo piano.

Lisiecki is perhaps most celebrated for his masterfully sensitive and refined interpretative approach. His newest release – recorded last October at Berlin’s historic Meistersaal – not only captures the spirit of Chopin’s pianism, but also represents the time and circumstances in which it was made, as the pianist himself explains: “I’m the first to question why we should record something that has been recorded many times before. But music only lives through performance and is different every time we hear it, even when it’s a recording. I think there was something for me to say with this album. It reflects on the last year and my thoughts on that as well as on the escape and understanding that music gives us.”

The album, which was released on 13 August 2021, is available on CD and to download and stream. Listen to Chopin: Complete Nocturnes in the new high-quality spatial listening experience of Dolby Atmos on Apple Music.

You can purchase this album and all of Jan’s recordings on the Deutsche Grammophon website, Amazon music, Presto Music, or Apple Music.



Pfeffernusse with Margaret!

Christmas is all about the music…but its really all about the baking!

Our Holiday Pops concert this year is special – its the first time we’ll have the full orchestra for our annual festive show in two years…so it feels like we’ve got everyone home for the holidays. It’s going to be a night filled with festive joy.

Last year we decided we would invite ourselves into the kitchen’s of our Principal Bassoonist and Director of Administration for some cookies and toffee, and this year we wanted to try something traditional. Margaret Wilson, the SSO’s Principal Clarinetist, had a family tradition of making pfeffernusse for Christmas and it seemed perfectly fitting for a Holiday Pops that feels like a family homecoming.

Margaret is no stranger to our annual Holiday Pops as she’s been our Principal Clarinetist for 45 seasons! To hear how excited she is for these new arrangements by Maria Fuller means that the concert is a festive treat.

Pfeffernusse is a traditional German cookie that is just the right blend of savory and a touch of sweet. They date all the way back to 1753 and have been part of Yuletide celebrations in Germany since 1850!

There’s even wonderful stories about the composer Felix Mendelssohn traveling a good distance just to get Pfeffernusse, writing: “I can’t conduct the Düsseldorf Music Festival because I have to rest and move to Soden, I’m going to Offenbach with Ms. Bernus to buy Pfeffernüsse.”


Let’s get started!

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 3/4 cup minced candied peel
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • 3 cups (approximately – probably less) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup rum or brandy
  • powdered sugar

l. Beat eggs and sugar with electric mixer in large bowl until thick and lemon coloured. Stir in almonds, candied peel and grated lemon peel

2. Sift together approximately ll112 cups cups of flour with the cinnamon, ginger, pepper and cloves. Stir into egg mixture and keep adding more flour until dough almost cleans side of bowl.

3. Knead on lightly floured surface, adding as much flour as needed until smooth – about 1 minute.

4. Divide dough in half: shape each half into log 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate wrapped in plastic wrap at least one hour.

5. Cut logs into 3/4 inch thick slices: round edges slightly. Place slices on greased or parchment lined baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature overnight.

6. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Turn cookies over. Bake until centres are firm to the touch and tops are golden – approximately 20 minutes.

7. Transfer to wire racks. Brush cookies generously with rum or brandy; sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Cool completely. Texture and flavour improve if allowed to age in airtight container 1 to 2 weeks.

Margaret’s secret tip: Although the original recipe calls for the spices to be sifted into the 3 cups of flour, I have never been able to work in that much flour. That is why I put the spices into less flour to start and then work in as much flour as need – usually about 2 1/4 – 2 l/2 cups.

Time to get your baking hat on!