Composer John EstacioRead on for coverage of labour disputes in San Antonio and Springfield; a wave of Omicron cancellations; opinions and people in the news, including composer and Order of Canada recipient John Estacio. (Photo: CBC News)

 

Labour news

The New York Times reported on the pandemic struggles of orchestras with ‘underlying conditions’, focusing on the San Antonio Symphony and Springfield (Massachusetts) Symphony Orchestra, both of which remain in contentious labour disputes. 

As the San Antonio Symphony strike continues, some musicians have found work or relocated to other cities, according to San Antonio News Report. For those with deeper roots in San Antonio, the decision to leave is more fraught.

 

Omicron cancellations

The Omicron surge has led to a wave of cancellations across the country in recent weeks and days (this list is partial and as of January 8th); some orchestras have released or expanded online offerings:

  • The Montreal Symphony postponed and cancelled some January concerts, while offering a free online performance of Brahms 1 recorded last January, Global News reports;
  • La Presse also reported (in French) on January shutdowns by OSM and Orchestre Métropolitain
  • While live concerts are shut down, the Thunder Bay Symphony is offering free streaming concerts for a limited time, Thunder Bay News Watch reports;  
  • The Windsor Symphony is releasing an online series about music and food, CBC News reports;
  • The Winnipeg Symphony cancelled some January concerts, but hopes that the New Music Festival may still go ahead, Global News reports;
  • While Saskatchewan has so far not restricted gatherings, many cultural events in the province have cancelled, including performances by the Saskatoon Symphony, CBC News reports;
  • The Calgary Philharmonic cancelled upcoming performances with pianist Yuja Wang and concertmaster Diana Cohen, per a press release posted at Broadway World

 

Opinion

Anthony Tommasini reflected on his life as a devoted classical music listener and New York Times arts critic, in a piece titled What Shouldn’t Change About Classical Music

Globe and Mail critic Kate Taylor lamented the fickleness of arts shutdowns, in a piece titled Arbitrary shutdowns show that most Canadian leaders don’t value artists. Taylor argues that relatively few exposures have been linked to arts events, and that disruptions to events have real negative consequences for the cultural workers, as well as the social fabric and psychological health.  

 

People in the news

Edmonton-based composer John Estacio is among the newest class of Order of Canada recipients, CBC News reports.

CBC News profiled Bernard Neumann, an internationally acclaimed violin maker from Montreal now based in Cremona. 

Longtime Chicago Symphony principal horn Dale Clevenger has died, at age 81, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Seattle Symphony music director Thomas Dausgaard abruptly stepped down this week, the Seattle Times reports.

The St. Louis Symphony has created a new position, VP for external affairs and equity, diversity, and inclusion, hiring St. Louis native Yolanda Alovor for the role, STLPR reports.

And the National Youth Orchestra of Canada appointed Sascha Goetzel as music director for a 2-year term, Ludwig Van reports

 

Compiled by Matt Heller and Melissa Goodchild, with assistance from the OCSM Editorial Committee. 

 

Karolina Kuras / National Ballet of CanadaRead on for coverage of pandemic responses, Nutcracker productions, and other issues and people in the news. (Photo: Karolina Kuras/National Ballet of Canada)

 

 

Orchestras and Issues in the News

 

Both Ontario and Quebec are re-imposing capacity limits, gathering restrictions, and considering further “circuit breaker” measures in response to the spiking Omicron variant, the Globe and Mail reports. Arts leaders in Ontario are urging policy makers to maintain capacity levels and restrict food and drink sales, the Toronto Star reports

 

It’s Nutcracker season, and the Globe and Mail reviewed how three companies’ productions have changed in response to the pandemic and cultural trends: the National Ballet of Canada, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Alberta Ballet

 

The San Antonio Symphony Musicians’ strike is in its 12th week, and many musicians struggle to make ends meet, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Nevertheless, a group of SAS Musicians have organized a Caroling Project to visit several communities in need, according to the San Antonio Report

 

The Los Angeles Times published a feature about the evacuation of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which includes the celebrated, all-female Zohra Orchestra, following the Taliban takeover of the country. 

 

The Nashville Symphony recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, and The Tennessean featured a retrospective. 

 

 

People and Hiring News

 

Bramwell Tovey recently extended and expanded his role with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director, Newport Buzz reports. Tovey also recently debuted as music director of the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

 

The Edmonton Opera recently appointed Joel Ivany as its new artistic director, the Globe and Mail reports. Ivany was the founder of the indie collective Against the Grain Theatre, which has collaborated with the Toronto Symphony. He also directs the opera program at the Banff Centre. 

 

Milwaukee Symphony Executive Director Mark Niehaus recently suffered a minor stroke and is expected to fully recover, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Niehaus performed as the MSO’s principal trumpet prior to taking over the top executive job in 2012. 


La Presse followed musicians of the Montreal Symphony for a community concert at St. Justine Hospital, discussing outreach initiatives with new music director Rafael Payare. (in French)

 

Compiled by Matt Heller and Melissa Goodchild, with assistance from the OCSM Editorial Committee. Please send comments, corrections, and content tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Happy and healthy holidays!

Read on for coverage of returns to live performance, news about notable conductors, updates from the San Antonio Symphony strike, and more. (Photo: TSO music director Gustavo Gimeno, Ont. Arts & Culture Report)

TSO conductor Gustavo Gimeno (The Globe and Mail)Returns to the stage

A live Roy Thomson Hall audience greeted the Toronto Symphony last week with a welcoming standing ovation, reports the Toronto Star. Critic Michael Crabb reviewed season-opening performances by the TSO as well as the National Ballet of Canada.

The Globe and Mail posted a feature by Ontario Arts & Culture Report, interviewing several arts leaders about their experience of the lockdown and how they felt returning to live events, including new TSO music director Gustavo Gimeno and Shaw Festival director Kate Hennig

Several orchestras in Quebec have faced venue difficulties and public reluctance, Le Devoir reports (in French). The Montreal Symphony canceled repeat performances of three upcoming concerts in response to lagging ticket sales. The OSQ, OM, and Les Violons du Ruy are experimenting with holiday promotions, amid concerns that many audience members are waiting to buy tickets at the last minute.

New Yorker critic Alex Ross reviewed the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, a revival of Mussourgsky’s Boris Godunov, and a “wild ovation” for the return of the Met Orchestra, chorus, stage hands, and other employees after an extended furlough. 

The Calgary Philharmonic announced its concert schedule for the winter season after a successful return to live performances in the fall, the Calgary Herald reported.

 

San Antonio Symphony strike reaches 8th week

Recent coverage of the strike by Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony include pieces by San Antonio Magazine, Spectrum News 1, San Antonio Report, and Texas Public Radio. Concerts through Nov. 27 have been postponed, and a holiday concert on Dec. 18 has been cancelled. Check the MOSAS website for the latest updates.

 

Conductors in the news

Yannick Nézet-Séguin Is New York’s Conductor Now,” announces the NY Times’ latest profile of the OM and Metropolitan Opera music director. (Some might disagree.)

Peter Oundjian returns to conduct the Toronto Symphony this week after three and a half years’ absence, the Toronto Star reports. Columnist William Littler caught up with the former TSO music director, whose tenure ended in 2018.

The Atlanta Symphony’s next music director will be Nathalie Stutzmann, the NY Times reports. Currently none of the top 25 American orchestras are led by a woman; Stutzmann’s term will begin in the 2022-23 season.

The distinguished Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died, at age 92. The NY Times memorialized his career, which included directorships with the Concertgebouw and other major European and US orchestras. 

 

Elsewhere in the news

Composer Alexina Louie is the recipient of a Governor-General Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Producer David Jaeger wrote a CBC Arts essay celebrating her work. 

 

Compiled by Matt Heller and Melissa Goodchild, with assistance from the OCSM Editorial Committee. Please send comments, corrections, and ideas for future content to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Since September 27, musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have been on strike. The SAS Society declared an impasse on September 26, imposing a final offer that cut the orchestra's core size from 72 to 42 musicians. (Source: SA Current) Read on for coverage of the dispute, and other stories and people in the news.
 
New seasons launch amidst a federal election andCanada votes an ongoing pandemic. Here are stories we're following...  
 

Federal election platforms

The Canadian Arts Coalition compiled arts and culture platforms from five parties, together with a CPAC debate on challenges facing the cultural sector. The debate is viewable in the original French, and in English translation.

 

Leadership changes

The Toronto Symphony announced that CEO Matthew Loden will resign as of Sept. 22, Ludwig Van reports. Loden joined the TSO in 2018, and will return to Texas as Dean of the Shepherd School at Rice University. 

The Calgary Philharmonic appointed Marc Stevens as President and CEO, the Calgary Herald reported. Stevens most recently served as General Manager of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. 

The Montreal Gazette reported that the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal's new music director, Rafael Payare, tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-August, as did his wife, cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Both were vaccinated and had minimal symptoms. 

 

New seasons

The National Arts Centre Orchestra launched its 2021-22 season last weekend with an emotional concert in front of an audience of 300 in Southam Hall, CBC News reported.

The Victoria Symphony will return to the stage on Sept. 19, the Times Colonist reported. CEO Matthew White spoke about the Victoria Symphony's hybrid live/online season 

The Winnipeg Symphony opened its season last weekend with a quartet of WSO musicians performing a Bluegrass Symphony, Global News reported

Most concert halls and orchestras have announced or implemented proof of vaccination requirements for audiences this season, and capacity of 50% or less. CBC News reported on accommodations for the return of live events in Vancouver.

 

Compiled by Matt Heller, with assistance from the OCSM Editorial Committee. Please send comments, corrections, and ideas for future content to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ruth Budd, OCSM founder

Ruth Budd died on June 30, 2021 at age 97. This interview by Matt Heller was published in Una Voce, April 2013.

Before there was an OCSM or a Symphony Six, there was a school orchestra in Winnipeg with a problem. “The person who was playing the bass either broke his leg or his arm on the football field,” recalls Ruth Budd, who was a 16-year-old violinist at the time. “The conductor said, ‘Who would volunteer?’ and I said I would! He said, ‘Don’t be silly. You know a girl couldn’t play the bass.’”

May 2021: Conductors on the move, musicians host radio, and institutions building back better. Photo: Conductor Nicolas Ellis

 Conductor Nicolas Ellis

It is now almost an entire year since I last played an orchestral concert. I believe this is the longest I’ve gone without playing one in my entire post-pubescent life.


This week, more on how COVID-19 has affected the arts in general and musicians in particular; the streaming wars; the Metropolitan Opera furlough; and the death of James Levine. (Image: from Toronto Symphony/Against the Grain Theatre's Messiah/Complex)

Image from TSO/AGT's Messiah/Complex

by Michelle Zapt-Belanger

 

In April 2020, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra held two entirely digital, contactless auditions.