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KWS closed until further notice

KW Symphony Delegate Rebecca Diderrich reports on the aftermath of a September bombshell. 

On Saturday, September 16th, one day before payroll would have begun for the season and three days before our first scheduled service, the members of the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony received notice that our board of directors had decided our season would not begin that week, and that we were not called back to work after the summer layoff.

This message came without any warning to us. We had been preparing for the season in all of the usual ways: new employees moving into town, audition excerpt lists being compiled for upcoming auditions, seating charts and practice parts made available to us for the first few busy weeks of the fall. Within an hour, all events were removed from the symphony’s website and it became apparent that not only would the season not begin that week, it would in fact not happen at all.

A few days later, on Tuesday, September 19th, we were informed by the chair of our board of direc-tors that they were considering everything up to and including insolvency, and that unless two million dollars could be raised by the end of the week, there would most likely be a complete ceasing of operations by the organization.

Later that night, the musicians launched a GoFundMe campaign. We were humbled to receive an absolutely incredible outpouring of support from our community here in Waterloo Region, and from many dear colleagues and supporters across the country and around the world.

Despite this, and much to our collective horror, on Thursday, September 21st we were notified that the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony board of directors had filed for bankruptcy and all members of the board had resigned.

Musicians of the KW Symphony Respond

As we all struggled to deal with our own emotions in the wake of this announcement, we quickly got to work organizing. We expanded our Players’ Committee to eight members and we have created new committees such as Events, Media, and Outreach. Incredible people from the union have worked tirelessly with us, with their lawyers and with connections near and far.

All involved have put in countless hours doing ev-erything possible to recover and move forward. We have had a lot of support from the media; our musicians have made their voices heard through interviews for radio, tv and the local paper. We have received support from prominent members of our arts community, both past and present.

Our GoFundMe has continued to raise funds to further the welfare of our musicians and aid us in moving forward. We are determined to rebuild and continue to bring music to our community.

We have had a number of very successful benefit concerts over the last few weeks, all of which were well-attended by enthusiastic audiences. In the middle of October, we were completely blown away when Emanuel Ax contacted us saying that he would be in Ontario and would be happy to play a benefit concert on November 1st. After a tremendous amount of work planning all of the many details of this event, the result was a fantastic, sold-out performance, keeping us in the public eye and showing that the demand for classical music in our region is alive and well. (Photo: Pianist Emanual Ax performs with Musicians of the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony)

Emanuel Ax with Musicians of KWSymphony

In addition to benefit concerts, we have also been fortunate to receive offers of paid work specifically for our musicians. A nearby church created a chamber music series for us and the public library added a noon hour series for us to fill with our musicians. The Grand Philharmonic Choir, for which the KWS was originally formed 78 years ago in order to accompany, has also continued to hire our musicians. After the bankruptcy was announced, the GPC made it known that they would hire us as freelance players for their upcoming concerts. The first of these took place on Oct 21st to a very enthusiastic audience at the Centre in the Square. For most of us on stage that night, it was our first time back inside CITS since the bankruptcy. A beautiful welcome speech, given at the start of the concert, finished off with the speaker turning to us and welcoming us home. The very obvious show of support by the audience before, during and after the performance was dearly appreciated by the musicians.

As we continue to work on a path forward, we are incredibly grateful for all of the support, financial and otherwise, that we are receiving from our immediate and extended community, and our colleagues both near and far.

- Report by Rebecca Diderrich, OCSM Delegate for Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, Nov. 9, 2023