Our Symphony Orchestra
Survival and Relevancy

As published in the August/September 2003 issue of Stylus Magazine
(University of Winnipeg Students Association)

- By John Iverson

Most everyone is aware of the dilemma that the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra faces, both from a financial standpoint as well as a marketing perspective. So just what has gone amiss with an organization that once thrived as a fundamental part of our artistic community? What needs to be done to restore stability, and how can this distinguished orchestra regain and maintain relevancy? Based on my own personal philosophies, and having discussed these issues with other people, I have formulated the following perspectives and ideas on how to help our orchestra bounce back. Let me begin by saying that whatever plan is implemented, it will not happen overnight. Recovery is a lengthy and deliberate process that must be strictly adhered to. Let me also say that these suggestions are only some of the issues that must be dealt with, and that much effort is required on both sides.

The WSO's Part

I will initiate this analysis by stating that securing high quality management is paramount to this or any other survival plan.

So then let's start with essential cost-saving measures. Since it makes better business sense to have one full concert hall than two half full ones, presenting fewer concerts, perhaps one less per series, is certainly a viable option. Logically this has to save the organization money. More concerts could be added in future seasons as the audience base broadens. Also the handout of free tickets has to be drastically reduced. Free tickets do not help cover expenses unless they can generate interest, and in turn sell additional tickets. There is no real benefit to giving more than a handful of tickets away, and then only in the name of legitimate orchestra promotion.

What else? Well, how about high-profile international artists. We have an abundant supply of superb Canadian talent, and we should showcase them, but international artists are major drawing cards. People will flock to see artists like Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma. This is a risk that must be taken to increase the audience base, and immediate benefits can and will be achieved. In addition, make a high-profile feature concert a subscription incentive, as has been done successfully in the past. Season ticket holders can purchase guaranteed seats for events such as Sarah Brightman, Secret Garden and Andrea Bocelli. This will be very appealing to many people!

Now let's face some hard realities. The orchestra definitely needs a higher profile in the community to effectively sell subscriptions, and to change the audience demography. Free concerts at Rainbow Stage, the Lyric Theatre, the Forks, etc. in the last weeks before season's start would help immensely. Like it or not people are more inclined to sign up if they can sample something risk free before actually committing! This is the ideal way to attract new listeners, young and old, and help rekindle the spirit for others that may have drifted away. Plus make the musicians of the orchestra more accessible to their audiences. Mingle, talk, and exchange ideas! Have guest artists do autograph signings during intermissions and after concerts. People really enjoy meeting and chatting with interesting people!

Better promotion of the orchestra is also essential. Newspaper ads are insufficient. More visibility on radio and TV is definitely something that will go a long way in generating public interest, and making activities and performers more known. You must do everything possible to catch people's attention!

How about surveying on a regular basis not just the concertgoers, but the general public as well. Ask them what composers and music the orchestra should play, artists they would enjoy seeing, and other concert logistics. Then implement these suggestions! And be cautious when blending the classics with modern music. For years the hidden mandate has been new music, and I believe this has contributed significantly to audience fallout. Restoring musical balance is vital to becoming successful and relevant!

Finally, play some ENCORES - show some gratitude to the people filling the seats who express their approval at the end of a concert. Encores convey audience appreciation in a big way, and require very little effort. Don't continually discount this fact. Repeated bows are fine, but a short overture or miniature will go a long way in proving to your audience that you truly care about them, and make them eager to return.

Our Part

It should be obvious. Buy tickets and season subscriptions! Attend concerts! Make a tax-deductible donation! Get involved! Show your support, and prove that you really are concerned about our orchestra's future. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra concerts are already an exceptional deal for your entertainment dollar, much more affordable than you may realize! And when you receive surveys, fill them out honestly, and return them! Surveys only work if people respond and react to them!


We must all do our part in restoring this vital arts organization to a robust state. They are operating under arduous circumstances, and we are a huge key to their future success and survival. As an ardent WSO supporter I am making many of my views and suggestions clear to them within this article, because I refuse to contemplate the consequences of losing our outstanding symphony orchestra. I recommend you do the same by sending your feedback and suggestions to me, or in care of Campus/Community Radio CKUW, and I will be sure to pass your information on to symphony management. Without the WSO there would be a huge void in our artistic community, and each of us would be as much to blame as anyone else for their demise! Let's strengthen our community, and brighten their future, with our whole-hearted support!

Hear music performed by the WSO on Shades of Classics on
Campus/Community Radio CKUW 95.9 FM in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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