History & Mission
Tucked into the Geographic Centre of North America, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) is Currently Celebrating its 75th Year.
Since its debut 1948 performance – to more than 3,000 audience members, the WSO has been a powerhouse orchestra that regularly impresses guest conductors and artists with the exceptional musicianship of its members. Performance highlights of the last few decades include performances with Renée Fleming, Maureen Forrester, Kathleen Battle, Janina Fialkowska, Angela Hewitt, Buffy St. Marie, Wu Man, Randy Bachman, Dame Evelyn Glennie, and Tanya Tagaq, to name a few.
Some of the eminent soloists who have appeared with the WSO in the past include conductors Pierre Monteux, John Barbirolli and Arthur Fiedler; violinists David Oistrakh, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell; pianists Glenn Gould, Emanuel Ax, Byron Janis, Gary Graffman, and Leon Fleisher; singers Marilyn Horne, Maureen Forrester and Renée Fleming ; cellists Zara Nelsova and Jacqueline du Pré and many others.
The WSO has served as a launching point for many illustrious careers including Victor Feldbrill, Kazuhiro Koizumi, Bramwell Tovey, and Andrey Boreyko. It has also worked hard to foster and support Manitoba and Canadian talent working closely with the likes of James Ehnes, Tracy Dahl, Andriana Chuchman, Stewart Goodyear, Cameron Crozman, Papa Mambo and Don Amero.
Walter Kaufmann was the orchestra’s first music director (1948-1957), followed by Victor Feldbrill (1958-1968), George Cleve (1968-1970), Piero Gamba (1971-1980), Kazuhiro Koizumi (1983-1989), Bramwell Tovey (1989-2001), Andrey Boreyko (2002-2006), Alexander Mickelthwate (2005-2018), and current Music Director Daniel Raiskin (2018-). Under their guidance, the orchestra has both earned a place among the ranks of major Canadian symphony orchestras and has come to be regarded as one of Canada’s most innovative.
Starting in 1954, the orchestra has worked closely with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, released numerous recordings on the CBC label, and has given thousands of national radio broadcasts. In addition to its own extensive season of concerts and educational activities, the WSO functions as the official orchestra of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Manitoba Opera Association.
From its founding, the orchestra has been a pillar in the Canadian music scene, commissioning and premiering hundreds of new works. The Canadian Music Centre recognized the WSO with its Award of Excellence for its work promoting the Canadian voice. This work has also been recognized by a 2017 JUNO win and 2018 nomination for best classical recording of the year.
In 2011, the WSO founded Sistema Winnipeg (based on the famous Venezuelan El Sistema), in partnership with two Winnipeg school divisions, to deliver daily, intensive music education that focuses on children with the fewest resources and greatest need in Winnipeg’s urban core.
Over 40,000 students attend orchestra concerts presented by the WSO each season. The WSO’s innovative pops and film programs introduce a rapidly growing audience to symphonic music.
The WSO’s activity regularly extends beyond its home stage at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. It has produced concerts everywhere from Olympic size diving boards to cottage country harbours.
Each year, the WSO’s much-lauded Winnipeg New Music Festival features four full orchestral programs plus numerous additional concerts, regularly drawing crowds in the thousands. The 2018 edition had over 11,000 attendees. Headliners of the Winnipeg New Music Festival have included Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, David Lang, Joan Tower, R. Murray Schafer, Arvo Pärt, Christos Hatzis, Samy Moussa, Kelly Marie Murphy, Stephen O’Malley and Caroline Shaw, just to name a few. WNMF has also helped support the careers of exciting Canadian composers like Vincent Ho, Jocelyn Morlock and Eliot Britton.
The orchestra has toured twice to Carnegie Hall and regularly performers across Manitoba and Canada.
To provide exceptional musical experiences for Manitobans.
Artistic Excellence • Operational Excellence • Governance Excellence • Community Engagement • Inclusion • Respect • Innovation and Opportunity • Adaptability
In the spirit of gratitude, we acknowledge that we gather to play and listen to music on Treaty 1 territory located on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the National Homeland of the Red River Métis nation. Through the sharing of the gift of music, the WSO commits to being part of the ongoing process of reconciliation.