Reflections with Angela Birdsell
As I reflect on my first season with the WSO, four words come to mind: relief, gratitude and cautious optimism.
The 2021-22 season marked the first post-COVID re-entry season and like organizations and businesses around the world, the WSO spent much of the year on tender-hooks. Would music lovers return to live performances? What will be the impact of the next wave? Could we keep musicians, staff and patrons safe? We budgeted for 50% of pre-COVID-era ticket sales, but our results were closer to 37%. As this was the norm across the country I am incredibly relieved that government wage and rent subsidies kept us afloat for another year amidst these challenges. Although those subsidies have ended, I remain relieved that the WSO has additional breathing space to embark on 2022-23 with sleeves rolled up and ready to tackle new challenges.
I am extraordinarily grateful for the support of the musicians, our music director Daniel Raiskin, the Board of Directors, the artistic leadership, our administration and our donors. This has been expressed in many different ways; through your dedication, your exceptional performances, your hard work and attention to detail, your generosity and especially, your commitment to live music.
Like many organization and businesses, the WSO was impacted by “the great resignation”. Some departures include the retirements of Carol Cassels and Lori Marks, long-time devotees to the WSO with 30 and 20 years of service respectively; and musicians Alex Adaman (cello) and Bruce Okrainec (bass), who played with the WSO for 38 and 43 years. While our colleagues are deeply missed, I also wish them many wonderful adventures. I am so grateful for those who have recently joined the team and I feel blessed to be surrounded by such competent professionals.
This year has seen the loss of two exceptional members of the WSO community. Shirley Loewen was a stalwart supporter of the orchestra and over the course of her life a committed volunteer leader and contributor. We wish Bill and the family warmth and healing. We also lost Marten Duhoux much too soon. Long time Board member, donor and active committee leader, Marten was extremely wise, helpful and available to me and his counsel invaluable as I found my feet in this role. I know I can speak for many among his family, friends and the architectural community when I say that the impact of his loss is immeasurable.
I am also grateful for the contributions of our many donors and supporters, including those who rallied around Manitoba Remembers – A Covid Elegy. A departure from gala events in a year marked by uncertainty, this music and multi-media presentation honoured those who served us during the pandemic and commemorated lives lost. Thanks to our donors, it was available to all in person and online at no charge. Manitoba Remembers was truly memorable and I thank the artists and production staff. Hint: stay tuned for a re-broadcast sometime near Remembrance Day 2022.
Finally, in this our anniversary season, we are budgeting for a 65% return of audiences. I am cautiously optimistic that we can meet those numbers, given the exceptional lineup of artists and wonderful programs for people of all ages. It promises to be an unparalleled season that we intend to signal the beginning of an exciting future for the WSO. We will continue to ensure your safety as we provide performances of a lifetime. Please join us!
Executive Director, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra