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Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony cancels upcoming concerts and practices

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The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has cancelled its upcoming season.

“We have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2023/24 season with great sadness,” the symphony said in an email to patrons sent just after 8:30 p.m. Sunday. “Unfortunately, given the financial challenges facing the symphony, it is simply not feasible to continue with our previously planned performances.”

All ticket purchases are non-refundable, it said. Previously purchased tickets will be eligible to receive a tax receipt.

CTV News has received emails from multiple ticket holders who say they are now out hundreds of dollars.

In its last social media posts, dated from earlier this month, the symphony promoted the start of its 2023-2024 season and planned concerts on Sept. 20, Sept. 22, Sept. 23, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Youth Orchestra programming has also been cancelled. Members received very little notice, finding out via email on Saturday.

“Scheduled concerts, Youth Orchestra activities and other programs for the ’23-’24 season will not be proceeding,” director of operations Laurie Castello wrote. “Please do not attend any rehearsals scheduled for Sunday through Wednesday this week.”

Two people told CTV News they received an email reminder for Sunday’s practice on Friday night, and just 24 hours later, got the cancellation email from Castello.

"I worked really hard to get in," said youth orchestra member Olivier Joyce. "It took months and months of practice and so it's pretty devastating to see it not happen this year."

"They just did an audition a week and a half ago and they worked all summer for three months to get ready for that audition," said parent Genevieve Schirm-Joyce.

In response to a members’ question via email, Castello responded: “Unfortunately I don’t have any additional information that I can share with you right now. We’re working as quickly as we can through a series of steps with the Board, Foundation and others. We’ll provide more information as quickly as we possibly can, but please know that it will take a little bit of time before that happens.”

The symphony declined CTV Kitchener's request for an interview.

HISTORY OF THE K-W SYMPHONY

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was founded in 1945 to accompany the Grand Philharmonic Choir, while the Youth Orchestra was formed in 1966.

Over its 78 year history, the symphony has evolved into a professional orchestra that has toured across Canada, Europe, South America and Asia.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony said on its website that it performs more than 222 concerts a year to an audience of over 90,000 people.

With over 50 musicians, it is the largest employer of artists and cultural workers in the region.

PAST FINANCIAL TROUBLES

According to the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s website, they “faced a challenging period” after the departure of Martin Fischer-Dieskau in 2003 due to a conflict within its organization.

In 2006, they launched a “Save our Symphony” campaign in an attempt to avoid declaring bankruptcy.

The organization managed to raise $2.3 million, which allowed it to continue operating.

In January 2023, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony made an appeal to council for the Region of Waterloo saying the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions affected their potential profits.

“We are having to weather what is a temporary ‘perfect storm’ in terms of cash flow and budget,” musician Ian Whitman said at the meeting.

The organization added that the financial challenges continued into their 2022-2023 season, despite a rebound in ticket sales and increased funding from donors.

The symphony asked council for a special one-time grant of $100,000. That request was denied, but in April, the symphony received $385,725 through a Region of Waterloo grant program.

The City of Kitchener said it also contributed $372,000 toward the symphony last year. 

Back in February, Kitchener Centre MP Mike Morrice asked for federal funding.

"I was told at the time by the parliamentary secretary that a solution would be found. but when it came to budget 2023, the only funding available was for festivals and arts organizations in Ottawa," Morrice said on Monday. 

He called the news of this season's cancellation "sad, but not surprising."

Arts management consultant Brandon Powell said the challenges the local symphony is facing aren’t unique.

“It's been a big giant puzzle to figure out how out how to keep the lights on long enough that you can do the innovative stuff to bring people back,” Powell said.

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