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THE SCOOP | Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Cancels Season Abruptly

By Anya Wassenberg on September 18, 2023

Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (Photo courtesy of the KWS)
Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (Photo courtesy of the KWS)

The Canadian classical music world is in shock this morning as details emerge from Kitchener-Waterloo, where the KW Symphony has cancelled their entire season, along with any other activities.

The news first broke on social media on Sunday, September 17. A spokesperson for the KWS provided LvT with a statement.

From Heather Galt, Past Chair of the KW Symphony, “I can confirm that unfortunately, KWS will not be commencing the season this week. Scheduled concerts and all other activities (such as Youth Orchestra and Bridge to Music) of the orchestra for the 23/24 season will not be proceeding. Based on the financial situation of the symphony, it simply wasn’t possible for the organization to continue with our planned events.

“We don’t have more information to share at this time, but we expect to be able to provide more information soon.”


Cellist Kendra Grittani shared her frustration and heartbreak on Facebook.

“What a scary time for the Canadian Orchestral community.”

She talks about her “emptiness and significant loss” at the sudden realization that this Tuesday’s rehearsals will not take place. She and other musicians have made public the emails they received just 48 hours before they were to be called back to work this coming week.

The news is devastating to the musicians on many levels. Many are on unemployment insurance over the slow summer season, and were set to go back to work. The Youth Orchestra, which was set to kick back into gear as well, will also be halted.

The Board of Directors sent an email to the musicians, which many are making public:

“It is with sincere regret that the Board of Directors has made the difficult decision not to commence the season this week…”

The innocuous vocabulary never mentions the word “cancellation”, but the entire concert series has been pulled from the website.

There are few details available, but the Board of Directors, in their email to musicians, notes that, “..the Symphony is committed to being as supportive as possible to each of you.”

David Greilsammer conducts and performs Mozart’s Concerto No.24 in C minor in happier times:

The Financials

According to documents published by the KWS, the orchestra operates on a budget of about $5 million, 27% of which is already government funded. Funding from KW Council in April 2023 includes a sum of $385,725 under its Key Cultural Institutions grant programme. The same financial pool also funds THEMUSEUM and the Grand Philharmonic Choir. It seems logical to assume that asking for more will be a stretch to the regional budget.

About 38% of revenues come from ticket sales, according to KWS documents, with another 34% from private sources, which they say comes from about 1,320 individuals who collectively donate more than $1 million each year.

A detailed look at the organization’s finances from 2022 reveals $1,075,303 in total liabilities, including debts and almost $750K in “deferred revenue”.

In that document, revenues from three levels of government total $2,792,592, or more than 50% of the total operating budget of just over $4.9 million, with $1,095,051 in ticket sales. Expenditures amount to just over $5 million.

The Fallout

The KWS was founded in 1945, and has grown to become the third-largest orchestra in Ontario, after the TSO and NACO. In a typical season, the orchestra performs about more than 220 concerts annually to more than 90,000 people.

Conductor Simon Rivard‘s reaction is common to many in the Canadian classical music community.

“I just learned on social media that Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony season is cancelled. Details have not been revealed yet, but this great Canadian institution MUST survive. It’s one of the great orchestras in the country, with one of the biggest venues in North America. We need to be outraged about such a situation.”

Our thoughts are with the many musicians, conductor Andrei Feher, and KWS staff. Hopefully more details about a way forward will be available soon.

With additional reporting by Michael Vincent.

NB: The story has been amended to clarify the nature of the funding from the KW region.


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