Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO). Professional orchestra comprising some 60 players. There were some 40 amateur members when it was founded in 1927. It adopted its present name in 1931.

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO). Professional orchestra comprising some 60 players. There were some 40 amateur members when it was founded in 1927. It adopted its present name in 1931. Previous Saskatoon orchestras had been formed in 1909, 1913, and 1924, conducted by William Preston, John Jackson, and Allan Clifton respectively. Under Arthur Collingwood 1931-47 the orchestra performed only short pieces, overtures, and movements from symphonies. After 1950 it began to present complete works including concertos, and for many years it closed its season with an oratorio.

The orchestra first commissioned a Canadian composition in 1957 while under the leadership of Murray Adaskin. During the 1960s and 1970s it attempted to make this an annual practice. Those who received commissions during this period included Adaskin, Violet Archer, Howard Cable, Neil Chotem, Robert Fleming, Harry Freedman, Udo Kasemets, Talivaldis Kenins, Jean Papineau-Couture, Eldon Rathburn, John Weinzweig, and Luigi Zaninelli. In February 1959 the orchestra gave the North American premiere of Milhaud's Suite provencale. In 1962 it initiated a development program that included a summer workshop, junior strings, junior symphony orchestra and junior chamber orchestra. The Suzuki method of instruction also was introduced.

Except for the years 1950-6, when it appeared at the Capitol Theatre, and 1956-7, when activities were suspended, the orchestra rehearsed and performed at the University of Saskatchewan until 1967, when the Saskatoon Centennial Auditorium became its permanent home. Concertmasters since 1948 have included Dorothy Overholt (for some 30 years), Andrew Dawes, Robert Klose, Mary Dill, Mark Reedman, Frederick Nelson, Bok-Soo Kim, and Gisèle Dalbec-Szczesniak, succeeded in 1984 by Michael Swan. Principal second violinist Florrie Elvin served for 40 years.

The orchestra's conductors after Collingwood have included J.D. Macrae 1947-50, Victor Kviesis 1950-6, Adaskin 1957-60, Alexander Reisman 1960-3, David Kaplan 1963-9 and 1970-1, Franz Zeidler 1969-70, and Dwaine Nelson 1971-6. Ruben Gurevich was the orchestra's first full-time music director and conductor 1976-82, followed by David Gray 1982-4 and Daniel Swift in 1984. The 1992-3 season showcased guest conductors, followed by Dennis Simons 1993-7, Earl Stafford 1997-2002 and Douglas Sanford 2002-8. The orchestra endured controversies and disputes 2007-8, after which Stafford returned as interim conductor for the 2008-9 season.

Guest conductors have included Nurhan Arman, Howard Cable, Fiora Contino, Neil Currie, Roberto De Clara, Bruce Dunn, Errol Gay, Susan Haig, David Hoyt, Arpad Joo, Chosei Komatsu, Veronique Lacroix, Claude Lapalme, Tania Miller, Clyde Mitchell, Glenn Mossop, Paul Nadler, Dairine Ni Mheadhra, Peter Oundjian, Victor Sawa, Mark Skazinetsky, Simon Streatfeild, Georg Tintner, Wayne Toews, Bramwell Tovey, and Alain Trudel.

Guest Artists

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has showcased an array of provincial, national, and international artists such as Robert Aitken, the Amati Quartet, the Anagnoson and Kinton Piano Duo, Allison Arends, Jason Balla, Linda Bardutz, Martin Beaver, Bernadene Blaha, Denis Brott, James Campbell, Angela Cheng, Katherine Chi, Neil Chotem, André Clouthier, Jane Coop, Steven Dann, Claude Delangle, Nikolai Demidenko, James Ehnes, Glyn Evans, Leslie Fagan, Guy Few, Naomi Friesen, Janina Fialkowska, Maureen Forrester, Amanda Forsyth, Garry Gable, Michele Gaudreau, Bruno Gerussi, Rivka Golani, Moshe Hammer, Robin Harrison, Rebecca Hass, Angela Hewitt, Babette Hierholzer, Desmond Hoebig, Gwen Hoebig, Marina Hoover, Lisa Hornung, Dorothy Howard, Timothy Hutchins, the Irish Rovers, Jacques Israelievitch, Juke Joint Jump, Juliette Kang, Michael Kim, Norbert Kraft, Anton Kuerti, James Legge, André LaPlante, Louis Lortie, Antonio Lysy, Gordon Macleod, Doug MacNaughton, Linda Maguire, Heather Meyer, the Morel-Nemish piano duo, David Moroz, Anne Murray, R. Carlos Nakai, Zara Nelsova, Geoff Nuttall, Igor Oistrakh, Opera Ebony, Oxana Ossiptchouk, Jamie Parker, Mark Pedrotti, P. J. Perry, Joseph Petric, Erika Raum, Ruggiero Ricci, Christine Riel, Lesley Robertson, Sophie Rolland, Shauna Rolston, Saxology Canada, Henriette Schellenberg, Robert Silverman, Stephen Sitarski, Kathleen Solose, James Sommerville, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Steven Staryk, Jennifer Swartz, Nandor Szederkenyi, Elyakim Taussig, Philip Thompson, Valerie Tryon, Elizabeth Turnbull, Ian Tyson, Jon Vickers, Eugene Watanabe, Irena Welhasch-Baerg, Kayla Wong, Yi Wu, and Pinchas Zukerman.


For the past four decades the University of Saskatchewan Department of Music has joined forces with the SSO to perform choral masterworks including oratorios, cantatas, passions, requiems, masses, and other medium- to large-scale works ranging from Bach to Britten. Over this period it has involved the University Chorus and Greystone Singers with choral conductors Robert Solem, Dwaine Nelson, Gary Gullickson, and Gerald Langner. Other community choral ensembles that have performed with the SSO include the Saskatoon Chamber Singers with conductors Solem, Pat Jamison, Duff Warkentin and James Hawn, as well as the Saskatoon Children's Choir, conducted by Phoebe Voights. The Saskatoon Youth Orchestra (Wayne Toews, conductor) has also shared concerts with the SSO since the 1990s.

Commissions, Concert Series, Special Events

The SSO has continually reached out to the community beyond traditional concert performances. During the 1989-90 season the orchestra presented 37 in-school concerts and seven pairs of subscription concerts. A chamber series featuring the Saskatoon Symphony Chamber Players began in 1985; a children's series (Great Music for Kids) with the same ensemble began in 1984, and Music for a Sunday Afternoon was launched in 1993. This ensemble performed works by Monte Pishny-Floyd at a concert in his honour at the University of Saskatchewan 3 Mar 1989. In the same year, the orchestra commissioned Elizabeth Raum's The Robot from Orion for Festival Saskatoon, and for the orchestra's 60th season in 1990-91, it commissioned David Kaplan's Conversations with Mersenne and Praetorius and Pishny-Floyd's Sonorities for Sixty Seasons. The latter was performed at each of the orchestra's main series concerts for the entire season.

In 1990 as part of its 60th anniversary activities, the SSO held a national cello competition, which was won by Edmonton-born Marina Hoover. In the early 1990s the Pop Series was introduced and later the Discovery Series, presenting contemporary music. The Composer of the Season concept was introduced (honouring David Scott 1992-3, Peter Ware 1993-4, and Stewart Grant 1995-6) and a pre-concert chat with Mossie Hancock 1995-6. In 1998, David Steer was commissioned to write Meditation No. 3 for the Saskatoon Symphonetta, and from 1998 to 2001, Neil Currie was composer-in-residence and wrote several works; a CD, Passionscape, was released in 2005.

In May 2005, members of the Regina Symphony Orchestra joined forces with SSO members in Celebrating Saskatchewan's Centennial, a nationally televised event. Fall 2005 marked another milestone, the SSO's 75th anniversary, which was celebrated with eight Master series concerts, five Sunday Best concerts, a Christmas program, three Simply Beethoven series concerts, three Classics for Kids concerts, and a festival of new music.

The orchestra has been broadcast regularly by CBC radio and has accompanied performances by the National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble.


The SSO is supported by the Canada Council, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the city of Saskatoon and corporate and private donors. The women's committee of the SSO has awarded $2000 annually in grants to music students and youth music groups.

Further Reading