What 70 years leading Winnipeg’s artistic identity looks like

September 13, 2017
For 70 years, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has been a leading voice for culture  in our city; a champion of Winnipeg’s artistic identity and soul in a rapidly changing world.
On September 29 we’re thrilled to celebrate their leadership – as well as the individual leadership of Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate – at our first luncheon of our season Leading Teams to Harmony. We certainly expect engaging personal reflections on leadership from one of Winnipeg’s most charismatic advocates, along with lessons for businesses that come when you thrive over seven decades of change.

Check out this brief timeline to see some of the highlights from your Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. (This timeline first appeared on the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra 70th Anniversary Season website)

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1948: The newly incorporated WSO performs its first concert on Thursday December 16.

1949: Winnipeg-born cellist Zara Nelsova performs as special guest with the WSO in November

1950: Initial Symphony Ball held at the Winnipeg Auditorium; attendance: over 2000, plus 100 musicians, largest number ever assembled for one social function in Winnipeg’s history, January 12

1951: Pops concerts added to WSO schedule; Walter Kaufmann marries Winnipeg pianist Freda Trepel, June 28

1952: Kaufmann starts a series of concerto workshops for young gifted local soloists, which gave the budding artists an opportunity to rehearse and perform informally with an orchestra

1954: Winnipeg-born cellist Zara Nelsova returns to perform as special guest with the WSO in December


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1955: First Symphony Week: three half-hour noon concerts: two held at provincial legislature, third at city hall including Mayor George Sharpe, provincial treasurer Ron Turner and Barbara Mano Vieira, the reigning Miss Hawaii

1956: Pianist Glenn Gould performs as special guest with the WSO, January & December

1957: Walter Kaufmann’s final concert including Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, January 17


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1958: Victor Feldbrill starts as Music Director; WSO more than doubled its annual performances from 17 to 37

1959: Pianist Glenn Gould returns to perform as special guest with WSO, October (his first ever performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, of which a CD of this performance was recently released).

1961: Cellist Leonard Rose performs as special guest, February

1962: WSO now playing 12 subscription concerts (there are nearly as many Sunday afternoon Pops, and four times as many school concerts)

1963: WSO makes first visit to Saskatchewan with Feldbrill conducting, January

1966: Arthur Polson becomes concertmaster of the WSO; WSO returns to Saskatchewan on tour

1967: WSO Celebrates 20 years; Cellist Jacqueline du Pré performs as special guest, March; Violinist David Oistrakh performs as special guest with Arthur Fielder conducting, December


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1968: Last season in the Winnipeg Auditorium; The WSO performs first concert in the Centennial Concert Hall led by Feldbrill, March 27; George Cleve starts as Music Director

1969: Manitoba Planetarium synchronized moon-landing footage with the WSO’s performance of Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets, November

1970: Piero Gamba leads the WSO on tour in Ottawa and Toronto, November

1971: Piero Gamba officially starts as Music Director

1972: WSO launches its season with the first of many Concerts in the Park and drew 15,000 people, the largest audience to attend an arts presentation in the province’s history to date, Labour Day weekend. Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich performs as special guest, February

1973: WSO begins “An Evening in Old Vienna”

1974: Comedy legend Victor Borge performs as special Pops guest, February

1975: Violinist Itzhak Perlman performs as special guest, May

1976: Kirill Kondrashin appears as special guest conductor, April; Free Dominion Day concert at Manitoba legislature with Gamba conducting, July 1

1978: WSO tours in Cornwall, Kingston, Barrie, Niagra Falls, Kitchener and Ottawa, March-April


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1979: WSO performs at Carnegie Hall, New York City, March 3

1981: Violinist Yehudi Menuhin performs as special guest, March

1982: Barry Tuckwell performs as special guest conductor and horn player, November

1983: Kazuhiro Koizumi starts as Music Director

1984: Pianist Mark Zeltser performs as special guest, September

1985: Robert Shaw performs as special guest conductor, January

1986: Violinist Midori performs as special guest, December

1987: WSO Concertmaster Gwen Hoebig appointed

1988: Violinist James Ehnes makes his WSO debut as special guest, October

1989: Bramwell Tovey starts as Music Director

1991: WSO tests the waters for the feasibility of a New Music Festival with a pair of events called A Portrait of Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Grammatté, Jan & Feb


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1992: The WSO’s New Music Festival debuts in January with Artistic Director Bramwell Tovey & first WSO Composer-in-Residence Glenn Buhr

1993: Henry Mancini performs as special Pops guest, November

1994: During a New Music Festival concert, the stage lights burned out and left dancers in the dark. They didn’t stop the performance and Hugh Conacher, technical director, fixed the problem in a matter of two or three minutes.

1995: WSO’s morning concert series at the MB Cancer Treatment & Research Foundation began during the Christmas season. A similar program is now known as Artists in Healthcare.

1996: Piero Gamba returns for special guest conductor appearance, May; Randolph Peters becomes second composer-in-residence.

1997: WSO Celebrates 50 years; Robert Shaw returns as special guest conductor, February

1999: WSO had its first “Summer Season” including a concert at The Forks and in Kenora, the first time it performed outside the province in 20 years

2001: WSO makes debut at Winnipeg Folk Festival with conductor Michael Hall, violinist Mark O’Connor, erhu soloist George Gao, folk group Oregon & guitarist Oscar Lopez, July;

2002: Andrey Boreyko starts as Music Director; Return to Manitoba legislature for a gala concert celebrating a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, October; WSO’s New Music Festival celebrates 10 years

2004: WSO goes on a northern tour to The Pas, Flin Flon, Thompson, Gillam and Churchill with Boreyko


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2006: WSO welcomes current Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate; Violist Elsie Chrunyk retires after a remarkable 52-year term that has been matched by few musicians anywhere

2010: WSO’s New Music Festival celebrates 20 years; Boreyko returns to conduct the WSO, February

2011: Sistema Winnipeg, a revolutionary music program based on the El Sistema model in Venezuela, begins, October; WSO travels to Ottawa for Prairie Scene Festival

2012: WSO celebrates its 65th Anniversary

2013: Julian Pellicano is appointed Resident Conductor

2014: The WSO travels to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall for a second time in the Spring for Music Festival, May


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2015: Mayor Brian Bowman tries his hand at conducting the WSO in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, January

2016: The Winnipeg New Music Festival celebrates 25 years, featured composer is David Lang. WSO transforms Pan Am Pool into a concert venue, January

2016: Harry Stafylakis is appointed Composer-in-Residence and WNMF Festival Curator

2016: Violin super star Joshua Bell opens the 2016-2017 Season

2017: The WSO celebrates its 70th Anniversary