Orchestra Spotlight:
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

About The Ensemble

 The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (click to enlarge)

Most orchestra musicians probably haven’t given very much thought to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, but throughout recent years the ensemble has established itself as one of the most financially stable Canadian orchestras. Add to that a new music director, one of the most unique models of orchestra governance in the business, a discography of 23 recordings, and an acoustically superb dedicated orchestral concert hall and you begin to realize that the ESO is one of the most up and coming ensembles in North America.

To begin with, they are located 890 mi, or 1,432 km, from the Arctic Circle making the ESO the northernmost professional orchestra in North America. Their closest professional colleagues are the Calgary Philharmonic (184 mi/296 km) to the south and the Vancouver Symphony (718 mi/1,155 km) to the southwest. As such, it is not difficult to imagine the logistical challenges the organization faces with regard to attracting quality audition candidates and substitute musicians, as well as engaging in regional touring.

The ESO has a 41 week season and an annual base pay of CA$42,000. The ESO has a 41 week season and an annual base pay of CA$41,000. (click to enlarge)

Nevertheless, don’t think that Edmonton is some artistic backwater. The greater metropolitan community is over one million and in 1997, The Francis Winspear Centre for Music opened for business with the ESO as one of their resident ensembles. Serving as the centerpiece for the Edmonton Arts District, the Winspear Centre shares space with the Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton City Hall, Citadel Theatre, and Stanley A. Milner Library.

Musician facilities include dedicated dressing rooms, five soundproof practice rooms, and eight instrument storage rooms, each with coded access. The 1,916 seat concert hall (which includes 216 seats in the choir loft behind the stage) features a classical rectangular European design. One of the hall’s centerpieces is the Davis Concert Organ which boasts 6,551 pipes and is the largest concert organ manufactured by Orgues Letourneau.

 The Winspear Centre’s distinctive glass tower The Winspear Centre’s distinctive glass tower (click to enlarge)

The ESO’s annual budget for the 06/07 season is right around CA$8 million (approximately US$7.1 million). They maintain a 291 services over a 41 week season and the annual base musician pay for the 56 contracted players is currently CA$41,000 (approximately US$36,538). However, the base salary will increase to CA$46,100 (approximately US$41,081) by the end of thier recently signed four year contract.

Perhaps an unusual aspect to U.S. orchestral musicians about the ESO collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is that there are no provisions for the organization to maintain a compliment of “B contract” musicians beyond the 56 core musicians specified in the CBA.

Instead, the ensemble retains what it defines as casual players, often referred to as substitute musicians in U.S. orchestras. Just like their U.S. peers, these musicians are used on an as-needed basis and they are not included in the CBA beyond minimum service payments. However, you’ll read more about how that has started to transform since the arrival of their new music director in 2005 later in this feature.

The Davis Concert Organ rests center stage on the Francis Winspear concert hall. The Davis Concert Organ. (click to enlarge)

Perhaps for some, the most interesting aspect of the ensemble is its structure of governance which was adopted by the ESO board of directors following a work stoppage in 2002. This new form of governance provides the ESO musicians with a great deal of direct and indirect influence on how their board of directors takes shape. But you’ll learn more about those details in the interview with ESO 2nd horn and orchestra committee chair, Donald Plumb.

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