Wilkinson becomes musical director of the Sault Symphony Orchestra


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The show is over for the longtime musical director of the Sault Symphony Orchestra, as the group’s brass want to change direction in a bid to diversify the works performed and stimulate several years of declining attendance.


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John Wilkinson, a resident of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, had led the community group since 1977.

He told The Sault Star he was fired during a Zoom meeting in July with Symphony Board Chairman Louis St. Pierre and Vice Chairman Michael DiSanto.

Wilkinson says he owes more than $ 50,000 in salary that he was not paid when “things were pretty tough” financially for the group over the past decade.

I was already kind to the organization for years, ”Wilkinson said on Friday. He is “more than disappointed” with his forced departure before the start of the group’s 2021-2022 season. The Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Resident planned to continue leading the group for another three to five years.

St. Pierre confirmed to the orchestra council that he is conducting “released (Wilkinson)” from his post.

We are looking to fill it, ”he said. “We are now looking at various options. We really can’t afford to hire someone full time, but we are looking at various options.

The orchestra’s board of directors wants Wilkinson’s successor to be hired during the current season.

We’re still learning how to do this as a board of directors because we’ve never done it before, ”said St. Pierre.

Stephen Mallinger is conducting a virtual concert that will air on Facebook and YouTube on Saturday at 7 p.m., and a live performance in Sault Ste. Marie Museum on October 22 at 7:30 p.m.

The group debuted as the Sault Symphonette in 1956 and became Sault Symphony in 1969. Wilkinson succeeded Lajos Bornyi.


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It took a long time to make that decision, ”said St. Pierre of the orchestra ending its ties with Wilkinson. “It was extremely difficult to do, but when you look at all the things, it was time to look for new ideas and new ways of doing things. It was decided that a new Music Director was the way to go.

He said the orchestra has faced shrinking audiences for four to five years.

We kept doing the same things over and over again, our audience getting smaller and smaller, ”said St. Pierre. “We have to do something. We need to renew this organization because the trend is going in the wrong direction. When the audience is not much bigger than the orchestra, and many of them are free tickets, the trend is not there. When you stop getting grants or struggle to get grants, you know something is wrong. It’s time to look for new ways of doing things. You need someone who can come up with different programming.

Wilkinson argues that the orchestra did not put enough effort into promoting the concerts unless a large budget was involved, such as Ballet Jorgen’s presentation of The Nutcracker in November 2019.

The arts are a lot of work, ”he said. “You have to break your back to be successful. It is not easy. What was normal in the past has become too much.

St. Pierre says the symphony orchestra must have an Ontario resident as musical director to be eligible for provincial grants. Wilkinson, who disagrees with the suggestion, is unsure whether he will take legal action to get the money he says he owes him.


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I don’t want to hurt the symphony, ”he said. “I spent all of my time and effort keeping him alive. I was trying to keep him alive. I didn’t expect him to come to that kind of conclusion.

Wilkinson also approached companies to buy advertising for the symphony’s concert programs following the resignation of general manager Patti Gardi in 2013.

Things got worse after (Gardi left), ”Wilkinson said. “In a sense, no one took care of the store on a daily basis.”

St. Pierre maintains that the symphony owes Wilkinson no back wages.

Someone is volunteering or continues to work for us, for an organization that has been bankrupt for several years, then turns around and asks to be paid for those years, we don’t consider that as salary owed, ”he said. -he declares. “This is how we see it. ”

St. Pierre, a member of the orchestra since about 1993, joined the board around 2017. He could not respond to Wilkinson’s claims that he was owed money for work done before. This year.

There has always been a certain degree of indebtedness, ”said St. Pierre of his review of the symphony’s financial records. “This new board now, we’re going to do our best to avoid that.”

Wilkinson, clarinetist, will not continue his association with the orchestra as a musician. The symphony tentatively plans a tribute to Wilkinson in the first half of 2022.

We would like to do it again, ”said St. Pierre.

Wilkinson continues to lead another Canadian group Sault, SteelTown Silver Band.

Former board member Sara McCleary became Director of Orchestra Advancement in early May.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @Saultreporter



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