Arts

Can Kickstarter save the Montreal Chamber Orchestra?

Left with a major shortfall for their 42nd season, an orchestra of 'discovery' turns to crowdfunding

Montreal Chamber Orchestra

The Montreal Chamber Orchestra (pictured) is seeking $40,000 on Kickstarter. Without funding after the departure of key board members, the money will fund the first concert of their 42nd season. (Kickstarter/Montreal Chamber Orchestra)

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"I have to say, the world of music is always a roller coaster, but this is probably the most shocking thing we've had to deal with in the 41 years we've existed." Wanda Kaluzny is talking about the funding crisis facing the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, which she founded in 1974.

Since that time, when Kaluzny was the youngest (and only) woman to conduct a professional orchestra, the MCO has established itself as a place that nurtures emerging musicians – discovering and launching talent in the classical-music community.

"We find artists from all over the place, and then bring them to Montreal before anybody else does," says Kaluzny. Ben Heppner, the acclaimed tenor (and CBC Radio 2 host) made his orchestral debut with the MCO in 1980. Artists such as jazz trumpet soloist Jens Lindemann and classical clarinetist Sharon Kam and many others have performed with the group when they were up-and-comers.

But right now on Kickstarter, the MCO is seeking $40,000, money they need if they're going to be able to stage the first concert of their 42nd season. As of writing, roughly $4,000 has been contributed. The deadline for pledges is September 19 — just 10 days before the show.

In late March, not long after the MCO's board approved plans for its 2015-2016 performances (including hall bookings and soloist contracts), Kaluzny says they lost a significant contribution, $100,000 in corporate funding care of Domtar Corp. That represents a quarter of the MCO's annual budget of $400,000.

Roughly $4,000 has been contributed. The deadline for pledges is September 19 — just 10 days before the show.

In a statement to CBC Arts, a Domtar spokesperson wrote that the company was "pleased to underwrite its programs for a number of years." However, they receive "more requests for financial support than there are dollars to spend, resulting in hard choices."

As the orchestra seeks a new board and corporate patrons, a process Kaluzny says is even more challenging during the summer months when many candidates are away, the organization's 32-person team is facing a harsh reality.

"We will have to postpone some concerts, without any doubt," she says.

But if their Kickstarter campaign succeeds, they can at least guarantee the first show of their upcoming season.

"One performance costs $40,000," Kaluzny says, explaining their Kickstarter target. The organization started the campaign in late July, as the time-crunch for funding became more of a threat.

When Toronto composer Jim McGrath heard of the MCO's crisis, he was shocked. "It breaks my heart," he says. A long-time collaborator with the MCO, McGrath has written music for the orchestra since 2005, and even recorded an album – Cinematique – with the ensemble in Montreal under Kaluzny's direction.  

An established composer for film and TV, who's written the scores for Republic of Doyle, Degrassi and more, McGrath says the MCO offered an opportunity increasingly unusual in Canadian arts: a chance to hear his classical compositions played by a professional orchestra. Their support has even helped develop his classical career.

"Because of Wanda, and because of my recordings with her, I have had my orchestral music played elsewhere – but she was the first one in. Sight unseen." Says McGrath, "She's been the first one to ever see it or hear it or work with it – it's amazing.

"Those types of experiences, I can't believe they're going to go away. Hopefully they don't."

On September 29, the MCO is scheduled to perform with featured soloist Brian Yoon, Principal Cello for the Victoria Symphony.

Learn more about their campaign, "Save the Montreal Chamber Orchestra," at Kickstarter.com.

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