Skip to content

Cue the orchestra: We quiz the director about SSO's new conductor

Three candidates 'tried out' as conductor over past year
Jennifer McGillivray answers questions about the search for SSO's new music director. Supplied photo.

Hugh Kruzel for

Choosing a new conductor can't be easy. It is something done so infrequently, the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra created a process to carry it out successfully. 

Sudbury has a history of relationship continuity — and renewal of contracts — that almost spans decades. The last conductor, Victor Sawa, was in the role since 1997.

How does an organization choose a new key person? The search for a new director originally brought in many applicants then narrowed to a handful. Over the past season, three came to deliver performances to demonstrate their skill to the Sudbury audience.  

Sudbury Symphony Orchestra executive director Jennifer McGillivray indicates a decision is close at hand. She shared insights and answers in a recent interview.

Q: How did you go about deciding on a process? 
A: The SSO is very lucky to be a member of Orchestras Canada, which is an incredible advocacy and advisory group for every orchestra in the country. One of the best services that they provide is access to our colleagues, whose advice was invaluable when determining how to go about this process. There will always be something unique about every search, but having colleagues with the same experiences to bounce things off of certainly made us feel more confident in our choices.

Q: It has an investment of a whole year. Is a search like this common for orchestras?
A: Absolutely! When you’re choosing a musical director, what you’re really doing is selecting a leader, someone who will work well with the orchestra, the board, staff and the community. That kind of decision-making process involves a lot of different factors, in particular the performance aspect, which due to our planning cycle and the timing of our concerts, does definitely take up the season!

Q: You involved everyone: the performers, the board, and the public. What sort of input was requested?
A: Everyone was asked to respond according to their expertise, so the orchestra was asked to rate how they felt about each conductor as a musician and leader, the audience how much they enjoyed each individual’s performance and the board and staff focused on fit and strategy.

Q: How did you weigh and score the results?
A: All of the information was given to a committee, who has been working on this process since Victor (Sawa) first announced his impending retirement at the beginning of our 2015 season. The committee weighted everything with care and then made recommendations to the board. They had the final say in selecting the winning candidate.

Q: It sounds like the audience was delighted by all the candidates; for them it was a three-way tie. The quality of the candidates was so high it must have made it very difficult to say yes to one, and maybe, or no, to another?
A: We like to say that that’s a good problem to have! We were just thrilled with the calibre of all our candidates, and know that whoever is selected will make an excellent addition to the SSO, and the City of Greater Sudbury

Q: This has taken a year to get to this point. What's next?
A: Next is our incredible 41st season, which will feature not only our new musical director, but a number of great new programs, including chamber music at St. Andrew’s church, and free lunchtime series throughout the downtown. We’re also presenting our second ever opera, “Noye’s Fludde,” in co-operation with the Young Sudbury Singers, and our Young Performer’s competition will be back for a second season.

Q: When will we hear and see the new conductor?
A: Your new conductor will be announced in the next few weeks, and will take the podium for opening night Oct. 1. I know I can’t wait!


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.