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Victoria Symphony welcomes audiences back in big numbers

More than 36,000 patrons attended an in-person performance of the Victoria Symphony in 2023-24 — the largest audience total in six years, according to CEO Matthew White.
Toronto-based violinist Jonathan Crow, a Mount Douglas Secondary graduate, returned to Victoria in September for a performance with the Victoria Symphony. It was part of the symphony’s most successful season in nearly a decade, according to reports. HANDOUT

It was a sensational year for the Victoria Symphony, which saw more than 36,000 patrons attend an in-person performance in 2023-24.

That number is up 16 per cent over the previous season, and represents the largest audience total in six years, according to symphony CEO Matthew White.

“My job as CEO is to both be really excited and jazzed about all the things that are going on, but also to anticipate where future problems are going to be,” he said.

“I’m glad to say that my biggest fear — that audiences weren’t going to come back [after the pandemic] — didn’t come true. They really have come back, in big numbers.”

The symphony wrapped its season on May 12 with the finale of its three-year exploration of German composer Robert Schumann. It was one of 34 concerts — up from 25 during the 2022-23 season — produced by the symphony over a nine-month period. The season was maestro Christian Kluxen’s seventh as music director, and the audience totals are the biggest since his arrival ahead of the 2017-18 season.

Post-pandemic difficulties have not fully dissipated, however. Like others across the world, the arts and culture community in Victoria took a significant hit during the pandemic.

The symphony grossed $6 million in revenue from tickets sales, fundraising, donations and government grants in 2023-24, up from nearly $4.5 million the previous year.

However, expenses rose by nearly $1 million.

“It’s not to say there aren’t still challenges,” White said. “Though we’re raising more money, and selling more tickets, the cost of the productions is going up even higher. We still have a fundamental gap, even with the increased attendance.”

The success in 2024 is a confluence of factors which have little to do with finances, White said.

“One, it’s the quality. The orchestra is playing better than ever, and if I didn’t think that mattered I’d be in a different business. That is very special, considering the size of this city,” he said.

“Two, it’s not pandering programming — it’s challenging and exciting.”

Tickets for next year’s appearance by iconic cellist Yo-Yo Ma go on sale in July, and will be made available first to annual subscribers. White doesn’t expect many seats, if any, will remain within a day or two, which is another big win for the symphony. More than 1,000 season subscriptions have been sold thus far, according to White.

“Last year, we hit the 1,000 subscriptions mark in October. That gives us some confidence. We know that audiences will be back in the same numbers next year as they were this year.”

The remainder of the upcoming season, which runs Sept. 15, 2024, through May 11, 2025, and features 30 events staged around across Vancouver Island, has the non-profit organization positioned for success. Highlights include popular U.K. pianist Angela Hewitt; Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Juilliard-trained pianist Jon Kimura Parker; The Canadian Brass; Murdoch Mysteries in Concert, live film scores for the films Home Alone and The Princess Bride, and two Victoria-reared soloists, violinist Timothy Chooi and tenor Josh Lovell.

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