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Three WSO elders to put bows down

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As this year's arts season begins to wind down, three longtime Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra musicians will be laying down their bows for the last time.

However, when they leave the WSO stage for good, these musical elders -- all string players -- will also carry with them rich experience, a treasure trove of memories and the warm camaraderie of having played with colleagues for decades.

First violinist Ray Chrunyk, 62, will be retiring after 40 seasons, although he plans to continue as the WSO's principal librarian, a position he's held since 2000.

"Everyone needs an exit strategy. I thought 40 years is a nice round number, and finishing off my playing career with a concert at Carnegie Hall (next month) felt also a poetic way to leave," he says.

Chrunyk first joined the orchestra in 1972 after his teacher, former concertmaster Arthur Polson, encouraged him to apply for the WSO's student-scholarship program. The North End-raised musician "fell into" his position after playing several concerts included in the program. He auditioned for a permanent position and got the job.

"Being a part of the team," the soft-spoken artist replies when asked what he'll miss most about the WSO. "And having those 'wow' moments onstage when the hair stands on the back of your neck."

As the WSO gets set to perform at Carnegie Hall during the 2014 Spring for Music festival on May 8, Chrunyk may also experience a little déj vu. He's one of the few musicians to have played there with the orchestra back in 1979, but he's far from blasé about an encore.

"Anytime you can perform at one of the prime venues in the world is an absolute thrill," he says.

When second violinist Boyd Mackenzie, 59, retires from the WSO this year, he won't rest on his laurels. He'll continue performing with other local groups, as well as expand his recording projects and orchestration/transcription business.

"I've had a long run and enjoyed it, but I have a lot of new projects," he says. "I thought this is the time to follow these opportunities before I actually hang up my bow and violin for good."

After performing with the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra from 1978 to 1980, the Winnipeg-born musician returned home to audition for the WSO in 1980, getting the gig that same year.

Asked about his own highlights, the affable musician responds with a laugh: "Getting the job!"

And what would he like to tell aspiring young musicians?

"Practise more than you think you should. Be prepared to work very hard. But if you love music, it's a great career -- and also a lot of fun," he says.

Polish-born bassist Zdzislaw Prochownik, 60, first joined the WSO in 1983 following contracts with the Montreal and Edmonton symphonies.

"This orchestra brings a lot of emotion to the music," he says of the ensemble he's called his artistic home for 31 years. "Music has to tell a story. It has to capture your imagination and this one is able to do that."

Trained in Warsaw and Montreal, Prochownik began playing the accordion. He took up bass at 14. He says he'll miss playing everyday with the orchestra's young musicians.

"You have to play the same amount of notes as a 25-year old so it keeps you in shape. It's also kept me young as you learn so much from them," he says.

Prochownik plans to move east to continue his bow-making business and will freelance with other orchestras. In tow will be his stunning 1772 Italian bass, purchased in Montreal , and cost him "the equivalent of a sports car."

He'll hang onto to it for a few more years before putting it on the market.

"It's been very good to me -- but I don't want to let it go yet," he says. "It's a part of me."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2014 D3

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