On a high note Managing director Vicki Young is retiring from the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra as it celebrates 50 years
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This article was published 30/11/2022 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Those who pay special attention to milestone anniversaries will admire Vicki Young’s timing.
The managing director of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, who has spent 20 years with the organization, announced at a board of directors meeting last week she would retire at the end of the 2022-23 season, the MCO’s 50th anniversary.
”It’s been a really good experience and I think the planets just aligned for this to be the best time to think about passing the torch to someone else,” Young says.
The orchestra has more than doubled its annual ticket revenues, seen its endowment fund grow to about $2.3 million from $40,000 and doubled its budget, all the while delivering 20 years of budgets without a deficit since Young took over from Rita Menzies in 2003.
Young, 63, is looking forward to catching her breath. She says even when the orchestra is off for the summer, she and the MCO staff are busy raising funds and planning future performances.
“I think a lot of people in the arts would say the same. It’s pretty all-consuming — in a positive way, I would never complain about it — but it’s nice to think that I won’t be faced with quite the number of deadlines.”
The easing pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has challenged arts and cultural organizations worldwide after a raft of cancelled and postponed concerts, also played a factor in Young’s decision.
The 50th anniversary has gone on without a hitch and she’s confident the MCO will march on when she will be enjoying the performances as an audience member, rather than making sure the shows run smoothly.
“It was a challenge, certainly. In a lot of ways it was no more challenging than it often is,” Young says. “Every year there are new challenges.
“Working in the arts, you’re juggling so many different things. There are the finances, you’re raising money every year and you have to make sure that you’re programming material that audiences really want to hear, and which is also helping to advance the art form, so you’re keeping it alive for future generations.”
The MCO was doing that prior to the pandemic when it recorded and videotaped concerts for its archives, but the project proved to be the foundation for MCO at Home, an online concert series that included 11 shows for viewers at home in 2021 and six more during the 2022-23 season.
”You never know what’s going to propel the change, but you just hope you can respond in a way that is not detrimental but productive,” Young says. “Audiences were responsive because they did follow us along to the online presentations and that encouraged us to keep going with it.”
The MCO has had many highlights during Young’s tenure. It has performed with dozens of guest artists in the classical and pop worlds, from percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and pianist Angela Hewitt to soprano Measha Brueggergosman, who was its artist-in-residence. The orchestra also accompanied pop vocalist k.d. lang at the 2005 Juno Awards in Winnipeg, a performance that was televised across the country.
It also made its debut at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Carnegie Hall in New York, the latter with Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian in 2008, a culmination of a North American series of concerts.
A recording with Glennie, Mirage? Concertos for Percussion, earned the MCO a Western Canadian Music Award and a Juno nomination in 2019; a year later, Oesterle: Cello Concerto, garnered a WCMA nomination. Both were recorded on the orchestra’s own label, which was formed while Young was in charge.
Despite all that, she believes a big moment for the MCO was in 2008, when it hired Anne Manson to be its music director and conductor.
It was a groundbreaking move; more and more women are conducting orchestras every year, but Manson was a pioneer when she joined the MCO.
“It took us a few years of searching for the right person and I think we made a great decision,” Young says. “She has made my role really interesting and satisfying and enjoyable, and I’ve been really fortunate in that. That’s been true of everybody I’ve worked with the MCO, but she and I have worked so closely. I’ve been very grateful for that.”
The second half of the MCO’s 50th-anniversary season includes performances by mezzo-soprano Lizzy Hoyt, who earlier this month was the lead in Manitoba Opera’s La Cenerentola, violinist virtuoso James Ehnes and pianist Marc-André Hamelin.
The season, and Young’s tenure, comes to an end June 15 and 17 when the orchestra welcomes Winnipeg sopranos Tracy Dahl and Andriana Chuchman, along with Tunisian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb and director Geneviève Pelletier for performances from Handel’s opera Alcina.
Young’s looking forward to the grand finale to the season and her MCO career.
“I think I will be happy to be there, feeling proud we’ve had such a great run and I’ve been a part of that, and be optimistic for the future,” she says.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.