Windsor Symphony Orchestra
The Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO) is an award-winning professional musical ensemble. The WSO is a local cultural icon that connects the people of Windsor and Essex County through music and education.
The WSO was founded in 1947 by Matti Holli, who also served as its first musical director. The 35-player ensemble, which was known then as the Windsor Federation of Musicians
Symphony Orchestra, performed their first professional show at Patterson Collegiate on November 16, 1948. Several local theatres have been the home of the WSO during its 73-year existence, including the Tivoli (now Walkerville) Theatre (1949-1958), the Chrysler Theatre (1961-2012), and the Capitol Theatre (1959-61 and 2012-present). In its early days, WSO concerts were also broadcast over the airwaves on the popular local CKLW radio station. By the 1970s, the orchestra had grown to around 65 players and began partnering with local chorus/vocal groups to enhance the audience experience. After Holli’s passing in 1977, Laszlo Gati took over as the WSO’s musical director. Under his direction, the WSO released their first commercial recording in 1983.
During the 1990s, the WSO fell under the direction of Susan Haig. This decade was a period of creative growth for the orchestra; they performed a number of well-attended concerts around the country and recorded their first full-length album. Despite their growing national profile, the WSO struggled financially and were on the brink of bankruptcy. They rebounded in the 2000s when John Morris Russell was appointed the new musical director in 2001. The WSO released a critically acclaimed album in 2006, increased private subscriptions and donations, and expanded their reach into the community by partnering with the University of Windsor and Windsor Regional Hospital to offer music therapy. The WSO was awarded the Ontario Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for the Arts in both 2001 and 2004.
Today, the WSO continues to expand its partnerships with local community organizations and increase their engagement with local audiences under the direction of Robert Franz. The ensemble’s neighbourhood shows at theatres and churches around Essex County, as well as their free summertime concerts in local area parks, have greatly raised the WSO’s public profile. To help connect with the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, the WSO began streaming free concerts online and partnered with Windsor Public Library to offer Read-Aloud story-times that local families could enjoy via social media.
Hall, Frederick A., Kevin James, Lynn Mcguigan. “Windsor Symphony Orchestra.” The Canadian Encyclopedia (August 5, 2008).
“The History of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.” Windsor Symphony Orchestra (n.d.).
Moreton, Bailey. “Windsor Symphony Orchestra brings reading to living rooms.” Windsor Star (April 30, 2020).