New infrastructure and new staff will soon be coming to the Prince George Symphony Orchestra.
After years of shrinking the professional core of musicians, due to financial difficulties, the PGSO is now in the hunt to not only replace their current vacancy (cello) but also add back a resident bassoon player and a staff 2nd violin position.
The pro core currently sits at five: concertmaster (or 1st violin), cello, horn, clarinet, flute and oboe. There used to be twice as many resident pros leading the various sections of the orchestra. Now, all other musicians for any given concert are either community part-time professionals or imported professionals.
PGSO general manager Marnie Hamagami said a nationwide callout will be done, but it is already proving challenging to get a thick pile of resumes for the vacant cello position so three positions to fill will require recruiting diligence.
"When I walk in the room and say I need skilled labour, people are often surprised to find out I mean someone who can play an instrument at a professional level, not a tradesperson or businessperson. But it is a highly trained and unique set of skills. Only certain people can do it, and they have to study for years and invest in very expensive tools."
Hamagami said City of Prince George manager Beth James has been actively involved, along with Initiatives Prince George, helping Hamagami create the marketing package the PGSO will use to attract the highest possible candidates.
It may seem like a small gesture to the outsider, but a new set of musicians' chairs was heavily endorsed by the PGSO members. This is also a marketing tool to recruit and retain talent.
"When times are hard in business, that is the time to invest in developing your company, investing in infrastructure," said Hamagami. "We have not had a new set of musicians' chairs in 40 years [the PGSO is entering its 43rd season] so we bought 45, chosen by the musicians themselves. The total cost was $7,500 but it was a major capital investment and it was a reward for the musicians for all they do and what they provide the community. The chairs, for us, signal to the musicians and also the public that we do value our orchestra and we want to give them the tools to succeed."
The money was raised through a public sponsorship campaign. People donated money in the name of their favourite PGSO musician (top fund-raiser was principal oboist Erica Skowron) and all the money was pooled to purchase the specialized chairs.
"When times are as hard as they were for orchestras across Canada [during the economic crisis], it is absolutely essential to innovate," said Hamagami. "That means, though, that the entire world of possibilities opens up to you. Buying special chairs and expanding the pro core may not seem exciting, but these are important steps to have more assets and do a better job, and capitalize on the audiences and sponsors that are returning in force."
She said artistic director/conductor Kevin Zakresky, concertmaster Jose Delgado-Guevara and others involved in the PGSO team have been willing to think creatively and put in the work to keep the city's largest musical organization on a progressive course.