Symphony Nova Scotia reports on continued impacts of COVID-19 at 2020/21 AGM

Halifax/K’jipuktuk, NS – Symphony Nova Scotia’s 2020/21 Annual General Meeting, held October 13, 2021 via Zoom, reported on another highly unusual concert season. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the orchestra presented a reimagined, flexible 2020/21 season, with a focus on online activity, community outreach, and compact performances for small audiences.

“The 2020/21 season was truly unprecedented for Symphony Nova Scotia,” says Nancy F. Barteaux, Q.C., Chair of the Symphony’s 2020/21 Board of Directors.

“The cornerstone of a symphony orchestra is live music, and it was a major challenge to find ways to continue sharing that joy with our community, while also navigating a devastating pandemic and the many restrictions and uncertainties it brought. However, despite the obstacles we faced, I firmly believe we achieved our goals in 2020/21. Our musicians, staff, and Board came together to make the best of a very difficult situation, and together, we continued to create music of the highest artistic quality, even as we consistently respected public health restrictions, and kept our families and audiences safe.”

Highlights from the 2020/21 season included a new “Enough Room” podcast series, a JUNO nomination, almost 50 compact performances throughout Halifax (including Dr. Strang’s conducting debut!), and the ongoing digital “Fusion Sessions” series, which reached almost 800,000 online viewers.

However, the pandemic also resulted in many last-minute changes of plans, and the orchestra was obliged to cancel over 60 scheduled performances throughout the season, including an online-only rendition of Halifax’s beloved Nutcracker production with Halifax Dance and Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia.

Financially, the pandemic presented many ongoing challenges, but the orchestra finished the year in good financial health. The Government of Canada’s support programs provided stability for staff and musicians’ salaries, and the Canada Council for the Arts and the Province of Nova Scotia continued to offer operating support. Many generous donors also supported the orchestra throughout the season, and the ongoing public health restrictions and cancellations resulted in significant cost reductions.

Combined, these factors have helped to generate a surplus for the orchestra’s 2020/21 season, which has been internally earmarked as a COVID recovery fund. This fund will be essential to support programming and manage risk as the federal wage subsidy program concludes, and Symphony Nova Scotia continues to respond and adapt to the ongoing pandemic. Current financial projections indicate that pandemic recovery will require considerable time, resources, and rebuilding of audience confidence, and this much-needed reserve will be crucial for meeting operating needs into the foreseeable future.

As Symphony Nova Scotia looks toward pandemic recovery, managing risk and planning for the future have become crucial priorities. Musicians, staff, Board, and community members have been working together to create a new two-year Strategic Plan, which will be finalized in late 2021. This plan will provide a framework to guide the orchestra into the unknowns of the future, while also renewing its ongoing commitment to Nova Scotia’s rich, vibrant communities.

Throughout the 2020/21 season, Symphony Nova Scotia’s Music Director Holly Mathieson provided remote support and guidance, directing and supporting multiple projects and initiatives from a distance. She also worked closely with Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, Symphony Nova Scotia’s Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador, who has continued to focus on building community connections and developing exciting collaborations with local guest artists.

“As this extraordinary season closes, I reflect on a year of experimentation and growth as an organization,” says Holly.

“It was frustrating that I wasn’t able to be with everyone in Nova Scotia, but the adaptability of our management, artists, musicians, and production team meant we successfully pivoted much of our work into the digital sphere, reaching more audience members than we could have imagined possible as the season began, and meeting the goals we set ourselves around greater openness, inclusion, and diversity in our work.”

At the 2020/21 AGM, Symphony Nova Scotia also welcomed five new members to its Board of Directors: Margaret Chapman, Chief Operating Officer and Partner with Narrative Research; Kathleen Franklin, Chief Financial Officer with Cox & Palmer; Maile Graham-Laidlaw, Counsel with the Federal Public Prosecution Service; Mark Parkhill, Partner with KPMG; and Jill Thomas Myrick, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications with CBC Atlantic. Musician representatives for 2021/22 are Yvonne DeRollerRachel Desoer, and Max Kasper.

Current Symphony Nova Scotia Board Chair Nancy F. Barteaux, Q.C. will also move into the role of Past Chair, after serving as Chair since 2019. In her place, Peter MacAskill, Chief Operating Officer with Nova Scotia Business Inc., will take the role of Chair for a two-year term, with David Wilson stepping into the position of Vice Chair. Departing Board members in 2021/22 include Permjot S. Valia and past Chair Gail Morris, who had generously served on the Board for over a decade.

For a full list of Board members, click here.

2020/21 Activities and Highlights

Other activities and highlights discussed at the AGM included:

Live events: Despite the ongoing pandemic cancellations, Symphony Nova Scotia’s musicians presented almost 50 compact live performances at 20 community venues throughout Halifax, including the Discovery Centre, Northwood, Alderney Landing, The Carleton, and the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Online activities: Symphony Nova Scotia embraced online activity throughout 2020/21. A major highlight was the free “Fusion Sessions” series, combining popular local artists with Symphony musicians for condensed versions of the orchestra’s top-selling live Fusion series. Guest artists included Jah’MilaBen CaplanJane ArchibaldJ.P. CormierHeather RankinDinuk WijeratneAlan Syliboy and the ThundermakersSirène et Matelot, and more.

Other online activities included intimate concerts and workshops, collaborations with local partners like the IWK and Halifax Public Libraries, and a new podcast series called “Enough Room”, featuring discussions on diversity, inclusivity, and expanding our collective musical horizons.

Private sector support: Symphony Nova Scotia was deeply moved by the ongoing generosity of our community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 850 individuals gave donations to the orchestra, making up 29% of the Symphony’s annual revenue. The orchestra also increased its Legacy Circle to 65 members, and remains exceedingly grateful to this group of committed donors who have indicated their wish to leave gifts in their estate plans.

Corporate and community partners: Despite the disruption in full performances, many of Symphony Nova Scotia’s community partners continued their financial support. The orchestra is deeply grateful to TD Bank GroupWomen for MusicBMO Private WealthWilsonsScotiabankO’Regan’s Automotive Group, and Telus for their ongoing commitments. Private foundation support included the Craig Foundation, the John and Judy Bragg Family Foundation, the A. Mary Holmes Trust, and the J&W Murphy Foundation.

The Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra: In its third season under Symphony Nova Scotia’s management, the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra (NSYO) continued to offer exceptional mentorship and performance opportunities for Nova Scotia’s most talented young musicians. Thanks to donor support, the NSYO was able to reduce 2020/21 tuition costs for participants, while continuing to deliver the full scope of the program. Concerts, rehearsals, and workshop opportunities, as well as regular coaching sessions with Symphony musicians, continued in new and creative ways both in person and online.

Education and community outreach: While ongoing COVID-19 restrictions impacted the orchestra’s ability to deliver core Education and Community Outreach programs like the Family Series, School Concerts, and Open Dress Rehearsals, outreach remained a top priority throughout the season. With the support of generous donors and sponsors, Symphony Nova Scotia was able to create and share multiple online workshops and experiences, including with partners like the IWK, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and Halifax Public Libraries.

Symphony Nova Scotia Foundation: Like most investment portfolios, the orchestra’s arms-length Foundation continued to face some market turmoil this year. However, the Foundation remains at over $18 million, and continues to see the return on investment needed to provide significant annual support to Symphony Nova Scotia. Thanks to careful management by the Foundation Board, including Chair Dale Godsoe, C.M., treasurer Alan Barkhouse, and secretary Timothy C. Matthews, Q.C., the Foundation’s transfer of $695,706 in 2020/21 was a crucial factor in the overall financial health of the season.

Musicians and artistic leadership: In 2020/21, the orchestra welcomed two new musicians: Charna Matsushige and Grégor Monlun, both violinists. Holly Mathieson continued to serve as the orchestra’s Music Director, with Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser as Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador. However, the orchestra was deeply saddened by the passing of long-time Principal Baroque Leader Jeanne Lamon, who passed away in June 2021. Jeanne’s relationship with Symphony Nova Scotia extended back over 20 years, and her regular annual appearances leading our orchestra were consistent audience favourites. She will be deeply missed for years to come.

Government support: Symphony Nova Scotia could not have survived the 2020/21 season without the generous support of government funders, and their timely and crucial COVID support programs. The orchestra is deeply grateful to the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the ArtsArts Nova ScotiaFACTOR, and the City of Halifax for their ongoing recognition of the arts in our communities.

Symphony Nova Scotia’s full 2020/21 Annual Report and financial statements are available at

About Symphony Nova Scotia
Symphony Nova Scotia is Nova Scotia’s orchestra. With a home base in Halifax and performances across the province, Symphony Nova Scotia is proud to be a vibrant, vital part of Nova Scotia’s rich cultural community. From sold-out orchestral concerts to free family events, youth and seniors’ activities, and educational partnerships, Symphony Nova Scotia creates unforgettable experiences with truly great music. Visit to learn more, listen online, or get tickets today!