Symphony Nova Scotia reports on impacts of COVID-19 at 2019/20 AGM


For Immediate Release
October 21, 2020

Halifax, NS – Symphony Nova Scotia’s 2019/20 Annual General Meeting, held October 19, 2020 via Zoom, reported on a highly unusual concert season. Milestones included many months of successful performances and outreach, the appointment of Holly Mathieson as Music Director, and the abrupt cancellation of 18 concerts in spring 2020 due to COVID-19.

“The year 2020 has thrown us many challenges,” says Nancy Barteaux, Q.C., Chair of the Symphony’s 2019/20 Board of Directors.

“However, it has also shown our resilience. We are fortunate to live in Nova Scotia, and to have a Symphony Nova Scotia family that really knows how to support one another and work together toward common goals.”

The cancellation of 18 performances had a major impact on the 2019/20 concert season, resulting in the loss of over $500,000 in anticipated ticket sales revenue. However, over 64% of ticket holders for cancelled concerts either donated the value of their tickets back to the orchestra or chose to exchange their tickets for a future concert – an incredible show of community generosity that played a pivotal role in keeping the orchestra out of a deficit position in 2019/20.

The Government of Canada’s support programs were also instrumental in maintaining the orchestra throughout this time. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy supported both staff and musicians’ salaries, and the Canada Council for the Arts continued to provide operating support. The Province of Nova Scotia also provided prompt operating funds to support the orchestra’s cash flow.

The appointment of Holly Mathieson as Music Director was a major highlight of the 2019/20 season. During her first few months with the orchestra, Holly has worked closely with musicians, staff, and supporters to deepen Symphony Nova Scotia’s connections within our community, and find new ways to share and experience music together, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Globally, we are starting to see an indication of the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on the performing arts and entertainment industry,” says Holly.

“We are hampered not only by the physical nature of our work and our need to be close to each other, but also in our ability to safely draw together an audience. As a result, there will be some aspects of concert life that may never be the same again. However, hand‐in‐hand with the changes COVID has forced upon us, comes an opportunity: to innovate, to reconsider our purpose, and to rebuild some of our foundations and core activities for a more equitable and sustainable world.”

At the Annual General Meeting, the Board of Directors agreed not to appoint new Directors for the 2020/21 season, due to the ongoing uncertainty around the impact of the pandemic. Nancy Barteaux, Q.C., Founder and Principal of Barteaux Labour and Employment Lawyers Inc., will continue to serve as Board Chair, and the current Board and Executive will stay in place for 2020/21. For a full list of Board members, click here.

2019/20 Activities and Highlights

Other activities and highlights discussed at the AGM included:

Concerts and events: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Symphony Nova Scotia had achieved another season of record-breaking ticket sales, with an increase of 3% over 2018/19. Throughout the 2019/20 season, the orchestra sold almost 34,000 tickets and presented 45 ticketed performances, with 31 concerts at over 90% capacity. Highlights included the world premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, a sold-out Harry Potter in Concert for 3,000 attendees at the Scotiabank Centre, and a spectacular opera gala with superstar soprano Renée Fleming, generously supported by Halifax philanthropists Margaret and David Fountain.

Private sector support: Symphony Nova Scotia was deeply moved by the generosity of our community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 1,150 individuals gave donations to the orchestra, making up 32% of the Symphony’s 2019/20 revenue. The orchestra also increased its Legacy Circle to 63 members, and remains exceedingly grateful to this group of committed donors who have indicated their wish to leave gifts in their estate plans.

The Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra: Now in its second year 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. Despite the cancellation of its final performance weekend due to COVID-19, the NSYO performed for over 1,170 audience members across the province in 2019/20, presenting two separate programs for a total of three concerts. The 45 young Nova Scotians participating in the NSYO this season benefited from professional training, mentorship with highly trained musicians, and an ambitious performance in Halifax’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

Education and community outreach: Symphony Nova Scotia continued to present a wide variety of community outreach programs throughout Nova Scotia, including its popular student matinees, the Classical Munchkins program, and free community concerts. The free Family Series saw another highly successful year, with multiple performances in Halifax and Dartmouth, and the free Berkeley Seniors’ Series continued to share free performances with seniors on Tuesdays. Thanks to the support of TELUS, the orchestra also developed a new program at the IWK, and support from Medavie contributed to a free, thought-provoking “Music and Mental Health” session with experts and leaders in the field. While COVID-19 caused the cancellation of 35 scheduled outreach events, Symphony Nova Scotia also created new online resources to connect with our community, including an online learning portal and a series of free online community concerts.

Symphony Nova Scotia Foundation: Like most investment portfolios, the orchestra’s arms-length Foundation faced some market turmoil this year. However, the Foundation remains at over $15 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, treasurer Alan Barkhouse, and secretary Tim Matthews, the Foundation’s transfer of $707,626 in 2019/20 was a crucial factor in the overall financial health of the 2019/20 season.

Musicians and staff: In 2019/20, the orchestra said farewell to musicians Dominic Desautels (Principal Clarinet) and Lena Turofsky (Assistant Principal Bass). The office staff also saw the retirements of two excellent fundraising professionals, Anne Laybolt and Rose Spicer. New office staff in 2019/20 included Development Manager Anne Long and Personnel Manager Anne Simons, also an orchestra violinist. Finally, in addition to new Music Director Holly Mathieson, the orchestra continued to collaborate with a dynamic leadership team, including Bernhard Gueller (Music Director Laureate), Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser (Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador), and Jeanne Lamon (Principal Baroque Leader).

Looking ahead, Symphony Nova Scotia knows there are many challenges yet to come, and that the generous support of its partners, donors, sponsors, volunteers, and broader community will prove more crucial than ever. Symphony Nova Scotia would particularly like to thank the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, Arts Nova Scotia, and the City of Halifax for their ongoing support.

Symphony Nova Scotia’s full 2019/20 Annual Report and financial statements are available on Symphony Nova Scotia’s website 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!