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Can a discount orchestra save the electric series at Centre in the Square?

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This tweet was the first I’d heard about the KW Symphony being dropped from the Jeans’n’Classics series of concerts, which struck me as very strange, since the whole point of those concerts was marrying rock band with symphony.

Except for this one, though, Twitter—often a great source for finding things out—was annoyingly silent on the subject. Finally I had to go old tech: I emailed Centre in the Square to ask them about the tweet. The fact that they didn’t quickly reply made me think it was probably true.

And indeed, the email response that eventually arrived confirmed it, saying that the KW Symphony would be replaced with session musicians: “the size and make-up of the orchestra will be tailored to meet the artistic and stylistic demands of each Jeans ‘n Classics production”.

The community discussion I’d been craving kind of broke out in the pages of the Waterloo Region Record, who ran a story about this on May 31. That was followed by various letters to the editor, then a very critical commentary piece by a member of the Symphony board , followed by a defense by a member of the Centre in the Square board.

Nobody seems very happy about this change, but what strikes me in particular is that first article claims that lower production costs were not the main reason here, but an artistic need for revitalization. The last article frankly states they couldn’t afford the series any longer in this form—which at least makes more sense of the whole thing.

They both agree, though, that they want a bigger audience. Got to wonder if they’re going to achieve it. I’m afraid that I, for one, won’t be helping them out with that.

At the third concert this season, they had us vote on which three concerts we wanted to see the following year (out of six choices). I thought that wasn’t a bad idea, but note that everything they selected was a reprise of a previously done show. If I go next year, I’ll be seeing three similar concerts again, only with a smaller, less talented orchestra. The promised “better staging and lighting” won’t make up for the diminished music.

When it works, it’s a fantastic sound, it really is. The sound of an orchestra when it’s playing with a rock band well… It makes every hair on your body stand on end. It’s incredibly powerful.

– Roger Daltrey (The Who), 1994

I’d know what I was missing. So after about 10 years of great seats, I’m out.

And I know I’m not the only one. So to get their bigger audience, they not only have to add people, they have to replace the ones lost to this decision.

But you know, I do wish them well. I love Centre in the Square. It’s a fantastic hall. It’s incredible that a smallish place like Kitchener-Waterloo has one of the two or three best concert halls in the whole country. More people should go experience the sound there. It’s unfortunate it’s somehow developed a bit of a “stodgy” reputation. Some things do need to change. They do need better acts, more acts, even gimmicks to drawn more people in.

I’m not sure this particular series change will work out for them. But I sure hope something their Strategic Plan does.

And it’s not like I’m abandoning the place. I’m already signed up for six KW Symphony concerts there next year (to go along with my three at the Conrad Centre). And with some dates now opened up by not going to the Jeans’n’Classics series any more, I’ll probably add a few more.

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