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The Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (ASO), Canada's first and only full-time professional regional orchestra, was formed on June 12, 1968. Its predecessors, the New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra and the Halifax Symphony Orchestra, were small volunteer ensembles with limited resources. Demand for a fully professional ensemble and improved facilities -- combined with support from the Canada Council, provincial governments, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) -- led to the decision to jointly support a regional orchestra and the smaller local orchestras were disbanded. Prior to the formation of the ASO, no professional symphony orchestra existed east of Quebec City.
Although based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ASO served the four Atlantic Provinces, travelling over 20,000 kilometres each thirty-four week season to perform in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. It was supported by five community-based committees: Halifax and Sydney, Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton. Each committee was responsible for hosting concerts once or twice a season. Hosting included managing ticket sales, fundraising, and local promotion.
The activities of the ASO were governed by the Officers of the Corporation, Board of Directors, Standing Committees, and Local Committees. Full power for the active management and business of the corporation was vested in its Officers, including a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Past Presidents include Dr. J. F. Filbee, Dr. Richard Goldbloom, Rev. Roland Soucie, and Eric T. Wennberg.
The Board of Directors was composed of representatives of the governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, local committee representatives, and at-large members as well as a member of the orchestra and the Executive Director. While the Board was responsible for policy functions, the Executive Director was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the corporation. In recognition of its multi-community character and responsibilities, the Board rotated its annual general meeting among the five key cities. Fundraising was conducted through a separate body known as the Atlantic Symphony Inc., which drew its officers from the interprovincial board.
For the first eleven years, ASO was financially viable, which was attributed to its knowledgeable executives, its renowned conductor, and its concert subscription series. The management group in Halifax operated on a tight budget with a staff of six: an Executive Director (Lionel D. Smith until 1980, then Mark J. Warren), a Musical Director (Klaro M. Mizerit until 1977, followed by Victor Yampolsky), an Orchestra Manager (Leone Wilcox until 1979 when she became Director of Development, succeeded by Loredana Flebbe), an accountant, and two secretaries.
Under Klaro Mizerit (1914-2007), the ASO developed a standard repertoire, including works by Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky, among others. It also supported Canadian composers by performing more than one hundred Canadian works. Canadian and world premiers included works by Jean Coulthard, Adrian Hoffman, Michael R. Miller, Patric Standford, and by Mizerit himself. In 1968, Mizerit also founded the Atlantic Choir to perform choral works with the symphony and the Atlantic Chamber Orchestra. Under Victor Yampolsky (b.1942), the ASO continued its tradition of performing both traditional and modern (especially Canadian) repertoire, with performances of works by Beethoven, Bach, Handel, as well as Robert Turner, Janis Kalnins, and Roger Matton.
The ASO rehearsed and regularly performed at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in the Dalhousie Arts Centre. It gave subscription, school, and community concerts, which were regularly broadcast on CBC radio and television. In its first year, the orchestra was composed of forty-eight contract players and gave thirty-nine subscription concerts. By 1977, the orchestra had grown to sixty-five players and performed more than one hundred concerts per season. As it became better known, it increasingly attracted nationally and internationally renowned guest artists including Harry Belafonte, Liona Boyd, Maureen Forrester, James Galway, Louis Lortie, Ravi Shankar, Robert Silverman, and William Tritt, as well as conductors such as Raffi Armenian and Vittorio Negri.
By 1979, the operating budget was approximately $1 million, with the Canada Council contributing about a third and the provinces and municipalities providing a further fifteen to twenty percent. The balance of revenues was derived from ticket sales, CBC broadcast income, private and corporate donors, and additional fundraising through women's auxiliary committees. However, in the early 1980s, ASO started running into financial difficulties. A labour dispute in 1979 had suspended operations for twelve weeks, and government cutbacks, high touring costs, and declining corporate support all took their toll. A deficit of $163,300 was recorded in 1981, and in September 1982 the Board of Directors suspended operations, citing a $407,000 deficit. Despite fundraising efforts and a twenty week interim season under the direction of Boris Brott, the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra declared bankruptcy in September 1983. Symphony Nova Scotia, which acquired the ASO's assets, was subsequently formed in Halifax in the same year.