On Jan. 15, Virtuosi Concerts and the University of Winnipeg (U of W) announced the end of their 30-year partnership. According to a press release, “the economic challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” left the university unable to continue providing Virtuosi with an operating grant, administrative services and physical space.
Virtuosi Concerts, founded by U of W psychology professor Harry Strub in 1991, is a recital and chamber music series that typically features national and international artists, unlike anything else in Winnipeg. Their concerts were held in the U of W’s Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, home to the famed Ashkenazy Steinway piano.
Andrew Thomson, executive director of Virtuosi, says that, though he understands the university’s decision, his organization is facing difficult circumstances.
“For an arts group ... such as ourselves, COVID was bad enough, because we haven’t been able to put on any public concerts and thus have limited revenue streams, so having the awareness that we’re going to lose this significant operating grant, let alone finding new space to run our operation, it’s a big challenge,” he says.
“I knew this was coming before I was even informed because, in the spring, when Premier (Brian) Pallister was ... telling universities they had to give him budgets with 10, 20, 30 per cent cuts, I knew that was the end,” Thomson says.
Kevin Rosen, executive director of marketing and communications at the U of W, explains the decision in an email to The Uniter.
“The provincial government has reduced the University of Winnipeg’s operating grant annually for several years,” he says, adding that 2020 to 2021’s operating grant was further reduced due to COVID-19.
The government “has also limited tuition increases, which prevent the ability to make up the lost revenues,” Rosen says. “In addition, as a result of public-health restrictions, the university has experienced dramatic declines in revenues from on-campus service units like housing and parking, while travel restrictions have impacted international student enrollments.”
“We are working with Virtuosi to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible,” Rosen says.
It is unclear what Virtuosi’s next steps will be. The uncertainty surrounding the local COVID-19 situation is making it difficult to plan for the next season. Furthermore, the organization is looking at ways it can remain financially viable without the U of W’s support.
Despite the challenges, Thomson remains optimistic.
“Chamber music is a specialized and intimate art form, and I think there’s a great place for it (in Winnipeg),” he says.
Because of public-health restrictions, Virtuosi has been unable to hold in-person concerts this season. However, they have a few virtual concerts over the coming months. Their Jan. 22 event featuring cellists Yuri Hooker and David Liam Roberts is available free of charge on YouTube.
Virtuosi Concerts’ website is virtuosi.mb.ca.
Published in Volume 75, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 11, 2021)