A New Music Community: ESO Encounters

A New Music Community: ESO Encounters

By Rudy Howell

In October 2023, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra launched ESO Encounters, a free annual membership program for people aged 18-35.

The program offers members $25 tickets to all ESO performances and provides the opportunity to join a welcoming community of more than 500 young and enthusiastic music fans, hear special guest speakers, and attend free pre-concert receptions. Other exclusive perks include networking opportunities, discounts on musical creativity programs offered at the Winspear Centre, and complimentary coat check at concerts.

The program was developed by our Young Leadership Council (YLC), a diverse group of emerging Edmonton leaders who have a curiosity about music and an interest in serving the community. The YLC’s mandate is to support the ESO and Winspear Centre through outreach, ambassadorship, and sharing feedback on our events and concerts from the lens of the next generation of Winspear patrons.

On October 28, 2023, the YLC hosted the first ESO Encounters pre-concert reception at The Magnificent Music of John Williams. The event occurred in Studio B, the Winspear Centre’s third-floor multipurpose room, and entertained a group of enthusiastic ESO Encounters members.

For many, anxieties can be high when arriving at a social event, especially one full of strangers. For ESO Encounters members, these anxieties were disarmed by a warm welcome from our reception guides, who kindly directed guests to Studio B as they entered the awe-inspiring lobby of the Winspear Centre.

Upon entering Studio B, these guests were relieved to find a room full of like-minded peers also looking to take advantage of their new ESO Encounters membership. What worries remained were quickly washed away by a spread of complimentary charcuterie, a private bar, and music hand-picked by YLC members whose goal was to make every individual ESO Encounters member feel welcome.

Before long, the members were mixing and mingling like a group of old friends. Some exchanged phone numbers, while others shared stories of what drew them to ESO Encounters. What connected everyone was a mutual passion and love for music, whether it be as a player, performer, composer, or simply a listener.

The highlight of the reception was a special appearance from the evening’s conductor, Robert Bernhardt, a close friend and guest conductor of the ESO. In his typical witty fashion, Bernhardt told the audience of his long and storied relationship with the ESO, his friendship with and adoration of John Williams, and his favourite piece of the evening’s program: “The Jedi Steps and Finale” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

After an extraordinary concert, as the ESO Encounters members left the Winspear alongside new friends, they could not help but feel excited about the community they had joined and inspired by the opportunities to come.

Now entering the second half of our season, ESO Encounters members can look forward to two more free pre-concert receptions at Mendelssohn & Hope on February 9, 2024, and Celeigh Cardinal with the ESO on April 26, 2024. To become an ESO Encounters member and gain access to the program’s community and exclusive perks, sign up for free by visiting

The Edmonton Symphony Society would like to thank the Alberta Civil Society Emerging Leaders Microgrant Program for generously funding our free ESO Encounters pre-concert receptions this season. These events are crucial to our vision of building a welcoming community of young and enthusiastic music lovers in our region.

Learn more about how to sign up for ESO Encounters by clicking here.