Winds of Change: SSO’s Principal Clarinetist retiring after 47 years


Margaret Wilson once heard from a conductor say, “There are only 3 tempos; too fast, too slow, and almost right.” It seems Wilson found the right tempo for life when she joined the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in 1977. Now, after 47 years, she’s decided it’s time to retire.

Margaret Wilson performs at SSO’s Time for Toddlers / Julie Isaac Photography

Wilson’s record-setting career has made her, as Orchestras Canada executive director Katherine Carleton put it, “the grande dame” of principal clarinet players in the country. In fact, her term with the SSO is beaten only by Stanley Drucker of the New York Philharmonic who served 49 years and is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“I was determined to become good at it and I just loved practicing all the time.”

Wilson’s love affair with the clarinet began in grade school.

1977 Saskatoon Star Phoenix article about Margaret when she joined the SSO. (article supplied)

“I started in our band program in grade seven and had no idea about the clarinet. I chose it because it wasn’t too big but, I loved it from the very beginning,” Wilson explained in a 2020 interview. “I was determined to become good at it and I just loved practicing all the time.”

“You never have to worry about it going well. You know Margaret is going to nail it.”

In the past four decades, Wilson’s dedication to her craft has inspired her fellow colleagues. Principal bassoonist Stephanie Unverricht grew up watching Wilson first, on the orchestra stage alongside her father, trombonist Brian Unverricht, and, in 2011, when Unverricht took her seat beside Wilson as a full-time member of the orchestra.

Unverricht says sitting beside Wilson all these years gave her confidence as a performer. (Julie Isaac Photography)

“Margaret never treated me as a kid, it was always just complete respect,” says Unverricht. “Whenever there’s nerves before a performance, Margaret always brings a sense of calm and very solid artistry. I know she has my back. You never have to worry about it going well. You know Margaret is going to nail it.”

Through the years Wilson has performed in the orchestra and chamber ensembles. She is a founding member of Mistral 5. In 2010, she recorded an album Weber to Tango with pianist Jillian Lyons. All the while, Wilson has served as a sessional lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan and run a very busy private studio.

Celestino de Pedro is one of Wilson’s students. He has just completed his Bachelor of Music in clarinet at the University of Saskatchewan and credits his teacher for his success.

de Pedro and Wilson performing together with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. (Julie Isaac Photography)

“She’s always pushed me beyond my ability.”

“When I found out she was retiring, I told her I was interested in filling the chair. She didn’t give me the impression I could get the job but, at our last lesson, she put the whole audition list for the SSO on my stand,” says de Pedro. “She’s always pushed me beyond my ability. My time with her has simply been wonderful.”

Wilson has seen many changes over her nearly five decades with the SSO.

“In those early years, at the first rehearsal you could barely recognize the piece we were rehearsing. Now, at the first rehearsal, it’s already very good and we’re just working on the details,” Wilson says. “The quality of the orchestra has changed a lot and so has the entire organization…The symphony is in really great hands now and I’m glad to see that.”

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is paying tribute to Wilson our at its final mainstage concert of the season on May 4th. She will be named clarinet emeritus, a designation that honours her contribution to the community.

Margaret Wilson (3rd from right) in the SSO core 1998 (Photo Provided)

Margaret Wilson (center) in her early years with the SSO. (Photo Provided)

CBC Saskatchewan Weekend
Students & Colleagues pay tribute to Margaret Wilson.
**Click the image to listen.