After 19 years at the helm of Calgary Opera, W.R. (Bob) McPhee, C.M. LLD (Hon) retired in March, 2017. Bob is recognized as a leading force in the Canadian arts scene.
McPhee began his career as a baritone performing in theatre, opera, radio and television after graduating from the University of Manitoba. He then studied arts administration at Grant MacEwan University, The Banff Centre School of Management and Stanford University. He served as artistic director and conductor for several choral groups and taught private classes.
Gradually, Bob became more involved in arts administration and his first administrative position was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as Development Officer, then as Director of Development. He joined the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as Director of Development and Marketing, and was later appointed Assistant General Manager.
Bob served as General Manager of Orchestra London, prior to joining the Edmonton Symphony as General Manager. In 1992 he was appointed President and CEO of the Edmonton Symphony Society and Edmonton Concert Hall Foundation. He successfully led these organizations to the on-schedule and on-budget completion of the state-of-the-art Winspear Centre for Music, complete with a $5M operating endowment in place. The orchestra was in a very stable fiscal position with a solid base of support of over 13,000 subscribers. They introduced a very successful summer festival, began a touring program, made significant commitments to the development and creation of Canadian works, and release numerous recordings. In addition, the organization had grown to a total operating budget of $12M with just over 200 employees.
McPhee joined Calgary Opera as general director and CEO in 1998, allowing him to return to his first love: opera. During his time at Calgary Opera he has become recognized as a leader in championing the creation of new works, having commissioned eight new works and presented numerous Canadian premieres. His tenure has also seen the foundation of one of only three comprehensive young artist training programs in Canada, and started Canada’s first outdoor summer opera festival – Opera in the Village. In addition, Bob has been at the forefront in the arts as a champion for featuring Canadian artists both on the stage and backstage, as well as creating community and education outreach programs that promote and take opera to the broader community.
In 2016, Bob announced a partnership with Calgary Stampede that will see the Calgary Opera move to the Calgary Stampede’s Youth Campus within five years. Under the agreement, Calgary Opera will build a 50,000 square foot Opera Centre, which will include public space, a 300-seat rehearsal and performance space, classrooms, practice halls, administrative offices and more.
Bob has been featured in the media on numerous occasions, both as spokesperson for the various companies he has led, and personally as a visionary in the Canadian arts community. Throughout his career, Bob has been active in many professional associations and is in demand as a clinician and lecturer. He has been an adjudicator, assessor and board member for numerous organizations. He was the first Canadian invited to speak at an Opera Europa Conference in Paris. He is a founding board member of the Calgary Arts Development Authority, Past Chair of Opera.ca, is a member of the OPERA American Board of Directors, sits on the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award, as well as the Premier’s Council for Culture.
McPhee is the recipient of many awards, three of his most cherished being the Order of Canada (2013) an Opera Canada Lifetime Achievement Award, also known as a Ruby (2015). In November, 2016, Bob was honoured to be a recipient of an Honourary Degree, Doctor of Laws, the highest honour conferred by the University of Calgary, and delivered the convocation ceremony address. Watch the Convocation Address. He believes a flourishing arts and culture scene is critical for a community to thrive and be sustainable. He is recognized globally as a champion of emerging artists and an innovative creator who continues to achieve an exceptional standard of excellence in Canada’s arts world.